When Landmark Theatres at VIA 57 West closed in August last year, property developer Douglas Durst wanted to find a new tenant to take on the movie complex. He even posted on the West Side Rag, saying: “I am glad everyone enjoyed the theater. While I cannot promise the knishes will be back, I can promise that the theater will return.”

Workers taking down the Landmark Theatres signage in August 2020. Photo: Matt Fox.

However, those plans were scuppered when “under the cover of darkness in the middle of the night, the tenant stole valuable property — including hundreds of large leather reclining movie seats which were bolted to the ground.”

Durst spokesman Jordan Barowitz told Indiewire: “We are still showing the space — minus the stuff they stole.”

Durst has hit Landmark Theatres with a $48 million lawsuit for damages and unpaid rent after the company vacated the Bjarke Ingels-designed Hell’s Kitchen luxury rental building on W57th Street between 11/12th Avenues.

When Landmark opened in September 2017, it was seen as a tough spot to bring an audience, with limited public transport and a West Side Highway location. However, after a slow start, when Lincoln Plaza Cinemas closed in January 2018 the Landmark gained an audience of avid moviegoers from around uptown Manhattan.

The original deal for the boutique eight-screen multiplex was brokered when billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban owned Landmark. Real estate developer and film producer Charles Cohen acquired the company in December 2018 — and, according to Durst, tried to renegotiate the terms of the 20-year lease.

In the court documents, Durst said: “To be clear, this is not the small business owner fighting for its livelihood and trying to figure out a way to survive during the pandemic. Instead, this is a savvy commercial tenant acting in bad faith and with a pre-meditated plan, who defaulted in the payment of rent prior to the pandemic.”

Douglas Durst at the topping out of VIA in October 2014. Photo: Phil O’Brien.

The filing seeks damages of around $48 million, mostly from rent over the term of the lease, plus $1 million of unpaid rent and damages of $1.6 million for the removal of the movie theater’s fixtures and fittings.

Landmark Theatres did not respond to our request for comment. In August last year Daniela Sapkar from Landmark told us: “We are closing that location. The lease on the W57th St location was inherited from previous ownership. It was not an economically viable location for Landmark and it was quite difficult to access without many public transportation stops nearby. Landmark still, however, continues to have a presence in Manhattan with our downtown location at The Quad. We are currently in the process of exploring other possible uptown locations in Manhattan.”

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