Volume 18 • Issue 30 | December 9 - 15, 2005

3-Legged Dog’s hallway leading out to Greenwich St.

Art group presses to open despite struggles

By Ronda Kaysen

When World Trade Center Tower 7 crashed down on 3-Legged Dog’s West Broadway headquarters on Sept. 11, executive director Kevin Cunningham expected it would take his organization a few years to get back on its feet. He laid off all but two of his 27 employees, temporarily suspended salaries and stopped production for eighteen months.

But by the following July, he had signed a 20-year lease on a new space on Greenwich and Rector Sts. and temporarily relocated his productions to a location in Chelsea. He assumed his non-profit organization would return Downtown imminently. He never dreamed he’d be standing in a construction site, short $1.6 million four years after 9/11. But last Tuesday, that is exactly where he stood.

In September, construction began at the new 12,000 square foot performance and gallery space at 80 Greenwich St., five blocks south of the W.T.C. site. Cunningham intends to open a portion of the Thomas Leeser-designed space by next month, but his $4.6 million project is still short $1.6 million and without at least $600,000, his headquarters will remain a worksite.

“The clock is running out; we’ve got to get some revenue coming in in order to survive,” said Cunningham standing inside the construction site last week. He seemed somewhat confident he will be able to open soon and construction work is underway.

“The neighborhood people are dying to have art down here,” said Cunningham. The only other late night venue in the immediate vicinity is the Pussycat Lounge, an adult club that caters to a relatively narrow audience.

But 3.L.D. is facing another potential setback. The neighborhood is slated for an overhaul by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the agency overseeing the redevelopment. As part of a proposed Greenwich Street South project, L.M.D.C. plans to ease Battery Tunnel traffic for pedestrians, create room for a park and build residential towers. One of the buildings eyed for demolition is 3 L.D.’s new home, which is a Metropolitan Transit Authority-owned parking garage on the upper levels.

The Greenwich Street South plan is not fully-funded and is currently little more than a PowerPoint presentation. The M.T.A., Cunningham’s landlord, insists the parking garage, which was recently renovated, will not be sold to the city for demolition.

Rendering of a stage in 3-Legged Dog’s new center under construction.

Cunningham learned that the project might affect his building last March, however he chose to move forward with his plans anyway. “We went with what we knew instead of what people were thinking,” he said. “We had already gone through three years of permitting and design. We couldn’t just stop the project because someone was thinking of doing something.”

Speaking over the deafening noise of drilling, Cunningham pointed to a shell of what will be a 6,000-square-foot, 280-seat theater and performance space that he hopes to open in January. Last week, the entrance hall was a steel skeleton dividing one worksite from another.

Eventually, the Washington St. side of the space will house a 2,200-square-foot gallery, which will double as a cabaret or black-box theater for late-night performances.

The group focuses on large-scale experimental artwork and installation art, often using multi-media technology. The company will produce its own shows, share the space with other arts groups and host resident artists. The first resident group, Troika Ranch, a digital dance theater company, will create a new work to premiere in New York and eventually open in London and tour Europe. 3.L.D. plans to leave Chelsea in May.

Because L.M.D.C. has its eye on 3.L.D.’s building, it might affect how the agency ultimately funds the organization. Earlier this month, L.M.D.C. announced plans to distribute $35 million in cultural enhancement funds to arts organizations Downtown and up to $10 million to the Drawing Center, a museum that was displaced from the W.T.C. redevelopment after some victims’ family members protested.

But when Cunningham met with L.M.D.C. officials, it was clear they were reluctant to sink money into renovating a building they would like to demolish. “They’re in an awkward position,” said Cunningham, adding that L.M.D.C. might consider funding other aspects of his organization.

3-Legged Dog’s “commitment is laudable,” said L.M.D.C. president Stefan Pryor in a telephone interview. However, “It’s a matter of public record that the L.M.D.C. is interested in proceeding with the Greenwich Street South plan,” which includes demolishing the parking garage. “We would provide substantial amenities in an area that is currently no man’s land.”

