UPDATE Wednesday morning: Michael Riedel accepts Harvey Weinstein’s Finding Neverland challenge.
Since everyone is dousing everyone else these dog days with buckets of ice to raise money for ALS research, I offer a challenge of my own to The New York Post‘s Michael Riedel: Meet me at Bar Centrale the day after Labor Day 2019. If, five years from now, there’s a new, 1,500-seat Broadway theater around the corner on Eighth Avenue between 45th and 46th streets, you can douse me with a bucket of ice and I’ll write a $100 check to the Shubert Foundation. And if it’s a Shubert theater, I’ll make it $200.
If, however, there’s no theater in the luxury apartment tower Gary “One57” Barnett’s Extell Corp is planning for that site, you have to write a check for $200 to my favorite charity, Greater Education, Rehabilitation And Recreation for Dropouts (you can just use the initials).
Shubert, as we know, owns valuable land and even more valuable air rights in the Theater District, and Broadway’s biggest landlord has been doing some heavy horse trading recently, exchanging oxygen for dollars and planning a takeover of a five-theater off-Broadway complex on 50th Street west of Eighth Avenue. But a new Broadway theater, at a cost of $150 million? Ehhhh, I don’t think so. Neither does the powerful Community Board 5, which controls building plans in the area and has received no paperwork for any such project at 740 Eighth Ave.
The site we’re talking about, which currently hosts a crafts market and a parking lot, originally was put together by real estate giant Related Companies, owned by Stephen Ross. But Barnett held the rights to a key chunk of the land where Related is building the Hudson Yards mixed-use development site that’s roughly the size of Rhode Island. So Related and Extell negotiated a land swap. Now Barnett reputedly is planning another super-skyscraper along the lines of One57, the billionaires-only tower that casts a sunrise shadow from 57th and 7th to the Delaware Water Gap.
I can pretty much guarantee there will be no free-standing new theater on that site. So, will Barnett’s 740 Eighth Avenue project include a Broadway theater? He didn’t respond to several requests for confirmation. When I asked Shubert Chairman Philip J. Smith, he laughed and said, “No comment.” But there are a number of obstacles besides common sense that make a new theater seem unlikely. The site has one piece that, so far, neither Barnett nor the Shuberts has gotten hold of: the ancient, family-owned bistro Pergola Des Artistes, whose proprietors have shown no inclination to sell. A new Broadway theater would be saddled with the same insane operating costs as the rest of the Street.
Perhaps most important is Broadway economics, which since time immemorial have favored landlords over producers. Producers might wail over the fact that they have to wait in lines three deep for theaters to open up for their shows, but the Big Three landlords — Shubert has 17 houses, Nederlander nine and Jujamcyn five — couldn’t be happier. Their theaters are guaranteed paying tenants even as the Broadway audience shrinks, Broadway ticket prices rise and Hollywood stars leave town in a huff when they don’t get Tony nominations. Hudson Yards already is planning a giant theatrical space to compete with Broadway’s biggest houses. A 1,500-seat theater in the Broadway mix is a very rocky proposition. I’ll believe it when I see it.
So stock up on ice, meet us at Bar Centrale on Tuesday, September 3, 2019 — and please, bring a couple of towels.