The Real Deal New York

Cinematic changes on West 23rd Street

Theater leased by School of Visual Arts

March 31, 2008
By Lauren Elkies

Plenty of change is in store for a two-block stretch of West 23rd Street, where one cinema has closed and two eateries have shuttered.

It’s a corridor that has so far been underserved by major development, brokers said.

After a five-year search, the School of Visual Arts has finally found itself a venue at the recently shuttered Chelsea West Cinemas at 333 West 23rd Street, between Eighth and Ninth avenues. The 20,000-square-foot space will be used for lectures, class meetings, film screenings and other public events, said Michael Grant, the school’s assistant director of communications.

The school signed a 26-year lease at Clearview Cinemas’ two-screen theater, which has auditoriums with 550 and 350 seats.

“We want it to be a real destination,” Grant said, noting that the school plans to announce soon that it will host live programming open to the public.

The school, which has about 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students, has taken occupancy and plans on running a limited number of movies in the spring, before renovations commence in the summer.

Designer and SVA acting chairman Milton Glaser, who created the graphic and decorative programs for the World Trade Center’s restaurants, will design the building’s interior and exterior. The fully renovated building will have a new name, the Visual Arts Theater, and will reopen in the fall.

SVA has had to make do for the last several years by renting off-campus sites, such as the Loews Kips Bay movie theater at 570 Second Avenue and the New York Directors Guild Theater at 110 West 57th Street. The school needed a space large enough to accommodate big events, including meetings for the school’s 500-person administrative staff. The largest classroom at the school can fit up to 200 people.

Chelsea West Cinemas, which opened as the single-screen RKO 23rd Street in 1963, closed in mid-January. The theater is just one block away from its busier Clearview sister theater, Chelsea Cinemas at 260 West 23rd Street, between Seventh and Eighth avenues.

West 23rd Street has “kind of stayed the same” while other “areas have developed,” said Robin Abrams, an executive vice president and one of the principals at the Lansco Corporation. “It’s a strange corridor.”

Both a Ben & Jerry’s and a Burgers & Cupcakes between Seventh and Eighth avenues have recently closed.

Kenneth Rosenblum, a co-owner of Standard Realty Associates and the landlord of 265 West 23rd Street, the two-story building that housed Burgers & Cupcakes on the first floor, said that he has received inquiries about the 1,900-square-foot space.

Rosenblum is asking $125 a square foot in rent for the location.

Larger, full-service restaurants on West 23rd Street like barbecue joints Dallas BBQ and Rub, both near Eighth Avenue, and chain restaurant Outback Steakhouse, east of Sixth Avenue, appear successful, brokers said.

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