3-Legged Dog’s predicament — that its redevelopment is complicated by the redevelopment effort itself — is an example of the gridlock that has characterized much of the rebuilding effort.

Cunningham, who founded 3.L.D. in 1994, was encouraged to remain Downtown after 9/11 because “we were hearing from all sides that art and culture was going to be a big part of the reconstruction,” he said.

In July 2002, he signed a 20-year lease on the Greenwich St. property. But in the ensuing months, he found it increasingly difficult to raise the necessary funds to rebuild. He received no support from the L.M.D.C. “For a very small investment, the neighborhood could have rebounded — there would have been real recovery outside of the 16 acres,” he said. “But that didn’t happen.”

Cultural programs have been relegated to the back burner in recent months. Gretchen Dykstra, president of the Memorial Foundation, has indicated that the foundation will not consider funding cultural programs at the W.T.C. site until after the memorial is fully funded. And this summer, the Drawing Center, a Soho-based museum slated for the W.T.C. site withdrew its plans after enduring intense scrutiny from some 9/11 victims’ family members. In September, Governor George Pataki evicted the International Freedom Center from the Snohetta-designed cultural center for similar reasons.

“Far too much of the attention of the recovery effort has been on the [W.T.C.] site without the recognition that Downtown is a larger space,” said Radhika Subramaniam, director of cultural programs for the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. “There is a struggling community of artists that exist down here.”

The L.M.C.C., an advocacy group that lost its offices and one of its resident artists on 9/11, the Downtown Alliance, a business improvement district, and the Dept. of Cultural Affairs awarded 3.L.D. a $225,000 grant in July, part of $5 million of September 11 funds earmarked for arts groups below Canal St. L.M.C.C. also shares its Maiden Lane offices with 3.L.D.

But the bulk of the post-9/11 funding has not gone to arts organizations and since 9/11, the 200 arts organizations below Canal St. have dwindled to 112, according to the L.M.C.C.

Community leaders worry that as Lower Manhattan becomes an increasingly residential neighborhood, the dearth of cultural organizations further delay growth. “Cultural uses are one of the most important things we can do to revitalize our community,” said Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1 and founder of Wall Street Rising, a non-profit created after 9/11 to revitalize the neighborhood. “If you want to talk about creating a 24-hour community you need to bring art and culture into the area.”

Michael Dorf, founder of the Knitting Factory in Tribeca, left the iconic club in 2002 to start a concert hall Downtown. So far, he has been unable to get it off the ground. “The L.M.D.C. has been like hitting my head against a brick wall. I’ve been sending them proposals anytime there’s been a crack in that brick wall,” said Dorf, who described his venture, Art Exchange, as a Downtown Carnegie Hall with a great wine list.

L.M.D.C. insists it has always been committed to arts and culture Downtown. Despite the setbacks at the Snohetta cultural center, the performing arts center is still on the table for the site and the corporation has pledged $50 million toward it. “The arts are definitively on the front burner,” said Pryor. “The cultural revitalization of Downtown is crucial, bringing even more cultural life is a key objective of the L.M.D.C.”

Dorf, a Tribeca resident, has entertained several sites for a potential home for Art Exchange, including the Fulton Fish Market building, which is controlled by General Growth, the company that owns the South Street Seaport Mall. Michael Piazzola, a senior general manager at General Growth and vice president of the Seaport Market Place, told Downtown Express he was unaware of Art Exchange’s proposal.

Potential funders are hesitant to invest in a Downtown project because the neighborhood does not already have an active cultural life, said Dorf. The slow pace at the 16-acre site has not helped to change the perception that Downtown has been slow to recover. “If they [L.M.D.C.] granted my request three years ago, I’d be up and running right now. 3-Legged Dog would be up and running right now and then think about what the story would be,” said Dorf. “The story would be about ‘Wow people are coming Downtown in 2005 to see culture’ rather than ‘unfortunately it’s 2005 and nothing’s happened yet.’”

Ronda@DowntownExpress.com


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