Opening of W.T.C. performing arts center still a ways away

BY ALINE REYNOLDS  |  Plans for the World Trade Center Performing Arts Center are underway now that the board of directors is meeting on a regular basis. However, the center is still years away from opening to the public — and what it will look like, what programming it will offer and how much it will cost to build remains to be seen.

According to the latest estimates, the earliest the PAC could open is 2016, since the temporary PATH station it is replacing won’t be dismantled until 2015. Furthermore, construction of the center is proving to be complex, since the PATH tracks run directly below the site, said Kate Levin, commissioner of the city Department of Cultural Affairs.

“The below-grade infrastructure is incredibly complicated, and then building the PAC — the core of which is the uncolumned space of the auditorium — is complicated, too,” she said.

The center itself, meanwhile, is undergoing a complete redesign, according to Maggie Boepple, senior adviser of the PAC board. “We’ve been working with engineers and theater consultants to make the PAC really sing,” she said.

The PAC was initially conceived in 2003 as part of the World Trade Center master plan and part of the government’s larger goal to revitalize Lower Manhattan. The PAC board of directors, formed late last year, is charged with fundraising for the center, advising on its design and determining its programming.

The facility is poised to become a “major community force,” according to Levin. Its size, in particular, will make it one-of-a-kind, she said. “The city of New York doesn’t have a robust, mid-sized venue,” she said. “We’ve got lots of venues up to 40 and 50 seats, and then we jump to 1,700 seats.”

“So what it means,” she continued, “is that there’s a lot of great work from around the country that you don’t see here so much because it’s not economically viable.”

Julie Menin, former chairperson of Community Board 1, said she and the other PAC board of directors have been meeting every six to eight weeks since the spring to come up with ideas for programming. The Joyce Theater, a modern dance center with locations in Soho and Chelsea, continues to be among the major candidates. “We had a presentation from the Joyce about their plans for the center,” Menin said, “and now we’re discussing what elements could go into the center in addition to the Joyce.”

Linda Shelton, executive director of the theater, confirmed in a statement that the theater’s foundation continues to be involved in the planning for the PAC. “We look forward to expanding our programming in what is certain to be an extraordinary performance space,” she said.

Meanwhile, board members are exploring other uses for the center, including a community center, according to Menin. “We’re looking at what [cultural center] models have worked extremely successfully,” such as the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, she said.

Though no final decisions have been made, Menin said, “we continue to look at the need and expect that some decisions will be made soon.”

In addition to Menin, the PAC board consists of National Sept. 11 Memorial Board Chair Mike Bloomberg, along with Christy Ferer, chief executive officer and founder of Vidicom; Silverstein Properties C.E.O. and president Larry Silverstein; Brookfield Office Properties co-chair John Zuccotti; and Zenia Mucha, executive vice president of the Walt Disney Company. Patricia Harris, the city’s first deputy mayor, is representing Mayor Bloomberg as an ex-officio board member.

The PAC nonprofit, which was created last February, is also responsible for overseeing the budget and construction of the center. The board secured a $100 million Lower Manhattan Development Corporation grant earlier this year, most of which will go toward building the PAC. An additional $60 million will finance the facility’s design by famed architect Frank Gehry.

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