The Real Deal New York

Reading International previews plans for Union Square Theatre

Company looks to attract tech tenants to 75K sf redevelopment, dubbed “44 Union Square”

August 20, 2015 03:25PM
By Rich Bockmann

Renderings of 44 Union Square (credit: BKSK Architects)

Renderings of 44 Union Square (credit: BKSK Architects)

Theater company Reading International is moving forward with plans to redevelop its Union Square Theatre, rebranding the property “44 Union Square” as it targets creative-type office tenants.

After receiving approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission in March to construct a steel-and-glass dome atop the former Tammany Hall, the Los Angeles based-firm is planning to apply for a special permit that will allow it to expand the property to roughly 75,000 square feet.

Currently, a portion of the 48,000-square-foot building at the corner of East 17th Street and Union Square East is under residential zoning.

Reading, which owns both the theater business and the real estate, plans to apply for a use permit with the Board of Standards and Appeals that will allow it convert the space to office use. The company has tapped Midtown South-based Edifice Real Estate Partners as a development manager and picked up a team at Newmark Grub Knight Frank to market the space.

It is not yet clear how the space will be broken down between retail and office use, or whether the 21,000 square-foot off-Broadway theater will remain. The New York Film Academy occupies another 13,000 square feet in the building.

Retail tenants include a pair of bodegas and a liquor store, a distant visage from the types of trendy shops that line the western, northern and southern edges of the park. Creative office tenants have also been lured to nearby buildings such as 225 Park Avenue South, where Buzzfeed inked a nearly 200,000 square-foot lease last year. The asking rent was reportedly $85 per square foot.

From the late 1800s through the 1960s, Tammany Hall was the Democratic Party machine that controlled politics in the city and the state. In 1929 it made its home at the building on Union Square, which the city landmarked in 2013.

“The building’s presence across Union Square is remarkably unique,” said Justin DiMare, who is handling leasing along with Jeffrey Roseman and David Falk of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank. “Tammany Hall has been part of the City’s cultural fabric for a century. Its commercial redevelopment will be iconic and will provide one or more users a very special and distinctive setting.”

Construction is expected to begin early next year.

In addition to its theater business – which in the city includes  the Angelika Film Center, the Paris Theatre and Village East Cinema – Reading owns the real estate associated with many of its cinemas and playhouses.

In New York City, the company also owns the real estate under its Cinema 1, 2, & 3 on Third Avenue between 59th and 60th Streets, which it is looking to redevelop as a mixed-use residential and/or hotel property.

Reading’s leadership has been caught up in an internal power struggle since former CEO Jim Cotter died last year and his children have battled for control of the company.

Dallas Mavericks owner and Reading investor Mark Cuban earlier this month filed notice with the Securities and Exchange Commission that he plans to take a more active role with the company. Insiders speculate that Cuban, whose Landmark Theatres is looking to expand in the city, could look to pressure Reading to sell off some of its properties.