West Side Rag ‘Community group makes new effort to bring back Metro Theater because’ prime tenant ‘is interested
Posted on October 29, 2021 at 10:28 a.m. by Carol Tannenhauser
By Fernanda Martinez
The Metro Theater, on Broadway between 99th and 100th Streets, has been closed for 17 years, showing its last film in 2005. Its facade is iconic, but its interiors have been gutted – for “imminent” occupation by a tenant who is ” very special, “Albert Bialek, long-time Metro owner, told reporters several times over the past decade and a half (at least). Each time the case fell apart.
Today, a group of neighborhood residents are seeking to change this model, and it is gaining momentum. The goal of Friends of Metro Theater (foMT) is to see the Metro reopen as “a multi-purpose space with a cinematic component,” said Debbie Rosenberg, group secretary. And they’re using social media for support, with a sleek new website and videos like the one below.
“What is interesting is that young people [at foMT] developed a social media campaign that freed up the subway to have a bigger life, ”explained Rosenberg. “Normally what would happen is people like me would do openings – I raised money to find a structural engineer, then I gave up. No one spoke of it anymore. Now what is different is that more and more people are talking about the metro, so now there is community pressure that is mounting.
The Metro Theater, formerly known as The Midtown, has operated as a conventional movie theater since its inception in 1933, with the exception of a brief stint featuring adult films in the 1970s. The facade of the building, a classic example in Art Deco style, was officially designated a monument by the New York City Monuments Preservation Commission in 1989. In 2005, after a series of different tenants (including Dan Talbot who ran Lincoln Plaza Cinemas until his died in 2017), the theater closed permanently. And in 2006, its interior, which was not covered by a landmark designation, was gutted.
Over the years there have been many false starts towards reopening. In 2020, Bialek applied for a permit for a retail space. “Something big is happening at the Metro Theater,” he told West Side Rag at the time. “I can’t give you specifics, but we’re in advanced talks, we’re working very hard on it… celebrities involved… and that fits perfectly with the new zoning bylaws – we don’t have any zoning issues. It will be a very special use for the theater, not a theater but something tangential… you will like it.
Bialek had previously considered going retail. The last time concrete plans were discussed, they were to transform the theater into a gym run by Blink Fitness.
Before that, the Metro was supposed to become a new Alamo Drafthouse, run by a Texas theater chain that serves food. But those plans also fell through in 2013 after the Alamo carried out major renovations.
In the past, individual foMT members have attempted to restore and revitalize the theater. In 2019, Rosenberg launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for renovations and partnered with an engineer to assess the amount of structural work needed to renovate the interior. After being denied access to the building, Rosenberg said she decided to reassess her strategy and return the money she raised.
Last spring, the group launched a petition via Change.org in which they call on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to “use the power of his office to bring” the abandoned theater to life. As of this writing, the petition has accumulated nearly 3,000 signatures and the number continues to grow.
When contacted for comment on Thursday, Bialek again told the Rag he was in “advanced talks with a major tenant who will move to 2626 Broadway imminently.” In addition, he declared that “the building permits [have been] filed with the building department ”, and the tenant is currently awaiting these approvals to begin construction. “I have a confidential agreement with the tenant, so I can’t talk about it,” he said. “But this is not a typical retail tenant. Call me in two weeks, ”concluded Bialek.
Craig Sumberg, president of foMT, also recently learned from Bialek that a new tenant is looking to occupy the space. Sumberg hopes it will be a community driven business, in which case Friends of Metro Theater will “celebrate with everyone.” But if the deal fails, then foMT “will try to create a community institution that could take over the building and reopen it”.
Friends of the Metro Theater will meet via Zoom on Monday, November 1 at 7 p.m. to share their dreams for the future of the Metro Theater and to educate the community on how they can help. You can find more information on their social networks.