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Things Are Not Looking Good For The WTC Arts Center

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The World Trade Center Performing Arts Center keeps reminding us it exists with news stories about changes to the design, but the design won't matter if the project never becomes a reality. In the 10 years since Frank Gehry was selected as the center's architect, very little forward progress has been made. In fact, with the scrapping of Gehry's original design, you could say that things are regressing. But the arts center has a lot more than just its design to worry about; an article in the Journal details all the reasons why the odds are stacked against the theater:

1) The center's board needs to raise a lot of money. About $155 million in federal funds have been set aside for the project, but construction costs were previously estimated to be around $469 million.

2) The most recent plan calls for three smaller flexible theaters rather than one large 1,000-seat theater, but several other smaller theater spaces have opened in the city in recent years, so the WTC theater has to compete with them for funding and audiences. "The jury is still out on whether this can be done," said Karen Brooks Hopkins, president of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. "There may be a saturation point—I'm not sure what it is." BAM recently opened the 250-seat BAM Fisher Theater, and nearby, the BRIC House and Theater for a New Audience also opened.

3) New mayor Bill de Blasio still hasn't appointed a cultural affairs commissioner, so no one really knows where he stands on the arts. Bloomberg was personally involved with the theater plans, but the Journal points out that he did not allocate any city funds for the project.

4) Gehry's role as architect is now unclear. He recently told the Times that he has not heard anything at all from the center's board. It's also unclear if the Joyce Theater, previously reported to be something of an anchor tenant, is still involved.

5) The art center's board chairman John Zuccotti of Brookfield Office Properties has said that the center needs more public funding to make it happen (the 9/11 Museum is also seeking more public funding to cover operating costs). Federal tax return documents show that in 2012, the group ran a deficit of $41,360 out of a budget of $299,102, plus they owed $300,000 to the 9/11 Memorial foundation, "which had served as an umbrella."

6) Governor Cuomo still hasn't appointed a representative to the center's board.

7) The site of the theater is really complicated. It's currently occupied by the temporary PATH station, so no work can begin until that is dismantled. Once that's out of the way, the theater, according to the Journal "would have to be constructed like a 3-D puzzle around infrastructure including PATH train tracks, a vehicle ramp, emergency subway exits and ventilation ducts that would come up through the arts center to more than 40 feet above street level." It would also require "extensive soundproofing" because of the subway tracks.

8) But mostly, the issue is funding. If the center can find a way to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars for construction, industry experts still think the theater could happen.
· WTC Arts Center Snagged [WSJ]
· World Trade Center Performing Arts Center coverage [Curbed]