Both of the rendered projects look pretty good. F&F's fatter lower tower needs to be altered, though.
February 1, 2005
Groups Vie to Reimagine Historic Theater in Harlem
By ROBIN POGREBIN
The Loew's Victoria on West 125th Street.
Chart: From Condos to Culture: Seven Proposals
or years, the Loew's Victoria Theater, a once-elegant vaudeville house and movie palace, has languished on West 125th Street in Harlem.
Just a few doors down from its famous neighbor the Apollo Theater, the Victoria went from being celebrated as one of the city's largest and most beautiful theaters to failing as a five-screen multiplex that opened in 1987 and closed just two years later. Since then, the theater's Ionic columns and terra-cotta rosettes have decayed and the stage has remained bare, except for occasional small theatrical productions or church services. The marquee recently advertised a lingerie sale across the street.
Now, seven teams of developers, hoteliers and cultural organizations are competing to reimagine the site as a major new entertainment-hotel-residential complex. New York State, which owns the property, is interviewing the applicants and expects to make a decision in March.
The Empire State Development Corporation, which is evaluating the proposals with the Harlem Community Development Corporation, its subsidiary, declined to identify the applicants or describe their proposals.
But documents obtained by The New York Times show that the state has narrowed the field to seven groups. Under terms set by the state, each team has enlisted an arts organization as part of its proposal, like the Bottom Line, the jazz club that recently closed in Greenwich Village; or the Jazz Museum in Harlem, which has yet to find a home. The development teams include hoteliers like Starwood and Ian Schrager; architects like Fox & Fowle, Davis Brody Bond and Lee Harris Pomeroy; and developers like Related Companies and Apollo Real Estate Advisers, which together built the Time Warner Center.
"This is a great opportunity for Harlem and more specifically for 125th Street as it inches toward becoming an even grander destination," said Derek Q. Johnson, chairman of Integrated Holdings, which has partnered with Related.
But development projects involving historic buildings are often magnets for controversy, and the Victoria is no exception. While the theater has been deemed eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, it is not a designated landmark - and the state is not requiring that the neo-Classical theater, with its ornate moldings and ceilings, be preserved.
"That is effectively a smack in the face to the community," said City Councilman Bill Perkins, who represents parts of Harlem. "There is going to be a little bit of a fight on this, I can guarantee you."
"That's a historic theater, and we'd like to see proposals recognize that," he continued. "The preservation issue is compatible with the development issue."
At a meeting on Friday of the Harlem Community Development Corporation, the issue of preservation was addressed. While all of the proposals would involve retaining the facade, only two specify restoring some interior features. Michael Henry Adams, the Harlem historian and author of "Harlem: Lost and Found" (Monacelli Press, 2002), said he found this troubling. "Whatever happens, I would like it to incorporate the beautiful interiors of this historic Harlem theater," he said.
In particular, Mr. Adams cited the elliptical anteroom on the second floor, the bas-relief decoration on the theater's saucer dome ceiling, the long mirrored lobby and the theater's gilded bronze and crystal chandeliers.
The 2,394-seat Victoria was designed in 1917 by Thomas W. Lamb, who built dozens of Loew's theaters around the world and several Broadway houses. "It should not be allowed to be destroyed," Mr. Adams said. "Were it restored, it would be one of the most distinguished theaters in New York."
Over the last few years, Harlem has seen an explosion of commercial development, from a new Marriott Hotel to Harlem U.S.A., a retail center, both on 125th Street. Developers say there is still a demand for more hotel rooms as well for apartments to accommodate professionals. But some people who live and work in Harlem are concerned that the influx in large-scale development will compromise the neighborhood's character and displace longtime residents.
Mr. Perkins argues that the Victoria development project - indeed, the overall influx of commercial building in Harlem - should not be mistaken for a larger revival. "These days, 'renaissance' is defined by real estate," he said. "It's not a term to describe an intellectual, cultural, educational rebirth."
