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A staple of W42nd Street, the revival of the long-dormant, century-old Times Square Theater has hit a new snag — the lack of interested tenants has pressed pause on the renovation of the historic Midtown performing venue. 

The Times Square Theater has paused its extensive renovation, citing the need for a tenant commitment. Photo: Naty Caez

The 41,500-square foot behemoth at 215 W42nd Street — which showed everything from the play Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Noël Coward hits to slasher films during its 70-year active tenure — closed in 1990, when the City of New York took possession of the landmarked space before handing it over to cultural development nonprofit New 42. Real estate developers Stillman International took charge of the plans in 2018 for a proposed $100 million dollar immersive retail space, but have now paused the theater’s extensive redesign which includes the construction of two additional floors, a glass box cantilevered over the street and the preservation of the building’s historic limestone facade.  

“Work will commence as soon as we have a tenant,” Colliers broker Bradley Mendelson told the New York Post. The property is currently listed for lease on the real estate firm’s website. “They don’t want to do anything that might need to be undone,” he added. “Stillman is still in the deal.” 

The venue has seen its share of potential tenants come and go during its 33-year slumber. In 2004, clothing company Ecko announced plans for a four-story retail flagship which was nixed in 2009. In 2011, plans were announced to build a Las Vegas-style entertainment complex entitled Broadway 4D, but the project never made it to its intended 2014 opening date. And now, five years into the Stillman proposal and nearly three years after its proposed completion, developers have yet to locate a tenant to reimagine its use. W42ST reached out to New 42 for additional information on potential uses for the building and will update if we hear back. 

The theater’s presence on a block that has long since been significantly altered is a remnant of the famous thoroughfare’s varied evolution. Built in 1920 by Italian-American theater architect Eugene De Rosa, it is one of the few structures that hasn’t been reworked into a modern retail, performance or cinematic venue since the days of early vaudeville, The Deuce and the 1990s Disney/Bloomberg commercial takeover.

Times Square Theater in 1955. Photo: Sabine Weiss

Its neighbors tell a different story. The adjacent Apollo Theatre, also designed by De Rosa, went through decades of change as a musical theater venue, burlesque house and X-rated cinema before it was demolished and merged with the Lyric Theater (now home to Broadway’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child). The Selwyn Theatre was purchased by the City of New York and rebranded The American Airlines Theater, housing rehearsal and performance facilities for tenant The Roundabout Theatre Company and the New 42 studios. The New Victory Theatre, now known for its family-friendly performances, was once a theater named The Republic before it became the infamous Minsky’s Burlesque (where famed strip star Gypsy Rose Lee, inspiration for the musical Gypsy, performed) and eventually a porn movie house in the 1970s. The Empire Theatre, also known for its spectacular facade and history as a burlesque house, maintained its exterior but was moved down the block (in its entirety!) and converted into the AMC Empire 25 in the 1990s. 

Other Times Square structures, like the erstwhile BB Kings Jazz Club (now a Target) and the ambitious Palace Theatre preservation and renovation project show that Midtown continues to shape shift, but the Times Square Theater’s fate remains unknown as it awaits its next act. Here’s hoping the historic structure will be able to raise the curtain on a new era soon!

Construction inside the Times Square Theater in 2019. Photo: Phil O’Brien

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1 Comment

  1. Simple – it should become what it was intended for, make it a Theater once again. Retail space, seriously there is enough of that and plenty available in todays market.

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