Community Questions for New Head of WTC Performing Arts Center

Leslie Koch speaks to Community Board 1 members about the cube-shaped Perelman Performing Arts at the World Trade Center that, at night, will glow an amber color. Images: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib (Koch); REX (rendering)

Nov. 30, 2019

Leslie Koch made her first appearance before Community Board 1 last month as president of the Perelman Performing Arts at the World Trade Center, now under construction. As CEO of the Trust for Governors Island from 2006 to 2016, Koch oversaw the island’s transformation, and since her appointment in July she has been in charge of the 90,000-square-foot, 138-foot-tall center expected to open in 2021. She will lead the institution with its artistic director, Bill Rauch, formerly the head of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Designed by the Brooklyn firm, REX, the $250 million monolithic marble cube will appear as a white box during the day and have an amber glow at night. Three performance spaces of varying sizes can be combined and reconfigured into eight different arrangements. A cafe/bar and cabaret space is planned for the first floor.

Below are Koch’s answers to questions about the performance center (slightly edited) from CB1’s Waterfront, Parks and Culture Committee.

You described the center as “alive all day.” What does that mean?

Most theaters or performing arts centers are not open unless you have a ticket. Early on in the planning we started from the opposite view. We wanted this to be open for the public whether or not you have a ticket. We haven’t set operating hours yet but were very committed to it being available to the public whether or not you’re intending to see a performance.

Are you envisioning it changing colors?

No. It’s really about the marble glowing.

Do you plan to have programs designed for this community? Obviously you’re going to have programs that appeal to everyone, but are you going to have programs that appeal to local youth?

I just don’t think that way. It’s to serve everybody and it’s to get input from people about the kinds of programming they want. Obviously, when we look at the surrounding community we look at parents with children, we look at the age of people who are working in the community as well as people who are living in the community. 

What about access for people with disabilities?

There are 26 steps going up and then there is an entrance for people who choose, or otherwise not able, to go up steps. An entrance takes you to an elevator that brings you up to the top of the stairs. 

Will there be a vehicle drop-off area?

We don’t have any dedicated vehicle drop-off.

Do you anticipate any traffic patterns changing in the vicinity? 

I personally do not. That’s partly because of how close we are to the Oculus and all of the transit that serves Lower Manhattan. So I don’t expect that to be significant. 

How many people will the largest theater accommodate?

There are three spaces, ranging in size from 90 to 450 seats that are flexible and can all be recombined. At rare moments we we might combine all three of them. I believe that capacity is about 1,100. But we’re thinking about this much more as intimate spaces so I wouldn’t over-focus on that 1,100 number. One of the virtues that distinguishes this facility is its incredible flexibility that doesn’t exist in other spaces. But what artists are interested in is a much closer relationship with the audience.

Will you have the opportunity to offer any of the local groups an ability to program on their own?

We’re exploring that idea. We’re not locked into anything but we’re exploring that idea of space being made available for groups to develop their own community-based programming as opposed to programming that we produce, so we are looking at that very closely.

What about ticket affordability? 

Obviously, we haven’t set ticket prices. But one of the things that we would want to adhere to is flexibility in ticket pricing.There are any number of ways theaters do this, lotteries, same-day, etc. We want our audiences to look like the people on the subway. We want them to look like New York. And how we do that involves pricing, but I think it also involves audience development. So it’s not just about the price. It’s also about does the work that we’re presenting reflect all that is New York. We want people to feel this center belongs to them.

Where will operating revenue come from?

Like all not-for-profit arts organizations it comes from a mix of ticket revenue and philanthropy and endowments. So I don’t think we’ll be different from other organizations having that mix. How that mix will work, we don’t yet know. 

I’m concerned about light pollution and also the effect of the building on birds. Tells us more about this cube thats lit up in the middle of Lower Manhattan.

We’ve done a number of studies of light levels and and I don’t have specific answers around how light levels affect birds but I’ll follow up on that. And as for how we make sure that it is aglow but not distracting, I do not speak foot-candles, which our lighting designer does. But I can get you some more information on that. 

I think we need a more detailed presentation on that.

That’s why I’m here. To find out what people’s concerns are.

In September 2016, Joshua Prince-Ramus of REX revealed his design for the performance center. This is the Tribs audio slide show from that presentation.