"What these people want us to do is be grateful that deals are being made," he said. "The easy way out is to tear something down and put something up."
Tensions are also brewing between the two agencies responsible for choosing a development plan for the site. Keith L. T. Wright, chairman of the Harlem Community Development Corporation, said his organization had been excluded from decision-making by the Empire State Development Corporation. "There has been no consultation whatsoever," said Mr. Wright, also a state assemblyman whose district includes Harlem. "It's plantationism at its best."
"This is the last big development piece on 125th Street," he said. "I just want to make sure some of my community groups are taken care of. They want a piece of the action."
But Deborah Wetzel, a spokeswoman for the Empire State Development Corporation, said that the Harlem Community Development Corporation had been fully consulted. "We've been working very closely with them," she said. "We're assisting them every step of the way; they sit in on every meeting and their board has final approval." The Harlem Urban Development Corporation, a precursor of the community development corporation, acquired the Apollo and the Victoria in the mid-1980's to save them from conversion to nontheater use.
Two of the proposals feature the Jazz Museum, which was founded four years ago to present exhibitions and further jazz education.
The proposal submitted by the RD Management Corporation, a real estate investment and development company, calls the Jazz Museum "the jewel in the crown" of its $116 million multi-use development. The proposal plans to retain the theater's façade with a new marquee and overall design by Fox & Fowle Architects.
Taking a page from the new Jazz at Lincoln Center building at Columbus Circle, which - in addition to its main stage - includes a jazz club and a theater with a glass wall overlooking Central Park South, the proposal calls for a "jazz cafe" on the second floor for small ensembles. A bandstand would be framed by a large window on the 125th Street side of the building.
Now that Jazz at Lincoln Center is open in the Time Warner Center, the proposal says, momentum has been created for a Harlem-based jazz institution "whose aesthetic will be informed by the sensibilities of the uptown community."
RD Management's submission also includes a 150-room hotel that would house a gallery for African-American art and a Harlem-themed restaurant. "For example," the proposal says, "the menu might offer a Zora Neale Hurston salad, a Romare Bearden pasta, a Miles Davis omelette and a Denzel burger."
The Jazz Museum would also be the cultural centerpiece of a $123 million proposal by Integrated Holdings and Related for a 150-room boutique hotel - with Inter-Continental as a possible operator - and 90 residential condominium units.
Apollo Real Estate Advisers, along with Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, has proposed a $103 million W Hotel with 156 rooms, 58 residential condominiums and 4,000 square feet of office space for the Apollo Theater Foundation. The Apollo Theater space would include rehearsal and education areas, a black box theater and an Apollo cafe. The architect on the project is Davis Brody Bond.
A proposal by the Victoria Tower Development suggests a $150 million B. B. King Entertainment Center with a jazz dinner club; an art gallery run by the Studio Museum in Harlem; and a five-star, 304-room hotel. The other groups in the running are Full Spectrum, which has proposed a $111 million complex including 78 luxury condominiums and two clubs - Victoria Small's Paradise and 930 Blues Cafe with programming that reflects black and Latino culture.
Thor Equities, which specializes in urban real estate projects, proposes a $70 million complex, including boutiques like Armani Exchange, Club Monaco and Kay Jewelers; a revived Bottom Line club, possibly with a recording studio; and a 238-room hotel.
Danforth Development Partners proposes creating a $113 million new Savoy Ballroom with banquet space for 300 people, a 90-room hotel designed by Mr. Schrager and two new theaters for Harlem-based performing arts companies like Classical Theater of Harlem, Bill T. Jones Dance Group and the Harlem School of the Arts.
At the meeting on Friday, it was clear that several Harlem Community Development Corporation board members were worried that a treasured neighborhood landmark would be erased. One board member asked, "Can this theater be demolished?"
Diane P. Phillpotts, president of the corporation, replied that substantial changes to the building would require consultation with the New York State Historic Preservation Office.
