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First They Take Manhattan … Then They Don’t

The Alamo Drafthouse abandons the Upper West Side

By Marjorie Baumgarten, 2:32PM, Tue. Oct. 1, 2013

First They Take Manhattan … Then They Don’t

Curtain Call on Broadway: Almost a year and a half after the Alamo Drafthouse announced plans to open its first theatre in Manhattan (in addition to sites in Yonkers, which opened just weeks ago, and downtown Brooklyn, which is still under construction), the plug has been pulled.

The site was to have been the long-dormant Metro Theater at 2626 Broadway, on the Upper West Side, and it had been an oft-stated desire of Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League to plant his flag in the Big Apple. Plans announced in April 2012 called for a five-screen venue to be built from the gutted remains of the Metro, which was formerly a movie theatre. "This one's a good one," said League at the time in an interview with the Chronicle. "I have a soft spot for the fixer-uppers." The plan called for the Alamo’s signature food service and “grindhouse-lovin’” programming.

However, the Alamo, in a blog update yesterday on the Drafthouse website, announced plans to curtail the project. “Too much has changed since we initially began work on the location,” reads the announcement. It continues:

“Construction costs have risen tremendously since engaging in the project back in early 2012 (due in some measure to ongoing Hurricane Sandy reconstruction efforts) and ultimately the location is no longer financially viable for us. We would love to make the upper west side location our next neighborhood theater in New York, but we cannot see this particular location as sustainable under current conditions.”

According to an interview League conducted today with Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times, plans for the theatre had been fully designed, although construction had not yet started. League estimated that “under $1 million” had been spent on the project, though he hadn’t given up hope on finding another location that would be “easier and cheaper.”

The Alamo’s unsigned blog post yesterday goes on to state that “The New York City area expansion remains a priority for us in addition to the theaters currently under construction in San Francisco, Kalamazoo, MI, and New Braunfels, TX.” We should also add to that list the renovations currently underway at the Drafthouse’s flagship venue at Austin South Lamar location, which are eagerly anticipated.

For a while over the past year, it looked like there was no end to the Alamo Drafthouse’s nationwide expansion, with announcements of openings in new cities arriving in our email seemingly every week. Maybe the cost of rapid expansion is catching up to the Drafthouse enterprise or maybe it’s the cited hike in New York-area construction prices in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, but there’s one thing I can tell you for certain: The announcement of this work shutdown did not arrive in triplicate in my inbox the same way that prior expansion announcements have.

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