NYC Artist-Landlord Tax-Break Proposal Already Struggling for Support?


We sincerely hope that the rumblings aren’t true, but whispers are that the progressive, dynamic proposal (first reported last week at the CFR) to furnish tax relief to New York City landlords giving “longer leases at below-market rates” to artists needs your vociferous support to advance to the next stage.

Apparently, some operators in the district of CB4, whose Theater Task Force has devised the proposal, may have a few reservations about it — at precisely the moment that all stakeholders need to get on board.

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It’s an idea, one should note, that if properly implemented could be scalable to include all of New York City, and across all artistic disciplines.

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What the Off-Off-Broadway theater community in particular needs to do is attend a meeting tomorrow, Wed., Feb. 3, of Community Board 4, and a meeting of Community Board 5 on Thurs., Feb. 11.

Per the CFR’s post last week, “the majority of arts and culture committees” of all 12 Manhattan community boards are interested in the proposal.

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What would you do at the meetings? Read the information below for specifics, but basically, you need to speak out.

In other words: Do. Not. Stay. Home.

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First, the meeting details; then the letter to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn discussing the proposal.

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This Wednesday, February 3rd, at the Fulton Center Auditorium, 119 Ninth Avenue (between 17th and 18th Streets), Manhattan Community Board 4 is going to consider a letter written by its Theater Task Force for passage.

At 6:30, on that evening, members of the public are invited to sign-up for a public session at which they will be given two minutes to speak on any topic that interests them.

Any member of the public, who resides or works (or performs) within the confines of Community District 4, 14th Street to 59th, 8th Avenue to the Hudson River, is invited to attend.

If you are a theater artist, who supports the tax credit initiative that the unprecedented alliance of Community Board Arts related committees are developing, we need your support at that meeting.

We need you there to speak up on its behalf.

The chances of the passage of the CB4 Theater Task Forces letter (pasted below for your review) which informs our elected officials of the Community Board alliance formed to support small to mid-sized non-profit performing arts organizations, and in addition, asks for their consideration of an innovative tax credit proposal to help us reduce the crisis confronting the independent theater sector, can only benefit from your presence and participation at this public session.

Community Board 5 will be meeting at the First Alliance Church 127 West 26th Street, 2nd floor, at 6 p.m., on Thurs., Feb. 11, 2010. Your support at that meeting, if you are an artist that lives or works in that district, 14th Street to 59th, from Lexington Avenue to Eighth Avenue) is just as necessary and useful.

As other Community Boards bring this resolution (or letter) up for a vote, we will let you know of the time, date and place of their respective meetings.

Text of CB4’s Theater Task Force Letter to Speaker Quinn:

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The Hon. Christine Quinn
Speaker of the New York City Council

Re: Potential Real Estate Tax Credit or other incentives to address the real estate crisis confronting New York City’s small to mid-sized non-profit theaters and performing arts organizations.

Dear Speaker Quinn,

We are writing to request your assistance in researching the viability of a real estate tax credit or other government incentives to encourage owners to rent to small-to-midsized non-profit performing arts organizations. This request is a result of the informal alliance which now exists between the various theater, art and cultural related committees of all 12 Manhattan Community Boards.

Beginning in 2008, these committees have been working together in ever increasing numbers to identify innovative solutions to the intractable financial and real estate problems that are now facing and threatening the existence of the independent theater movement of New York, commonly referred to as “Off-Off Broadway.”

After multiple meetings and public sessions which have been held at Community Board sponsored events all over the City there seems to be a consensus that exploring the concept of a real estate tax credit or similar innovative strategies would be the best way to move forward.

Manhattan District 4 is home to the largest concentration of small to mid-sized theaters in New York City[1]. In 2008, New York Innovative Theatre Foundation released a widely publicized study (featured in the New York Times) that evaluated trends regarding performance venues from neighborhood to neighborhood. The study found that over the last five years this sector lost large number of theaters to development. For example, in the confines of Manhattan Community District 4, twenty-six percent (26%) of all small to mid-sized performance space inventory has been lost.[2].