"I understand the importance of preservation," she said. "We also have to balance that against the economic development potential of the property."
Design by RD Management.
Design by Victoria Tower Development.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
Both of the rendered projects look pretty good. F&F's fatter lower tower needs to be altered, though.
I'm loving both of those for sheer originality in NY. But, this being NYC, I doubt we'll get anything like either of those - if anything at all.
While these designs are pure sex and would effectively bring Harlem into the 21st century as a vibrant and all encompassing area, the design is a paradox. While stunning architecture commands the high rents it revitalizes the area and pushes out existing businesses and residents. The hesitance to change has enough clout in an area where most people are like-minded, of the same affluence, ethnicity and societal background. The irony is that if the same program was built with a mediocre design there would be no objections because the building would not benefit the neighborhood, and as a result the neighborhood wouldn’t benefit. While this mentality has always existed and has manifested in many forms, presenting an individuals interests over the interests of the greater population of a city is greedy and completely out of touch with the character of what makes a city work.
It all depends on what is eventually included in this development. As long as Harlem itself isn't left out of the mix...
I would hate to see an alternative where nothing is done.
Jesus those designs are amazing, I love them both!
I like the Victoria plan the most, I think, by a slim margin. The designs are quite nice. This and the new Marriott would be pretty swell on the 1-2-5.
In addition to this, I would love to see another development somewhere on 125th... a W with the Harlem Jazz Museum.
HARLEM HIGH HOPES
By NEIL GRAVES
The Loews Victoria, closed since 1989, could soon be transformed.
March 7, 2005 -- The commercial strip of 125th Street could be bustling as it never has before if two black developers realize their plans to convert the old Loews Victoria theater into a world-class hotel and entertainment center.
Partners Paul Williams and Robert Jones, under the flagship of their Victoria Tower Development Co., have a $125 million plan to restore and preserve the building, erected in 1917.
But first, they must get the approval of the property owner, the state's Empire State Development Corp., which is fielding about half a dozen other bids.
The partners are said to be the only minority-owned company among seven proposals — Empire State Development won't comment — and they see themselves tangling with the "larger developers who have downtown's ear," Jones said.
Nonetheless, the two said they believe their package is one of a couple that would maintain the theater lobby's integrity and other vintage craftsmanship in the once-opulent movie palace.
"The ceiling of the lobby is absolutely gorgeous," said Jones, whose construction company built the United Nations Hotel, as well as the 125th Street Garage. "We will restore the parts [of the building] that are salvageable."
The building has essentially been closed since 1989, when the last movie flickered off the screen.
The overall plan is to erect a 25-story tower to include a 162-room hotel, 100 condos, and a ballroom with seating for 500. The main tourist attraction would likely be a 120-seat dinner theater known as the B.B. King Entertainment Center.
Among the hotel chains that have expressed interest are Starwood, with its "W" nameplate, the InterContinental and Hyatt, Jones said.
The basement would house a jazz room — the Blue Note has expressed interest, Jones said — which would also double as a "Jazz for Kids" workshop space.
In addition, the Studio Museum in Harlem would have gallery and retail outlet space on the main floor — thereby satisfying terms of the bidding process, which obligate the developer to designate space for an arts organization.
The partners feel confident.
"We want to create a real destination center to draw traffic up to Harlem," said Williams, an attorney and president of One Hundred Black Men of New York.
Was it particularly necessary to mention that the developers are black? No real estate columnist goes out of their way to mention that Trump or Ratner are white, do they?
The Victoria Theater at 233 West 125th Street. February 2002.
TLOZ: I'd imagine it was simply because the development is in Harlem.
Good base for jazz
Museum is vying for a site right where it belongs - 125th St.
The possibility of a proposed jazz museum in Harlem becoming reality could come at no better time.
