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Ground Zero Arts Center Loses Theater Company


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In a new twist to the juggling act at ground zero, the city said yesterday that the Signature Theater Company would not be included in a performing arts center to be designed there by Frank Gehry, leaving the Joyce Theater, which presents dance, as the building’s sole resident.

Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff said the Signature, an Off Broadway group, was dropped because of the cost and complicated logistics of having the two institutions share a confined space.

Instead the city hopes to move the Signature to Fiterman Hall at 30 West Broadway, cater-corner to 7 World Trade Center. Fiterman, part of the Borough of Manhattan Community College, was heavily damaged by falling debris on 9/11.

Estimates of the performing arts center’s cost were approaching $700 million, city officials said. Under the new plan, the center and a new Signature Theater are expected to come in at about $350 million combined.


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“The city said it was going to be too costly to do it, and I think they’re right,” said James Houghton, artistic director of the Signature. “Frankly, it’s refreshing to get this straight talk about it. I don’t think anyone wants to build a $700 million performing arts center.”

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Mr. Doctoroff said the decision would “result in substantial savings and hopefully improved facilities for both institutions.”

Yet the decision highlights the striking way the original cultural ambitions for ground zero have been scaled back. In June 2004, state and city officials selected four arts groups for a coveted place at the site with great fanfare, predicting that ground zero would become a cultural mecca. Only the Joyce remains now.

The City University of New York, which oversees the Fiterman Hall site, had been working on a renovation with architects at Pei Cobb Freed & Partners before the Signature became involved. Mr. Houghton said that while he still hoped to collaborate with Mr. Gehry on the interior, he was not disappointed that ground zero was off the table.

“We have the potential to reach all of the goals we were after downtown and do it in a more realistic way,” he said.

Mr. Gehry said he would be happy to stay with the project. “I’m used to rolling with the punches,” he said. “I will try to rise to the occasion.”

In a separate development, the Drawing Center in SoHo, which was pushed out of the ground zero plan in 2005 amid controversy over its programming, is now likely to move to the South Street Seaport, city officials said. Last year the Drawing Center seemed poised to relocate to a site occupied by part of the old Fulton Fish Market. But Kate D. Levin, the city’s commissioner of cultural affairs, said that proved too expensive because the site, on Pier 18 on South Street, needed significant repairs and must conform with codes involving maritime use.

Instead the Drawing Center is hoping to move to Burling Slip, at John Street, between Front and South Streets, a location under lease to the South Street Seaport Museum. “They will be in a major site of development,” Ms. Levin said, noting the city’s recent efforts to revitalize the East Side waterfront. “There are very few visual arts venues south of Canal.”

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George Negroponte, the Drawing Center’s president, said he was excited about the Burling Slip location but emphasized that no deal had been completed. “This is a fantastic site,” he said. “A critical mass is finally being established, and it looks terrific for downtown.”


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The Drawing Center was supposed to share a building at ground zero with a proposed International Freedom Center, but the Freedom Center was scuttled after family members of 9/11 victims questioned whether its themes would be sufficiently patriotic. Now that museum building, designed by the Norwegian firm Snohetta, has been redesignated as the site of a memorial museum and a visitors’ center.

Although the Joyce will have the performing arts center to itself, the building may occasionally be used for nondance events like the Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place each spring. “I’m delighted that we’re moving forward,” said Linda Shelton, executive director of the Joyce. “The project has been stalled for quite some time. It now feels like we have a genuine partner in the city.”

After the downtown rebuilding effort was repeatedly stymied, the city took over from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation last fall. “What we did for months was a detailed review of the engineering, cost and programmatic issues to make sure what was proposed was really not workable,” Mr. Doctoroff said. “It just wasn’t going to happen.”

The city explored the Fiterman Hall location before broaching the idea to the Signature, Mr. Houghton said. It also considered moving the Signature into other buildings on the Trade Center site but found that their elevator cores were unsuitable. For now the Signature is also considering two other CUNY sites downtown, although Mr. Houghton said he preferred Fiterman Hall for its proximity to the performing arts center and the transportation hub.

Over the last three years, the Signature and the Joyce have been trying to figure out how to share the challenging Trade Center site between Vesey and Fulton Streets, next to the Freedom Tower. “There are five stories below grade — two trains, a mall and a parking lot all underneath there, many stakeholders,” Mr. Houghton noted. “It’s probably the most complicated site for a performing arts center in the world.”

The Joyce wanted a 900- to 1,000-seat theater, while maintaining its current sites in Chelsea and SoHo. The Signature, a showcase for American playwrights on West 42nd Street, planned a three-theater complex. Because of the performing arts center’s limited footprint, the theaters would have to be stacked, making it difficult for the audiences to proceed up and down.

Still unclear is how much the city might contribute for the cultural buildings and what amount the arts groups will be responsible for.

Ms. Levin predicted that with 1,000 seats, the new Joyce would fill a niche in the city. Existing theaters have 499 and 599 seats, then jump to about 2,000 in size, she said, and some prominent dance companies bypass New York as a result. The Joyce is also considering a casual cafe that could be used for daytime performances and small concerts.

But the coast is by no means clear. According to the current timetable, construction cannot start on the Joyce site until 2011 because it will be occupied until then by a temporary exit from the PATH train. “It’s frustrating, because of course you lose momentum,” Ms. Shelton said. “But I’m hoping it can move forward more quickly than that.”


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The Signature has more urgent constraints, since the lease at its 42nd Street location expires in 2011. “The clock is ticking for us,” Mr. Houghton said.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page E1 of the New York edition with the headline: Ground Zero Arts Center Won’t Have Theater Company, Only Dance. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe

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