Small to mid-sized non-profit theaters and performing arts organizations groups add value both culturally and economically to New York City’s communities, and to the city as a whole. The current economic climate, however, has made it extraordinarily difficult for many of the remaining theaters and performing arts companies to stay in business.

There is a “core” group of small to mid-sized non-profit performing arts groups that hold long-term leases and who also have vibrant artistic missions that benefit the artists they work with and the communities within which they have found a home. These groups are the life blood of this sector, as they also sublet their spaces to other performing arts groups numbering in the hundreds, which do not have the financial strength to commit to long-term leases. As these “core” theaters and companies continue to disappear, the whole sector is diminished.

It is, therefore, imperative to look at innovative solutions that will help rescue, preserve, and subsequently stimulate the seriously threatened small to mid-sized non-profit performing arts sector – the heart and soul of New York City’s cultural landscape, and a sector which has the largest concentration of its theaters within the confines of Manhattan Community District 4.

One possible solution which has worked in other industries is to provide a Tax Credit to developers and landlords. Much of the discussion at the various meetings that have been held during the last two years has focused on such a tax credit or similar incentive to developers or owners who rent performance space at a substantial discount – or fully donate theater spaces – to nonprofit performing arts groups.

This tax credit and/or incentive could be specifically targeted to those spaces that have been created using a “Community Facility Bonus.” The informal alliance of Community Board Arts committees has already presented this concept to the Finance Division of the City Council of New York, and the Land Use Planning Department of the Manhattan Borough President’s Office for comment and instructive feedback. . In addition, a presentation was made to the Manhattan Borough Board Chairs at their January 21, 2010 meeting. As a follow-up to that meeting the Manhattan Borough President is exploring providing Land Use Planning intern support toward creating an inventory of Community Facility bonus created spaces and their current utilization.

The City would ultimately reclaim the revenue from any real estate tax credit or similar incentive through the ancillary spending generated by the influx of people who would come to these locations with the specific intention of patronizing arts-related events, and who then spend money at local businesses. As the well-respected, peer reviewed, Alliance for the Arts 2005 economic impact study showed, there is a significant benefit to the New York City tax base from the non-profit performing arts, which includes our thriving small to mid-sized theater community.

Other reasons for consideration of such a proposal include:

  1. Small to mid-sized theaters throughout the district encourage community-friendly evening foot traffic, safe streets, and help protect small business diversity.
  2. Community-based arts groups and theaters improve the quality of life in local neighborhoods and are a source of pride for local residents and businesses.
  3. Non-profit cultural organizations are the foundation of New York City’s arts and creative industries; the primary incubators where new talent first emerges, is developed, and where real artistic risks can be taken.
  4. One of the major reasons individuals, college graduates and corporations locate and remain in New York City is its thriving cultural scene.
  5. Local businesses such as restaurants, food markets, clothing stores, parking garages, and similar other retailers benefit greatly from the influx of people brought into the community by these non-profit performing arts organizations.

Given the above reasons, we ask that you, as our district’s representative on the City Council, and in your role as Speaker of the New York City Council, work with Manhattan Community Board 4, the art and cultural related committees of all 12 of Manhattan’s Community Boards in their unprecedented informal alliance, and other elected City and State officials, to consider the implementation of a real estate tax credit or other incentive to benefit small to mid-sized non-profit performing arts organizations. Working together, we are hopeful that we will come up with innovative solutions to halt the rapid demise of this important sector of the City’s cultural scene.


cc.: Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President
All Local and State Electeds for our District, including Tom Duane
Real Estate Board of New York

520 8th Avenue
New York, New York 10018

League of Independent Theater
401 West 24 Street, #8
New York, NY 10011

New York Innovative Theater Foundation
920 Riverside Drive #63
New York, New York 10032[1] New York Innovative Theater Foundation, OOB Study 2008
[2] NYIT Off-Off Broadway Survey Program, pp.5-6