New tenants coming to West 23rd Street

By Lauren Elkies | March 14, 2008 10:29AM

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

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 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 re-open 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 15 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.

That theater could also close soon. A hotelier is in contract to buy the nine-screen cinema, according to Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of the retail leasing and sales division at Prudential Douglas Elliman, who is working with the hotelier. (Note: Correction appended)

Consolo would not reveal the identity of the developer or the asking price for the space, which is owned by Mutual Redevelopment Houses Inc. She said her client is interested in building a boutique hotel of up to 10 stories, hoping to capitalize on the gallery-going crowd.

Clearview’s spokeswoman, Beth Simpson, said Chelsea Cinemas was “not for sale,” and Clearview has “an iron-clad lease.” The company, she added, has “invested a significant amount of money” in the theater.

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,” she added.

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 for the space.

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 say.