Right now, backers of the museum are vying for a spot in the former Loews Victoria Theater on 125th St. - one of 10 proposals under consideration by the Harlem Community Corp. and the Empire State Development Corp. Several hotel chains also are bidding on the space.
But there is something different about jazz, which is largely a performance art based in improvisation. Its richness allows for the listener and the performer to enjoy the invention of value, which is what artistic improvisation means. It is not just pulling anything out of the air; it means pulling value out of the air.
That value will be inventively served by the Jazz Museum. The basis will be the state-of-the-art interactive exhibits that are characteristic of new museums. In the Jazz Museum, visitors will participate in the exhibits.
Live music played by local Harlem musicians will be integrated into the exhibit themes. The plans also call for space for the Harlem Arts Alliance, which will provide an umbrella for local arts organizations.
After years of being infringed upon by poverty and disorder, one of New York's most vital communities is in the midst of a real estate boom. The museum would add something very special to this turn in New York's quality of life.
Harlem's spectacular, decade-long revitalization owes a great deal to the NYPD, which must be saluted for its ongoing reduction of crime. Recent figures show that since 1993 violent crime has been reduced in Harlem by 72% and burglaries have fallen 82%.
This makes uptown Manhattan the stellar achievement of law enforcement and serves as proof that better police-community relations always works in favor of the community. Restoring safety to the streets of Harlem cleared the way for the current economic boom. Alongside the bustle of uptown entrepreneurship and the sales of brownstones for big bucks, the very name Harlem resonates with cultural importance. What could be more perfect than a jazz museum on 125th St., the most famous thoroughfare in a black American neighborhood?
"Jazz," say Harlem Assemblyman Keith Wright, "is indigenous to the Harlem community and the Jazz Museum would only serve to deepen the renaissance we are presently in the middle of, primarily because it would draw and involve community people and visitors interested in the cultural lore of Harlem."
Wright knows better than anybody what jazz means to Harlem. The assemblyman grew up around the music because his father - the famous Judge Bruce Wright, who died in his sleep late last week - also represented many important jazz musicians as a lawyer, with a client list that included John Coltrane, Max Roach, Art Blakey and Ornette Coleman.
Lloyd Williams, president of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, was a supporter of the Jazz Museum even before the Victoria Theater was available.
"This is very important to the culture of Harlem, which can never be forgotten," says Williams. "I talked about it a number of times with Lionel Hampton, who was a decided supporter."
The museum was the brainchild of former jazz saxophonist Leonard Garment, who got early support from the likes of Rep. Charles Rangel and Sen. Daniel Moynihan. The first development money for the museum was a $1 million line item in the federal budget in 2000.
The museum is important to the redevelopment of Harlem because it would supply a form of recognition and participation in a rich cultural history that should never be allowed to dissolve and float away.
For one, I can imagine no finer addition to what is a remarkable remaking of the jewels in our town's cultural crown: Harlem.
May 17, 2006
The Lights Are Still Out at the Victoria
By CHARLES V. BAGLI
The redevelopment of the Victoria Theater, once Harlem's largest theater, has fallen more than a year behind schedule amid a battle over competing proposals.
Assemblyman Keith L. T. Wright, right, and Harold Sharp examine the second floor of the Victoria Theater in Harlem. The former vaudeville house and movie palace on 125th Street has been closed since 1997.
The sign behind the popcorn stand at the Victoria Theater, a once-thriving vaudeville house and movie palace on 125th Street, spells out the last featured performance before the theater closed its doors in 1997: "Godspell."
A state board has chosen two finalists for the long-awaited redevelopment of what was Harlem's largest and most elegant theater, only a few doors east of its smaller and better-known sister, the Apollo Theater. The proposals would preserve the Victoria's Ionic columns and terra-cotta rosettes while transforming the property into a hotel, condominium and entertainment complex along Harlem's resurgent central shopping and cultural thoroughfare.
