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A Performance Fit for Broadway

A Performance Fit for Broadway

By Luke Carothers

The Palace Theater has sat facing Times Square since it opened in 1913.  In occupying this critical space on Broadway, the Palace Theatre has become an iconic venue for theater and the performing arts.  In its 109-year history, the structure has evolved to encompass a number of different uses.  The space was originally used for vaudeville performances, then converted to house broadway productions, before being partially demolished and absorbed into a hotel.

Now, the Palace Theatre is entering its next phase of this evolution, and is doing so with a grandeur and technical execution that is befitting of its theatrical history.  Since construction began in 2019, the TSX Broadway project has been a symphony of moving parts.  First conceived two years prior to construction, TSX Broadway is a multi-use development that, in addition to housing the iconic Palace Theatre, will also feature additional retail and entertainment space.  To accommodate these new retail and entertainment features, the Palace Theatre needed to be elevated 30 feet above its previous location and three floors needed to be excavated to provide additional retail space.  Additionally, in maintaining the original structure’s overbuilt condition, 16 floors of the original structure are being renovated into a 669-room hotel.    

The TSX Broadway project is the vision of L&L Development Corporation and Maefield Development.  As expected, such a unique vision and project required collaboration between multiple firms to ensure its final execution.  For the TXS Broadway project, Mancini Duffy, a national design firm with a 100+-year-old history and tech-forward approach headquartered in NYC, served as the Architect of Record for the development’s core, shell, and hotel. Perkins Eastman oversaw the facade design.  On the preservation side, PBDW served as the Architect of Record for the theater’s design and historic preservation, and Jablonski Building Conservation also served as a consultant for historic preservation.  On the engineering side, Urban Foundation Engineering served as the Lift Engineer of Record and contractor while Langan provided consulting services for foundational engineering, and Severud served as the Structural Engineer of Record.

One of the project’s major challenges was lifting the Palace Theatre to its new home, 30 feet above Times Square.  The lifting of this structure was a massive undertaking requiring 34 hydraulic lifting posts to move the 7,000 ton structure.  These hydraulic lifting posts pushed upward on a ring beam that surrounds the perimeter of the theater box, which encompasses roughly 40,000 square feet of space.  With the structure lifted, the new lobby area, when completed,  will double the usable area in this space to nearly 80,000 square feet.  Moving the structure upward at a rate of a quarter inch per hour, the Palace Theatre took four months to elevate, reaching its designed height in May 2022.

The plan for the renovation of this iconic space is to preserve the history, nostalgia, and legacy of the Palace Theatre and, quite literally, elevate it into a new age of prominence in a setting that enhances the theater and performance experience for future generations to enjoy.  By lifting the theater space approximately 30 feet above grade and excavating below ground-level, approximately 100,000 square feet of new, valuable usable space will be added.  Given the project’s location, adding this volume of retail space adds a massive value to the project  In addition to elevating the Palace Theatre structure, another major component of the project is a $50 million renovation of its entry spaces that includes refurbished ornate plaster, technology upgrades to allow 21st shows, 10,000 square feet of back-of-house space, a new lobby, a grand entrance, and a number of other upgrades to the guest experience.  While the theater is being lifted and the lobby and retail podium are being constructed, work is simultaneously being done on a new hotel tower on top of the recreated podium.

Adding to the complexity of the TSX Broadway is the process of elevating a New York City Historic Landmark that is located on the busiest corner of the most heavily trafficked public space in the world as well as the numerous simultaneous operations.  According to Bill Mandara Jr., Mancini’s CEO and Co-owner and TSX Broadway’s Architect of Record, this is by far the most complex project he has been involved in during his three decades in the industry.  To navigate these challenges, Mandara and his team are working with agencies such as the Department of Buildings, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and the Times Square Alliance.  Additionally, because there is a subway stop on the property, MTA and the Department of Transportation have also been involved in the project.  Despite potential communication breakdowns that often come on projects involving this many parties, Mandara notes that this hasn’t been an issue during the TSX Broadway project.  Mandara points out that these agencies were eager to embrace the project and provide help when needed.  

On one hand, there are obvious challenges that come from working with a historic structure that includes preserving things like plaster details in the theater.  On the other hand, there is another level of complexity added when that historic structure is inside another building. During the 1980s and 90s, parts of the Palace Theatre were demolished for the construction of the DoubleTree Suites Times Square Hotel.  The Palace Theatre was reopened in 1991 within the new hotel, which was its home until the TSX Broadway development began in 2019.  This posed another early challenge for the project according to Mandara.  Due to zoning restrictions, the collective team opted to make the project an alteration of the existing structure rather than a complete demolition and rebuild, which allowed them to retain the structure’s original structure’s overbuilt condition.  This meant that their plan had to keep at least 25 percent of the existing floor area from the original structure, which Mandara says was a primary focus from the project’s earliest iterations.      

Although the team opted not to demolish the entire structure, there was still plenty of debris from the sections that were removed. Mandara says that, on a normal construction project, the demolition process is relatively straightforward.  However, because the project is located in one of the most heavily trafficked areas in the world, crews are performing demolition inside the building during the day while at night the material is being brought down to the base and removed via truck.  While this requires planning to support 24-hours of work, it also avoids costly closures and shutdowns while simultaneously distancing the public from the demolition process.  

With the Palace Theatre space lifted into its position, work is progressing at the scheduled pace for the TSX Broadway development.  From the symphony of movement to the attention to detail to its sheer scale, there is quite a bit that makes the TSX Broadway project unique, but perhaps the most unique feature of this new project is its ability to enhance the visitor numbers and experience to the space while also preserving its cultural legacy.  And–just as the backstage, hustle, sweat, and coordination are transformed into a cultural product that adds to the fabric of our history–so too will the work being done on the TSX Broadway project add to that same history in a way that enhances our understanding.

Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.