45th Street Theater Has One Problem: It's Not Legally a Theater

By Meredith Hoffman on July 21, 2011 7:54am 

The 45th Street Theater on 354 West 45th Street has been the short-term home to productions for over 30 years.
The 45th Street Theater on 354 West 45th Street has been the short-term home to productions for over 30 years.
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DNAinfo/Meredith Hoffman

HELL'S KITCHEN — Unlike many struggling local performing groups, the Emerging Artists Theater Company has the money to negotiate a new long-term lease. 

But the company has a different obstacle — its potential future home, the 45th Street Theater on 354 West 45th Street, is not legally a theater.

"It's supposed to be an office building," said Ryan Fitzgibbons, spokesperson with the New York Department of Buildings. "Since 1997 we've issued three violations to the building owner, but the owner hasn't complied."

Fitzgibbons added that the city had issued fines, which the owner paid while ignoring requests to change the space's use. In the past two years, partly because the city has received no outside complaints, it has let the issue slide.

For over 30 years, the 45th Street Theater has been the short-term home of companies producing plays including A Midsummer Night's Dream, An Ideal Husband and Arabian Nights. The 150-seat theater's weekly rental rates are $2,500 and daily rates are $300 to$500, according to its website.

But now, CB4 Quality of Life committee Co-Chair David Pincus said he fears the theater could completely lose its role as a performance space.

"We [the community board] are trying to find a way to support the prospective theater company and keep it as a theater space," said Pincus.

Pincus explained that the owner may be overwhelmed by the time and money involved in applying to change the building's use.

"He may decide to repurpose it for a commercial space," said Pincus. "Then that theater's gone forever. It's happening all over Manhattan."

Pincus said the community board has decided to write a letter to Council Speaker Christine Quinn to expedite the process of changing the theater's legal purpose — if the building's owner files for a change of use.

Paul Adams, of the Emerging Artists Theater Company, said his organization is working with the landlord to try to change the legal purpose of the building. 

"We're working to resolve [this issue] because we want to come back to our neighborhood," said Adams of his 19-year-old company, which was previously located at two other Hell's Kitchen spots on West 42nd Street and West 43rd Street.

The Emerging Artists Theater Company hopes to sign a long-term lease at the 45th Street Theater.
The Emerging Artists Theater Company hopes to sign a long-term lease at the 45th Street Theater.
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DNAinfo/Meredith Hoffman

"We want to work...to permit [the 45th Street Theater's] continued space as a theater, as it has been for over 30 years."

The theater's owner did not respond to requests for comment.

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