But the project is more than a year behind schedule. Like the lobby, it is frozen in time, as members of the state board, the Harlem Community Development Corporation, battle with the Pataki administration over the fate of the 89-year-old theater.
The board's chairman, Assemblyman Keith L. T. Wright, who like many of its members is a Democrat, says that the state is improperly trying to force a real estate company with close ties to the Republican governor back into consideration. The board pared the company, Apollo Real Estate Advisers, from a list of bidders in January.
Little has happened since, although Mr. Wright said a showdown might be in the offing. State officials, he said, are scouring Harlem for Republicans to fill a half-dozen long-vacant seats on the board of the development corporation.
"We're fighting for the soul of one of Harlem's grandest edifices," Mr. Wright said last week during a flashlight tour of the Victoria, where the electricity works only in the lobby. "The state is being very heavy-handed. They're trying to stuff Apollo Realty down our throats. The board wanted minority participation, job creation and a cultural component."
Nonsense, countered Charles A. Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation. He said he was merely asking the Harlem corporation, a subsidiary of Empire State, to account for its decision to turn down what he said was the best financial offer for the property, $27 million, or $5.25 million more than any other bidder.
That bid came from Apollo and its partner, Starwood Hotels and Resorts. Apollo, a large national real estate investment concern, was co-founded by William L. Mack, whose family has been a generous contributor to the Republican Party and Gov. George E. Pataki. The governor put Mr. Mack's brother, David, on the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; another brother, Earle, is ambassador to Finland and a friend and unofficial adviser to Mr. Pataki.
"It had nothing to do with Mack," Mr. Gargano said. "It's a question of accountability. That was our concern."
Howard J. Rubenstein, a spokesman for Apollo, sharply denied any implication that the state's intervention was due to political influence. He said William Mack had not contributed to Governor Pataki's political campaigns in many years. "On the merits," Mr. Rubenstein said, "Apollo deserves to win."
The Victoria, built in 1917, was designed by the theater architect Thomas W. Lamb for vaudeville, and it later became a first-run movie theater. The state took it over in 1977. It was carved into five small theaters, which offered movies, plays, lectures and musical performances before the complex closed in 1997.
In October 2004, the Harlem development board members solicited bids from developers, and much to their surprise, received nine offers. The long-planned revival of 125th Street was finally getting under way, with businesses like Old Navy, Seaman's, Magic Johnson Theaters, Modell's and H & M moving there.
In its request for proposals, the board said it wanted a project at the Victoria that would preserve the theater's architecture, create jobs for local residents, complement nearby development, include a cultural component and give the state an economic return.
After months of delays, the executive committee of the development corporation voted in January to narrow the list of finalists to two from four: Steven C. Williams of Danforth Development Partners and Robert Jones and Paul Williams of Victoria Tower Development. Apollo and another developer, Integrated Holdings, failed to make the cut.
The Pataki administration representatives voted in favor of either Apollo and Danforth, or Apollo and Victoria Tower, according to the minutes of the committee meeting. After the January vote, the administration said the entire board had to vote on the matter and comply with a recently enacted state law requiring it to explain why it had not picked the highest bid for the property.
When the full board voted in April, it ratified the selection of Danforth and Victoria Tower as the finalists, to the chagrin of the state officials on the board and in part because of information in an analysis from Mr. Gargano's staff. Memos from his agency in March and April ranked the value of the Apollo bid behind offers from the two finalists.
Mr. Gargano said those earlier memos were based on inaccurate information. After the January vote, he said, his agency obtained additional data from the bidders for a side-by-side comparison, which shows Apollo's $27 million offer far ahead of Danforth's $21.75 million and Victoria Tower's $19.6 million.
Mr. Gargano is pressing for yet another vote and has notified the board that the state will be appointing at least one new member, Keith Wofford, a Republican lawyer from Harlem. Five of the board's 25 seats still remain open.
Until the dispute is resolved, the leading bidders remain in limbo. Mr. Williams of Danforth said he was puzzled as to how the state valued the bids. He said the original bid documents "never implied this was an auction for the land."
