Like a 7,000 tone Broadway theater it was hoisted 30 feet

If you’ve ever lost to Jenga by dropping a tower after removing a block, you might appreciate what the developers have accomplished in TSX Broadwaya hotel and entertainment complex in Times Square.

The developer of the 46-story building managed to loosen its lower floors and raise them 30 feet without collapsing anything to the ground.

And what has been elevated is not just an old section. It is the Palace Theater, a venue for Broadway performances, designed by the Kirchhoff & Rose architecture firm in the Beaux-Arts style. The theater, which weighs 14 million pounds, is a protected landmark, meaning the structure, from stage to balcony, had to be moved without suffering even a crack in the delicate plaster adorning ceilings, arches and boxes.

“It was a great thrill to see this happen,” said Anthony J. Mazzo, president of Urban Foundation / Engineering, who carried out heavy lifting using a system of jacks and telescopic beams he invented 30 years ago for a project. which included a warehouse roof in Queens. “I feel like it worked like a charm,” he added.

Even in a city known for large construction companies, the project was fraught with risks, from possible damage to the ornate interior to the possibility of the entire theater crashing to the ground. But it was a crucial part of a $ 2.5 billion transformation of the building, which will include a 661-room hotel and an outdoor stage facing Times Square when it opens next year.

By 1913, the 1,700-seat building occupied most of the ground floor between West 47th Street and Broadway, drawing hundreds of visitors eight times a week to see musicals like “Annie”, “Sunset Boulevard” and “West Side Story”. But offering only live theater was stifling an even bigger source of revenue: the tens of millions of tourists who flock to Times Square in a typical year, eager to spend money in the shops.

Annual retail rents in Times Square, close to $ 2,000 per square foot, are typically among the highest in the nation. The pandemic depressed the area, which attracted just 35,000 visitors a day on weekends in spring 2020. But two years later, that number jumped to 300,000, according to the Times Square Alliance, a coalition working to improve and promote the district.

To take advantage of some of this potential revenue, L&L Holding, the lead developer of the TSX project, has made arrangements with the owner of the theater, the Nederlander Organization, to elevate the building and fill the void with three floors of new commercial space, part of 10 retail floors in the tower. The theater will have a new entrance on West 47th, as well as a new lobby, marquee and backstage area.

“It was crucial for us to lift the theater to create the space, but also to unlock the potential of the theater, with all the things that would help it become a modern building,” said David Orowitz, CEO of L&L.

Urban Foundation had a playbook to follow. In 1998, it toured the Beaux-Arts Empire Theater on West 42nd Street 170 feet west as part of a Forest City developer Ratner plan to make way for shops. Today, the building is the 25-screen AMC Empire cinema with a glittering marquee.

But at 7.4 million pounds, the Empire weighed half the weight of the palace. Additionally, the rails used to move the Empire had essentially sunk into the ground below, which meant the building only had to be raised a few inches, said Mr. Mazzo, who was also the engineer on that project.

Anyone who has ever changed a car tire using a strategically placed jack or frame may be familiar with how the Palazzo made its upward journey.

A troupe of three dozen workers first strengthened the theater by adding a six-foot-thick layer of concrete around the edge of the base, then sank 34 columns 30 feet into the Manhattan bedrock beneath it. They fit neatly into the columns, like hands in gloves, there were smaller beams that could move up and down like parts of a telescope. Four hydraulic jacks resembling large paint cans with arms extending upward were positioned under the collars on each beam.

When the jacks were turned on, they raised the collars and the theater with them. After the jack arms were raised only five inches, the workers stopped the elevator, fixed the theater at its new height, adjusted the collars and secured with large bolts, repositioned the jacks, and restarted the whole process.

In March, when the building had cleared 16 feet, the elevator project was put on hold so workers could build new floors in the newly constructed space, which also helped support the theater.

Throughout the process, a handful of people huddled in a plywood shack with their eyes on the monitors installed in the theater. A slight tilt of less than half a degree one way or another would have been enough for an abrupt stop, said Robert Israel, executive vice president of L&L who worked on the TSX project.

To further complicate the delicate nature of lifting a 7,000-ton theater, many aspects of the TSX project have overlapped since construction began in 2019, including the demolition of the old Doubletree Hotel above the theater and the construction of its replacement, the cast a new foundation and the addition of 51,000 square feet of signage on the outside of the building.

Additionally, the zoning codes have changed since the tower was added in the late 1980s, which could have meant a significant reduction in square footage for the final product. But under current New York zoning law, if a renovation project retains a quarter of its floor area, it can preserve its original square footage.

To ensure TSX Broadway maintained its size – around 500,000 square feet – L&L had to retain many of the existing concrete slabs from the 16th floor down, essentially keeping them suspended in the air as construction proceeded around them in another similar venture. in Jenga.

“This is by far the most complex project I have ever undertaken that L&L has undertaken,” said Mr. Israel as he stood in a cool dark space below the building, which carried construction notes scribbled with spray paint to him. spectators will never lake.

The theater reached its heyday on April 5, a milestone that was celebrated a month later with a media event that included city officials, L&L executives and Broadway producers.

One of the oldest theaters on Broadway, the Palace had undergone changes previously. In 1926, its owner installed an “electric piano in its lobby to rival its popular neighbor Roxy,” according to the city’s 1987 Landmarks Preservation Commission report which resulted in much of the theater’s interior being protected. But the lobby, which was remodeled in the 1930s, 1960s and again in the 1980s, never received landmark status and was demolished as part of the TSX overhaul.

Functioning primarily as a cinema for RKO Pictures for the mid-20th century, the palace was also home to actors such as Harry Houdini, Diana Ross and Judy Garland, who completed a 19-week run in 1951 and ’52. The Nederlander family bought the theater in 1965 and gave it a $ 500,000 makeover, after which it began hosting Broadway musicals, starting with the premiere of Neil Simon’s “Sweet Charity”.

Now, as the theater prepares to welcome visitors again, it is seen as a proxy for the bounce of Times Square and New York.

“We have been the symbol of the break in the pandemic and we are the symbol of the determination to recover,” said Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance.