Plan Floated to Turn Long-Vacant Metro Theater into Community Arts Space

By Emily Frost on March 19, 2014 9:03am 

UPPER WEST SIDE — An aging landmarked theater that's sat empty for nearly a decade after a series of failed deals should become a community arts space, according to newly elected City Councilman Mark Levine.  

Residents who have long pushed for occupancy of the Metro Theater are reaching a breaking point with no new tenant found, after the Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse cinema chain backed out in October 2013, the latest in a series of soured deals at the theater.

Considering the 1933 Art Deco theater's recent failure to re-launch, Levine is proposing a private-public partnership that would involve city financing to help an arts nonprofit move into the building on Broadway between West 99th and 100th streets. 

An "infusion of public dollars" from the City Council, state or federal sources could be the ticket, said Levine, who added he was in the early stages of exploring the option and will be floating it with owner Albert Bialek. 

"[Constituents] want it to remain an entertainment venue and as much as possible have it restored to its splendor," Levine explained.

Bialek did not respond to request for comment.

Residents had pinned their hopes on the Alamo Drafthouse's plan for the theater, which they see as a blight on the neighborhood that is stalling further commercial growth in the area.

"We are heartbroken," said Upper West Sider Andy Ward last October, adding he was "so depressed... after having waited so long [for the Drafthouse.]"

Earlier, Bialek had briefly courted retailer Urban Outfitters and also said he would break the space into small boutique booths, but neither came to fruition.

"People are scared," Levine said. "They’re worried that the failure of the latest plan leaves them pretty vulnerable." 

Only the facade of the 1933 theater is landmarked, leaving open the possibility of redeveloping the four-story 11,000-square-foot space into something the community wouldn't want, Levine said. 

"There’s also a concern that it could be knocked down and we could get some kind of monstrosity," he added. 

But it's not just the building's appearance that disturbs residents. The longtime vacancy has contributed to quality-of-life issues, they've said.

"It’s dilapidated. In the last year, it has attracted rats and vagrants," said Christopher Clegg, who lives in the building next door and said his building's board has written to the owner asking for action.  

Others, like Mark Elliott, who also lives nearby, said they're worried about the theater's deterioration.

"The building remains an eyesore," he said, "despite the elegant Art Deco facade."

Ultimately, restoring the Metro is also about preserving its legacy, Levine noted.

"It represents this historic era of the neighborhood in the city that people want to hold on to," he said.  

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