Increase proposed for Theater Subdistrict Fund

1998 zoning amendment required contribution to theater fund for transfer of development rights from certain theaters. On October 19, 2011, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on a proposed amendment to the City rules that would increase the contribution to the Theater Subdistrict Fund connected to the transfer of development rights from 46 listed theaters in Manhattan’s Theater Subdistrict. The proposal was published in the City Record on September 15, 2011.

The City in 1982 created the Theater Subdistrict to halt further demolitions of Midtown theaters. The Subdistrict comprises an area generally bounded by West 40th and West 57th Streets and Sixth and Eighth Avenues. The Subdistrict restricted the demolition of designated theaters and permitted theaters to transfer development rights to other parcels in the area. A set of amendments to the Subdistrict approved in 1998 created a mechanism that permitted certain theaters to transfer development rights on an as-of-right basis. A theater could transfer its development rights if it committed to operate as a legitimate theater and if a financial contribution was made to the Theater Subdistrict Fund. The fund is administered by the Theater Subdistrict Council, which was created in 2007 and allocates grants to promote the theater industry.

The City Planning Commission is required to review and adjust the contribution amount no more than once every three years and no less than once every five years. The adjustment reflects changes in the assessed values of properties within the Subdistrict. In 1998, the contribution amount was set at $10 per square foot of transferred floor area and increased to $14.91 in 2006. 

According to the Department of Finance, the assessed property value of the properties in the Subdistrict increased by 18 percent since 2006. Finance’s data indicated that the total assessed value per square foot in the Subdistrict increased from $105.60 to $124.63. The proposed rule would correspondingly increase the fund contribution amount from $14.91 to $17.60 per square foot of transferred floor area.

At the Commission’s October 19, 2011 public hearing, Manhattan Community Board 5’s David Diamond encouraged the Commission to review the assessed contribution rate every three years rather than wait five years. Diamond also recommended that the City give Manhattan Community Boards 4 and 5 an increased role in the Theater Subdistrict Council.

City Planning Commission, Agency Rule Making, Theater Subdistrict Fund (Oct. 19, 2011); City Record, Sept. 15, 2011, at 2094.

CITYLAND Comment: The Commission adopted the rule at its November 2 meeting. At the Commission’s October 31 review session, a Planning representative said that Planning’s staff had no issues with reviewing the contribution rate every three years. Wesley O’Brien, former counsel at Planning, explained that providing community boards with a direct role on the Theater Subdistrict Council would require zoning text amendments and changes to the Council’s bylaws, which would exceed the scope of the proposed rule. The new contribution rate will become effective 30 days after the rule is published in the City Record.

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