He added, "They talked about creating a catalyst for development, for housing, and providing access for community arts programs and employment opportunities."
The Danforth proposal called for creating a new Savoy Ballroom with banquet space for 300 people, as well as a 90-room hotel designed by Ian Schrager and two theaters for performing arts companies.
The other selected bidders, Mr. Jones and Mr. Williams of Victoria Tower, sent an angry letter on April 3 to the Harlem development corporation questioning whether the selection process was "being undermined, if not thwarted, by forces outside of the board solely for the benefit of a third proposer who has close ties to high government officials."
The Victoria Tower proposal included a 304-room hotel, condos, a B. B. King Entertainment Center and two music clubs reflecting black and Latino culture. Apollo and Starwood proposed creating a $103 million W hotel with 58 condos and office space for the Apollo Theater Foundation, as well as a small performing arts theater and a cafe.
State Senator David A. Paterson, Assemblyman Herman D. Farrell Jr. and Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, all Democratic members of the Harlem board who favored Danforth and Victoria, said the state was trying to change rules at the end of the game.
"This raises so many red flags," Mr. Paterson said. "It will ignite so much acrimony in the community if this continues. If they already knew who they wanted to give the contract to, why did they go to bid?"
Assemblyman Wright said the board ultimately rejected the Apollo proposal because it did not appear that the jobs would go to Harlem residents or that the theater's architectural integrity would be preserved.
This proved to be an important issue even for a state appointee who ultimately voted in favor of the Apollo proposal. According to the January minutes, Deborah Boatright, who represents the state's housing commissioner, said that the company was "willfully weak" in areas of importance to the community. If Apollo did not improve its proposal during contract negotiations, she said, "they should not get this deal."
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
Historic Harlem Theater Gets a Developer, at Last
A rendering of the new retail and
residential complex planned for
125th Street in Harlem.
(Image: Empire State
By Charles V. Bagli
November 27, 2007, 5:59 pm
After years of delay and political squabbling, state officials have selected Danforth Development Partners to redevelop the long-vacant Victoria Theater on 125th Street, once Harlem’s largest and most elegant theater. Danforth plans to transform the Victoria, which sits a couple doors east of its more well-known sister, the Apollo Theater, into a cultural center, with two live theaters and space for the Jazz Museum of Harlem, along with a hotel and 91 condominium apartments.
The new space would include a 199-seat Classical Theater of Harlem and a 99-seat theater for the Harlem Arts Alliance. Danforth, a Harlem-based developer that owns the commercial building on 125th Street that houses the offices of former President Bill Clinton, said it would preserve and restore the Victoria’s Ionic columns, terra cotta rosettes and other historic elements.
The Harlem Community Development Corporation gave preliminary approval to the deal last month, and is scheduled to finalize the agreement on Monday.
The Victoria is to become a 317,570-square-foot mixed-use complex and underground parking garage. The development would include 40,500-square-foot cultural arts center, a 170- to 200-room hotel and a 91-unit residential condominium. In addition to the two theaters, the cultural center will also include 10,150-square-feet for the primary use of the Jazz Museum in Harlem, and 4,000 square feet of office space for the Apollo Theater.
The selection of Danforth follows a three-year process, much of which involved getting reassurances from the developer that the project would include minority subcontractors, jobs for Harlem residents and housing for low- and moderate-income tenants.
Several politicians, including Representative Charles B. Rangel, Assemblyman Keith L. T. Wright and the Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer, praised the announcement in a statement issued by the Empire State Development Corporation, the Harlem Community Development Corporation’s parent agency. The Harlem subsidiary was created in 1995.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
Takes three years to get assurances?The selection of Danforth follows a three-year process, much of which involved getting reassurances from the developer that the project would include minority subcontractors, jobs for Harlem residents and housing for low- and moderate-income tenants.