Volume 20, Number 46 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | MARCH 28 - APRIL 3, 2008

Iffy B.P.C. theater makes the latest budget rounds

By Julie Shapiro

A new community center is one step closer to getting a theater after the Battery Park City Authority approved funds this week to design a multipurpose performance space.

The 160-seat theater, which is not definite, would go in the Battery Park City Community Center, which will open adjacent to the ballfields in the base of two residential towers. The community center is still in the early planning phases and could open at the end of 2010.

The theater would sit in a 1,400-square-foot multipurpose room in the center. The seats would be structured like bleachers — but would be much more comfortable — and would fold up to clear the floor for other uses.

Jim Cavanaugh, president of the B.P.C.A., envisions community groups performing in the theater, which could also host films, meetings and lectures.

“It’s an idea that’s been there all along,” Cavanaugh said in a phone interview. “The question has been: Can it be included in budget for the community center? We’re still not sure it can be, but we’re going to try.”

The authority approved a $314,000 contract Tuesday with Hanrahan and Meyers Architects to design the theater. After the construction of the project goes out to bid, the authority will look at the bids and decide whether there is enough money in the center’s $27 million budget to construct the theater.

“It may be difficult to stay within our budget and build the full theater right now,” Cavanaugh said. When the authority’s board decided on the $27 million figure for the center two years ago, they factored in construction cost increases but did not expect the costs to rise so quickly. The shell of the building, which will be built by Milstein Properties, will not be ready for the community center work to start until 2009 or 2010, Cavanaugh said. Test borings are underway for the residential towers and the long delayed construction work should begin within the next few months, he added.

Cavanaugh said construction costs are likely to keep rising, but he hopes the theater will not be cut out of the project.

“Much is going to depend on how construction costs continue to escalate,” Cavanaugh said. “We expected some cost escalation, but it’s been double digit, more than anyone expected.”

If there isn’t enough money for the theater, Cavanaugh hopes to build a multi-purpose room that could easily be converted into a theater later, with an acoustic ceiling and extra space reserved for a projection room. Adding these features will make a future conversion cheaper and less disruptive than if the authority had to rebuild the walls and ceiling of the space from scratch.

“We’re trying to keep all our options open,” Cavanaugh said.

Anthony Notaro, who chairs the Community Board 1 Battery Park City Community Center Taskforce, said the idea for the theater originated from the community.

“People thought it was an excellent idea — particularly for teens, young adults, it’s great to have space,” Notaro said. Children, seniors and local amateur groups could also perform in the space, he said.

Notaro was surprised to hear that the theater is not a definite plan and said it’s always been part of the schematic designs he’s seen.

Other community members reiterated the importance of the theater.

“That’s a wonderful community amenity to have,” said Jeff Galloway, co-chairperson of the C.B. 1 B.P.C. Committee and a member of the taskforce. In addition to performances, he hopes the space will host other cultural events, like author readings.

Dennis Gault, a C.B. 1 member and president of the P.S. 89 P.T.A., was excited to hear about the theater.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “Considering Downtown is home to a lot of independent film directors, we need a state-of-the-art theater to [show] their creations.”

New York is known as a capital of creative and performing arts, and the community needs to keep the momentum going among children, Gault said.

“To create the next generation of people who will be a part of this, it’s important that the community center have some artistic component,” he said. Gault paused, then added, “Swimming pools are important as well.”

Cavanaugh expects to know later this year whether the authority will be able to build the theater.

Julie@DowntownExpress.com



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