Nine weeks ago, real estate developer Joseph Moinian prevailed in a long struggle with the Nederlander Organization over the purchase of the run down, 75-year-old Biltmore Theatre on West 47th Street. Moinian's office now confirms that he and an unnamed partner in the Biltmore plan to re- establish legit use of the landmarked theatre.
The change of ownership between Nederlander and Moinian was the result of a negotiated settlement between the parties. The final purchase price is not known. As recently as last December, however, the tables were turned. At that time, the Nederlanders prevailed in court against Moinian, who was reported to have forfeited a large deposit on the contested deal.
Back then, Nederlander's plans included the possibility of restoring the Biltmore Theatre, which is located on West 47th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, and topping it off with hi-rise office and residential space.
The new owners might be envisioning a similar use for the Biltmore, but Joseph Moinian had yet to return a call at press time.
"The parties settled on March 17," Moinian's in-house counsel, Harry Dreizer told Playbill On-Line, "and we own it." A spokesperson for the Nederlanders did not return a call by press time, but sources said that the Biltmore changed hands in March as part of a settlement.
Dreizer also confirmed that both the identity of Moinian's co-owner and his or her stake in the venture have not been made public at this time.
As for the Biltmore itself, Dreizer described it as being in a "dreadful state" of disrepair, saying the theatre was in a "hideous condition." Playbill On-Line has learned that some sort of work or debris removal has been taking place at the site, but the exact nature of that work could not be confirmed.
Plans to re-establish theatrical use of the 1,000-seat Biltmore are still in development at Moinian's office, Dreizer said. "We've been talking about prospective theatrical uses," Dreizer told Playbill On-Line. "There are no plans to do anything there but to restore it as a working landmark theatre. We're looking for an appropriate user who's going to put on Broadway shows."
Opened in 1925, the Biltmore earned its distinction as the home for several productions, including The Silver Whistle (1948), Barefoot in the Park (1963) and Hair (1968). The venue was also closely associated with George Abbott, who produced and directed many shows there. The Biltmore hasn't seen a tenant since the 1987 production of Stardust.
The Biltmore is no longer totally dried in, meaning there are areas in the building where the landmarked interior is exposed to the elements. The theatre interior ( not the exterior) was landmarked in the late '80s, but was devastated by a fire in 1994, Dreizer explained. Further damage has been done by water and by vandals, who have destroyed theatre seating.
Friends of the Biltmore chairman, Stephen R. Rourke told Playbill On-Line that his organization hopes "that no matter who controls the theatre, that they use it as a theatre that operates as part of the Broadway community." -- By Murdoch McBride