Development Agreement For A Restored Biltmore Theatre Expected Shortly

News   Development Agreement For A Restored Biltmore Theatre Expected Shortly
The Biltmore Theatre, now back in the hands of the Nederlanders, may quickly become the focus of a major development agreement, Playbill On Line has learned.

The Biltmore Theatre, now back in the hands of the Nederlanders, may quickly become the focus of a major development agreement, Playbill On Line has learned.

This news comes from Nederlander attorney Richard Seltzer, a partner in the firm Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays and Handler, who told Playbill On Line that it is "highly likely that in a very short time the Nederlanders are going to enter into an agreement for the development of the Biltmore Theatre site."

These plans would include a restored Biltmore Theatre on the site, which is located on West 47th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. The development would include office and residential space.

Seltzer explained that the Nederlanders are literally flush with their recent success in court; not only do they keep developer Joseph Moinian's forfeited $1 million deposit on the Biltmore deal, but they can also rent or sell the venue, which is now worth as much as three times the $14 million that Moinian could have purchased it for two years ago, Seltzer said.

"They now have several options with the property," Seltzer said. "They can enter into a 99-year lease or sell the theatre to someone new. This opens the site for development." Referring to Moinian, Seltzer explained that "somebody who failed to show up for the closing has been blocking everybody else. Now, the court has ruled that he had no right to prevent the sale or the renting of the theatre by the Nederlanders. The Nederlanders are reviewing their options."

"It's remarkable that anyone of real estate sophistication could have been as poorly advised as Moinian was," Seltzer added. "The Biltmore will become part of a much bigger structure. They'll preserve the landmark details of the Biltmore while building a much bigger building next door, as well as above and around [the existing theatre]. That's what's happening in the theatre district -- there will be residences and offices with the theatre on the ground floor."

Seltzer explained that this type of development brings tremendous financial stability because it provides a residential base, which is very good for a neighborhood both financially and in terms of overall ambience. There is also additional rental income for the offices, which augments what the theatre can make. All of this takes financial pressure off the theatre.

"Maybe ticket prices won't have to keep going up so high if there's more development like this, " Seltzer suggested.

As reported earlier, the Nederlanders prevailed in court Dec. 1 and were released from contractual commitments with developer Joseph Moinian over the landmark Biltmore Theatre.

The Biltmore hasn't seen a tenant since 1987's Stardust. In the past, the venue staged such shows as Hair and Barefoot in the Park. Officially granted landmark status in 1978, the Biltmore was due for major renovations. But the expense of bringing the theatre back into use -- and the union costs doing shows there -- convinced the Nederlander Organization to sell the building rather than keep it.

An on-again, off-again sale between the Nederlanders and Moinian tied up the theatre for the past two years. The Nederlanders found their buyer in 1997 when Joseph Moinian, the sole owner of J General Real Estate in the theatre district, agreed to purchase the Biltmore for $14 million.

But Moinian was said to have stepped back from closing the deal to purchase the Biltmore and five adjacent buildings, instead putting down a $1 million deposit in March 1997 for a proposed 700-plus room hotel equipped for extended business stays. A "restored Biltmore" was part of that deal.

Back then, Moinian told Playbill On-Line that once the Biltmore's roof was properly re-sealed to prevent further fire and weather damage, he would assess the theatre's future. The 900-plus seat venue was built in the '20s.

Construction was planned for late 1998 but did not begin. The New York Post article said the Landmarks Preservation Committee opposed some aspects of Moinian's plan.

Later, in April 1999, Moinian was scheduled to meet with the Nederlanders regarding the deal. But Nederlander spokesperson Howard Rubenstein told the New York Times that Moinian never showed up, thus defaulting on his $1 million deposit. As such, the Nederlanders claimed, the Moinian contract was dead and the Biltmore and its surrounding buildings were once again up for sale.

Moinian saw things differently and sued the Nederlanders for improperly terminating their 1997 contract. The court decision this week determined the outcome of that suit. In recent years, Broadway successes and the re-development of Times Square have helped inflate property values in the broad theatre district.

-- By Murdoch McBride, David Lefkowitz and Ellis Nassour

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