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Times Square foes: scrap offices, go entertainment.

Times Square foes: Scrap offices, go entertainment

A critic of the Times Square redevelopment project has seized on the economic slowdown as an opportunity to call for a refocusing of the project towards entertainment and tourism and a way from offices.

State Senator Franz S. Leichter (D-L Manhattan), who has been a vocal opponent of real estate subsidies for such programs as the Industrial and Commercial Incentive Program, held a news conference in Times Square last week to call for a reassessment of current plans for the area.

Leichter criticized the New York Sate Urban Development Corporation for evicting numerous legitimate businesses while allowing seven pornographic specialty shops to continue to operate. Remaining area businesses have complained that their trade is off because, by driving away other legal businesses, the former patrons are also avoiding the area.

"We never thought the office towers were the way to clean up 42nd Street or that a subsidy is necessary to build these towers," Erwin Rose, spokesperson for Leichter said.

A UDC spokesperson said, "If it wasn't for people like Senator Leichter holding up the project, it would have been done by now. If Senator Leichter had done his homework, he would realize there are movie houses on 42nd Street which are showing current films." The spokesperson said there are also musicals and play readings at the Victory, while the Academy is becoming known for rock concerts with David Bowie's band, Tin Machine, sold out for this weekend. "Entertainment already on the street," she said. "It's very real and its definitely happening."

With Tony Randall's subscription theater in the Belasco, and the Roundabout Theater considering a new home nearby, the spokesperson said it is obvious that certain people want to be in the 42nd Street area. "If it's such an atrocious place why are people having their premiers here?" the UDC spokesperson wondered.

BID Head Appointed

Gretchen Dykstra, who currently works for the Rockefeller Foundation, was appointed president of the Times Square Business Improvement District (BID) last week and will take over just before Christmas. Dykstra has degrees in both art history and education and was most recently working on the distribution of independent works on videotape for the Foundation. She could not comment on the proposed redevelopment but said the BID is there "to provide services equally to the district, whether it is a small grocer or the large property owner.

"We will spend the money to enhance the district and to attract and protect people," she said.

The office space that has been condemned is expected by the UDC to be completely empty by December while the majority of the retail stores have reached an agreement or have a vacate date. According to the agreement, ground breaking must then take place within a year. Rose said the intention is to deliver two vacant sites by January with the developer commencing construction on the other towers in successive two-year intervals.

The developers of the office towers, the Times Square Center Associates (TSCA), a partnership between Park Tower Realty and Prudential Realty, are reported to have requested a delay from Deputy Mayor Sally Pinero-Hernandez, because of a lack of major tenants, without which the project's financial success is in question. The Deputy Mayor, it is said, gamely suggested Prudential consolidate its own offices in one of the new towers.

Will Developers Cut Their Losses

Rose said sources have indicated to them that the city is considering an end to the office towers. "Everyone wants to cut their losses and if the developer, which is the one party which might truly benefit, is asking to withdraw, it would be embarrassing for the city to keep insisting on it," Rose said. A Prudential spokesperson would not comment.

Senator Leichter also suggests that rather than build new office space, the UDC should move from its current two-floor $1.3 million space at 1515 Broadway to the nearly empty condemned offices. The UDC spokesperson said it was not economically viable or safe to keep the buildings open for one tenant.

While discussions with the developers and the city continue, other portions of the 42nd Street Development are moving forward.

Leslie Nickel, a vice president with The Times Square Subway Improvement Corp. (TSSIC), a subsidiary of UDC, said it is getting ready to issue its bid set with the job expected to be bid in the early part of next year.

The subway job, Nickel said, will not be just a change of tile but a major reconstruction. The mezzanine will be expanded under 7th Avenue and passenger circulation will be improved with straighter sight lines while the orientation of the station will make it easier to find places. There will be a central rotunda with a free zone and fare zone, which will help with transfers, and the station will be accessible to the elderly and people with disabilities.

"There will be all new finishes and wonderful art," Nickel said, with artist Roy Lictenstein creating a large mural.

The money, Nickel said, is coming from the developer and the TA. "We're operating under the assumption that there will be a developer," she added.

The rehabilitation of the 42nd Street theaters is also proceeding. Cora Cahan, president of The New 42nd Street Inc., said "The New 42" is a non-profit organization with a board of 30 and a mission to bring life to six of the nine 42nd Street theaters. Cahan said 44 requests for use were received beginning in May of 1989, and since the board came to work last year, they have spoken or met with all of the proposers and are continuing to have conversations. The review process will take until February or March, Cahan said. "At that time we will be in a position to make some decisions about some of the six theaters which fall under our jurisdiction," she added.

"The EDC," Rose said" has solicited proposals for theaters, but, because they are supposed to provide their own financing, it doesn't seem likely that many of them will work." What would be more commercially viable than traditional Broadway theater, Rose said, but in keeping with the special character of Times Square, would be to focus on popular entertainment to straighten the block.

Disney Meets Times Square

Rose said former LucasFilm employees and developer Douglas Durst are involved with a project that is the type of entertainment Leichter thinks is more appropriate and practical for the area. This proposal is still being shaped by the Project for Public Spaces, which is currently redoing the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

Project For Public Space's president, Fred Kent, said they are talking "entertainment" in the broadest sense. "If you put in a variety of things and draw on the whole community, you get an incredible mixing of people," he noted. Dance studios, miniature golf, batting cages, a nightclub, Broadway showcases, jazz clubs, ballet on a small scale, museums, retial restaurants, the new Disney World-type interactive rides, an IMAX type film and a 360 degree film experience are all being discussed for a mall-type space.

"You would come into it from six to 10 different courtyards and pay admission to certain things," explained Kent. "We're costing them out and trying to put them together with developers." While one of those developers is Douglas Durst, he declined to comment on the proposal at this time.

Kent says their experience around the country has shown that if attention is paid to what the local residents want, the tourist also enjoys the facility. "Everyone in the world knows Times Square," he said. "It's the quintessential place for doing entertainment. But the tourists come and it doesn't live up to their expectations."

The 42nd Street theaters, while not historical landmarks, are |designated' and the UDC spokesperson believed it was unlikely any group would be allowed to destroy them for an entertainment complex. While it does not yet have title to the land on the Western end of the block, the UDC spokesperson thought that this site might be the one being considered for other entertainment purposes.

Rose said they are not, at this point, putting forward site specific plans but call on the city to work with the Municipal Arts Society, the LucasFilm group, and other civic groups in developing alternative entertainment ideas.

"We're urging the State to scrap the office tower project," Rose said, "avoid squandering public funds for unnecessary Midtown office space, and seek to stimulate the tourist and entertainment aspect of the block without spending public funds or with a minimal level of public support."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Hagedorn Publication
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Nov 27, 1991
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