New BAMland theater set

The Brooklyn Paper
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Adding to the growing cache of projects in place for the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Cultural District in Fort Greene, the mayor has unveiled designs for an ultramodern, $335.8 million, 299-seat Theater for a New Audience.

Designed by architects Frank Gehry and Hugh Hardy, the four-story building, at Flatbush and Lafayette avenues, will give the troupe, known for performing Shakespeare and classical drama, a stage inspired by one used by London’s Royal National Theater, with high ceilings and a trapped floor.

The designers called it “both intimate and epic.”

The development site, which will come to include a 110,000-square-foot visual and performing arts branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, replaces what is now a BAM parking lot and a privately run gardening center.

Joined on Feb. 3 by officials from the theater group, Borough President Marty Markowitz, Council members Letitia James and David Yassky, city Arts Commissioner Kate Levin, and representatives of the Economic Development Corporation and the Brooklyn Academy of Music Local Development Corporation, Mayor Michael Bloomberg helped unveil the plans at the studio of the Mark Morris Dance Troupe. The city is contributing $6.2 million for the theater.

“This new theater will be an important anchor for the BAM Cultural District, which is an essential component of our effort to expand the city’s third-largest business district in Downtown Brooklyn,” the mayor said.

“Combined, the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning, the Atlantic Yards development, and the BAM Cultural District will result in the creation of 500,000 square feet of new space for the arts, almost 7 million square feet of office space, 5,500 mixed-income apartments, over 1 million square feet of retail, and a 19,000-seat arena,” a mayoral press release boasted, factoring in developer Bruce Ratner’s plans for a basketball arena and 17 office and residential skyscrapers emanating from the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

The theater project is the second to move forward in the cultural district. The first, an office building for arts groups at 80 Hanson Pl., is nearing completion.

“William Shakespeare, your new home away from home is Flatbush-upon-Lafayette!” said Markowitz.

The BAM Cultural District, a $650 million project, came about as a partnership between the city and the BAM Local Development Corporation to help transfer and finance the renewal of vacant or underutilized properties around BAM to further the arts scene in Fort Greene.

With goals of creating affordable space for arts organizations and arts-related educational programming, as well as beautifying the streetscapes and public areas and expanding the housing market, the LDC has had little difficulty garnering the interest of private and public donors.

While the chairman of the BAM LDC, Harvey Lichtenstein, has some detractors in the largely black Fort Greene community who say his artistic preferences are “Eurocentric” and fear the LDC will show preference to white arts groups, the ambitions of the development corporation to keep the area artsy have been supported by the city officials both vocally and fiscally.

James, whose district includes the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the cultural district and the nearby communities of Fort Greene and Prospect Heights, has been involved in a group called the Concerned Citizens Coalition, comprised of religious leaders and residents who want to address potential displacement of with the coming of the cultural district.

Nevertheless, she, too, spoke highly of the new theater.

“Theater for a New Audience creates world-class theater and maintains as a core mission an inspiring commitment to community-based education,” she said.

“At a time when arts and culture in our schools are being cut, welcome to Fort Greene.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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