FiDi Locals Fear New Show From “Sleep No More” Producers Will Cause More Sleep Deprivation
Producers of the wildly popular immersive dance-theater experience Sleep No More are planning to bring a second extravaganza to Manhattan, in a largely residential building in the Financial District. Some locals, however, are trying to block the new show, fearing the late night crowds will bring no more sleep.
On Tuesday night, Manhattan Community Board 1’s licensing committee voted against recommending a liquor license for Emursive, the company behind Sleep No More.
Opponents of the show’s new proposed space at 20 Exchange Place, a 57-story building near Wall Street, packed a conference room at the Manhattan Borough President’s office to condemn the potential increase in traffic in the Financial District’s narrow streets, as well as the presence of hundreds of drunken revelers on a nightly basis.
“I can’t imagine what 500 people having a wonderful inebriated time watching an immersive theater experience would do to our side streets,” said Eric Kaufman, a resident of nearby 15 Broad Street.
Sleep No More has been housed in a converted warehouse, called the “McKittrick Hotel,” on West 27th Street in Chelsea since 2011. Rather than sitting and watching performers on a stage, audience members walk through rooms where performers are acting out scenes in a noir setting, creating an “immersive” experience. In Chelsea, the performance is based on Macbeth; the show’s producers said that a different theme would be selected for the new space, but had not yet been chosen.
The show’s producers said that they had engaged in lengthy discussions with community members and had reached a potential compromise: a 500 guest limit in the 3500 person capacity space, with staggered entrance times and guests heavily encouraged to arrive by mass transit instead of cars, in order to reduce congestion on both the narrow street and narrow sidewalk. The project would also include a cafe open to the public before showtime, and alcohol service would end at 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends.
Those who showed up were not impressed, however. Area residents provided testimonials divulging their love of the show and their simultaneous opinion that 20 Exchange wasn’t the right area, owing to the potential for increased foot and vehicle traffic that would potentially block emergency services. Locals are also worried about potential noise pollution and late-night public drunkenness.
“Social engineering your customers to take public transit isn’t going to work,” said CB1 member Marc Ameruso, adding “this is a very problematic application.”
At the same time, residents said that Emursive had failed to do due diligence in its application and community engagement processes, saying that its traffic and fire plans were inadequate.
An email sent by the management company at 20 Exchange Place to residents on February 13th does not make note of the liquor license application, and instead only mentions the “daytime cafe,” which at night would become part of the theater experience, as well as a “cultural arts experience for up to 500 people.”
“Everybody here has tried to listen very carefully to your presentation. It was not adequate,” said Susan Cole, the licensing committee chair. “It was not adequate. And that’s why we’re in the position that I don’t like to be in.”
Speaking with Gothamist after the vote, Emursive impresario Jonathan Hochwald said that the venue may well end up operating without a liquor license at all, noting that alcohol was an “important” but not “central” aspect to Sleep No More’s experience and that the space at 20 Exchange was particularly special.
Built in 1931 as the headquarters for the National City Bank of New York and the Farmers’ Loan and Trust Company, which would eventually become the modern Citigroup, the Art Deco tower was constructed in 1931 and remained Citi’s headquarters until 1956 before eventually becoming a largely residential building. It was originally intended to be the world’s tallest building, but was quickly superseded by other supertall Art Deco towers like the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building.
A chart of proposed paths forward, shared with Gothamist, showed Emursive’s “worst case scenario,” where it fails to get a liquor license, would include allowing the venue to be at full capacity of 3,500 people, with cheap tickets, and to stay open until 4 a.m.
“We love this space,” Hochwald said. “It’s an incredible jewelbox, it’s been vacant for 50 years. It’s an amazing location, people are going to be really excited to see it when it’s open.”
Hochwald said that the producers will be regrouping to figure out next steps. The proposal will be voted on by the full community board next week, before going to the State Liquor Authority for final approval, but the committee’s rejection of the proposal may not bode well for the group’s chances of obtaining a license.
“I think it’s a big win for the community,” Alejandra Cata, head of the group Keep FiDi Safe, which has opposed the project, told Gothamist after the committee’s vote.