‘A Complete Free-for-All’

CB1 Raises Concerns about Wave of New Event and Entertainment Venues Planned for Downtown

The 30,000-square-foot former home of the Museum of American Finance is now the Will and Wall Ballroom, one of multiple events venues that have sparked concern among community leaders about local crowding and safety.

Members of Community Board 1 (CB1) are expressing reservations about multiple new party and performance spaces slated to open in Lower Manhattan this year.At the January 28 monthly meeting of the Board, Mariama James, who co-chairs CB1’s Quality of Life & Service Delivery Committee, described a production planned for a new theater space now being created within 20 Exchange Place, near the corner of William Street.

“It’s by a group called Emursive,” noted Ms. James, “and the show is called ‘Sleep No More,’” which draw ironic laughs from members who CB1, because the title neatly evokes their concerns for the surrounding neighborhood. ‘Sleep No More’ is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth,’ infused with a 1930s film noir sensibility. The “immersive” approach fuses ‘promenade theater’ (in which the audience strolls at whatever tempo they chose through a succession of rooms) and ‘environmental theatre’ (in which staging takes place within physical spaces that resemble the play’s setting, rather than using a traditional theater layout). After a 2003 premier in London, the show opened on West 27th Street in 2011.

“They want to be open from 11:00 am for their cafe,” continued Ms. James, “then start performances at 6:00 pm, and stay open until 3:00 am. So they plan to be open far longer than they are closed — seven days a week, 365 days per year, with no holidays, and no breaks.”

This has led a new grassroots organization, Keep FiDi Safe, to collect more than 1,000 signatures from local residents on a petition, urging CB1 and the State Liquor Authority to deny Emursive’s application for a liquor license. The group’s online petition (which can be found at: http://keepfidisafe.org) notes that, “our historic neighborhood is a quiet, residential enclave, home to thousands of families who already struggle with the significant challenges posed by a saturated nightlife scene on nearby Stone Street, noise pollution, garbage overflow, heavy foot and vehicular traffic and impeded emergency vehicle access.”

Keep FiDi Safe describes the liquor license application for 20 Exchange Place as an attempt to, “force a nightclub in our backyard” and argues that, “the narrow one-way streets, limited sidewalk space and quiet nature of the area make the corner of William Street and Exchange Place an incredibly irresponsible and ill-suited home for a nightclub.”

“Obviously that will have an impact on the neighborhood,” Ms. James observed. “We need to know, how much can the people who live there take? And what will be the impact on the infrastructure — the transportation and the sanitation? How much can that neighborhood and the streets take?”

This led Bruce Ehrmann, who co-chairs CB1’s Landmarks & Preservation Committee, to observe that, “Manhattan’s entertainment district was once, roughly, Herald Square to Times Square. But because so many things are moving Downtown, entertainment is following. And the result of a ’24-hour-per-day vibrant community’ — which is all we’ve heard since zoning has been essentially out the window, with everything being mixed-use so that everyone can make a profit — is this complete free-for-fall. Zoning, as we knew it, has become almost non-existent, under the name of ‘activation’ on every single block.”

Citing a broader context of concern, Ms, James said, “we’re going to convene a Large Venue Working Group, to discuss these issues,” noting that this meeting would review plans for multiple large party and performance facilities planned for Lower Manhattan.

CB1 member Joel Kopel: “Just to give you an idea of who many people will be involved with this venue — 3,500 people a night, times 365. That’s over two and a half million people coming to that corner of William and Wall Street throughout the year.”

Ironically, that meeting (which is scheduled for 6:00 pm, this Wednesday, February 6) will be held within another of these planned event spaces, this one at 48 Wall Street (near the corner of William Street). That building, the historic Bank of New York & Trust Company headquarters, more recently served as home to the Museum of American Finance, which vacated the space last year.

The 30,000-square-foot facility is now occupied by MMEink, which describes itself as, “a full service event planning company specializing in event production, engagement, facilities management and hospitality services in the New York.” The company has converted the space to use as a catering and party venue, and is marketing it as “the Will and Wall Ballroom.”

CB1 member Joel Kopel (who serves on the Board’s Land Use, Zoning & Economic Development Committee, as well as its Licensing & Permits Committee), interjected that, “just to give you an idea of who many people will be involved with this venue — 3,500 people a night, times 365. That’s over two and a half million people coming to that corner of William and Wall Street throughout the year.” This drew stunned gasps from several members of CB1.

But neither the space at 20 Exchange Place nor the facility at 48 Wall Street qualifies as the largest venue to arouse concerns about local crowding and safety. This title is claimed by the former American Stock Exchange building (located at 74 Trinity Place), where the massive (and now disused) trading floor is being converted into an 80,000-square-foot concert and performance space. There, Live Nation Entertainment, a firm that owns or operates more than 200 venues throughout North America and Europe, including the outdoor concert space on the roof of Pier 17 in the South Street Seaport, is partnering with another management company that already has a significant presence Downtown, Legends Hospitality, which currently manages One World Observatory, atop the World Trade Center. (Legends is also now developing a new food hall and music venue at 28 Liberty Street.)

An interior rendering of the American Stock Exchange conveys some sense of what the historic trading floor would look like if converted into a concert venue, as is now being proposed.

Together, Live Nation and Legends hope to create an entertainment destination within the 1921 landmarked structure (which has been vacant since 2008, when the American Stock Exchange merged with the New York Stock Exchange) that will host as many as 3,000 people. They also plan to have eight bars throughout the facility.

A thematically similar (but much more modest) plan to bring a live performance venue and bar, combined with a luxury bowling alley and upscale pinball arcade, to nearby 23 Wall Street (another iconic, but disused, tabernacle of capitalism) aroused spirited opposition from the community, based on concerns about crowding and quality of life impacts. That 2015 scheme was later abandoned by Latitude 360, the firm that had hoped to redevelop 23 Wall Street.

The plan for the American Stock Exchange is more ambitious by several orders of magnitude. Located across the street from Trinity Church and in the midst of what has evolved into a residential neighborhood over the last two decades, it would bring thousands of pedestrians to narrow local thoroughfares (some barely wide enough to accommodate a single lane of traffic) that were laid out in the 1700s, such as Cedar, Thames, and Carlyle Streets. The siting of a concert venue there could also be expected also to draw many dozens of large trucks and buses to the site (carrying equipment for shows, and ferrying audience members), along with hundreds of for-hire vehicles.

Moreover, some of these narrow lanes may be only intermittently available. Thames Street, between Trinity Place and Greenwich Street, has been closed for several years, to facilitate construction on a large hotel (on the north side of the street) and then a “super-tall” apartment tower (on the south side). Separately, another block of Thames Street, between Broadway and Trinity Place, is the subject of a proposal by a real estate developer to close the road permanently, and convert it into an outdoor shopping arcade.