Movement Seen for Tax-Break Plan for NYC Landlords Leasing Space to Artists

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The Clyde Fitch Report is pleased to announce exclusively that a burgeoning coalition of leaders from the Manhattan theater community has persuaded the majority of arts and culture committees of all 12 Manhattan community boards to consider an innovative “a tax abatement proposal” geared toward incentivizing real estate owners and developers to provide space to nonprofit arts groups and artists.

Led by a spectrum of creatives, producers, arts advocates and interested colleagues with an in-depth knowledge of the New York City legislative process, their goal is to devise a powerful, sustainable tax benefit to incentivize real estate owners and developers to “offer longer leases at below-market rates.”

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Persuading these committees to examine such a tax break — not to mention persuading the community boards as a whole or Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer or various members of the City Council or Mayor Bloomberg — may seem like a different matter from actually getting a tax break legislated, implemented and administered. But given the vast, powerful, vested interests of the real estate lobby in New York City, the simple fact that the coalition has been successful so far bodes well for the future of their idea.

The coalition has graciously furnished the Clyde Fitch Report with an exclusive press release. It includes a quote from Oscar-winning actress Olympia Dukakis, who is publicly endorsing the idea, as well as a quote from Robert Lyons, the downtown producing legend who spent much of 2008 and 2009 battling to keep his beloved Ohio Theatre alive. The text of the release reads, in part, as follows:

ARTS, CULTURE AND THEATER COMMITTEES OF
MANHATTAN COMMUNITY BOARDS
COME TOGETHER IN AN UNPRECEDENTED ALLIANCE
TO CRAFT INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS FOR NYC THEATERS IN CRISIS!

Today, arts representatives/members from Manhattan Community Boards met with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and their respective Community Board Chairs to discuss innovative solutions to remedy the current fiscal and real estate crises that are endangering small to mid-sized non-profit theaters and other performing arts organizations throughout New York City.

For what may be the first time, the majority of Arts & Culture committees of all 12 Manhattan Community Boards will work together informally to craft a tax abatement proposal aimed in part at saving the Off-Off-Broadway theater sector and its venues, which serve all of the performing arts.

When informed of this Community Board development, Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis said, “As a person who has owned and operated a small theater for many years, I salute the Manhattan Community Boards for working together so ingeniously on such a confounding problem!”

In New York City, approximately 50 theaters provide access to affordable performance space for over 400 small theater companies and many other performing arts organizations. This Community Board effort seeks to incentivize landlords to offer longer leases at below market rates to this core set of venues. The entire sector depends on low cost space, which makes risk-taking and incubation of new work and new talent possible. The proposal presumes that New York City’s viability is tied to the arts and that the vitality of New York City’s entire performing arts sector is at stake.

At the first ever Manhattan Community Board Congress held on February 17, 2009, organized and presented by Community Boards 1-5, Borough President Scott Stringer challenged the overflow crowd of more than 300 individuals (who represented the majority of small theater companies in NYC) to come up with innovative solutions their elected officials could advocate for. The Manhattan Community Boards have taken that mandate seriously and have met many times over the ensuing months to discuss innovative solutions to deep-rooted problems facing the sector.

Robert Lyons, Artistic Director of the embattled Ohio Theater says, “Congratulations to the Manhattan community boards for recognizing both the micro-economic functions of the arts in our neighborhoods as well as their macro-economic development benefits to NYC.”

This February and March, the public will be invited to voice their support for Community Board resolutions and/or letters to be voted on at the individual Community Board Meetings regarding this new proposal. To receive more information, learn of new developments and how you can support its legislative prospects, send an email to: commbdtheaterforum@workshoptheater.org, with the words “Subscribe me” in the Title.

For additional info, contact David M. Pincus, Managing Director, WorkShop Theater Company: david@workshoptheater.org.