New Team Said to Establish Vision for WTC Performance Center

Maggie Boepple, president of the planned performing arts center at the World Trade Center, speaks to Community Board 1's Planning Committee. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jan. 07, 2014

It will be years before the curtain rises on a performing arts center at the World Trade Center. But the real planning has finally begun.

Clouded in financial and political uncertainty for nearly a decade, the center now has an “A-team” assembled to make it happen, said its president, Maggie Boepple.

The performing arts center would be located 60 feet from 1 World Trade Center, in the approximate location of today’s temporary PATH station.

Speaking to a Community Board 1 com­mittee in early January, Boepple said an artistic director has been hired along with other theater consultants. And “one of the world’s most brilliant artistic directors and filmmakers” is now on its board of directors.

Boepple declined to identify them.

In early 2013, following months of uncertainty over the Cuomo administration’s support for the center, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. released the $1 million Boepple needed to hire consultants to determine the project’s costs and begin a planning process.

David Langford, former chief financial officer of the Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum, will be the general manager, in charge of the center’s business side.  
Boepple also revealed the proposed name for the institution: The World Center for the Performing Arts.

She said the center would be technologically “smart” and referred to the possibility of simulcasting performances from its stage.

“Since it’s going to be a smart theater, that means very connected,” she said.

“We take the use of the word ‘world’ very seriously.”

While performances may be seen by audiences far from New York City, the number of seats inside the theater will be more modest than expected.

“We’ve gotten away from having one big 1,000-seat theater,” Boepple said. “We’re now very convinced that what we’ve come up with will be good for the work that goes on there.”

While declining to say how many seats are being contemplated for the theater (originally there was to be a smaller venue in addition to the 1,000-seat auditorium), Boepple acknowledged that Frank Gehry’s showy design concept for the center was introduced prematurely.

“The more I thought about this, the more I realized we were getting it backwards,” she said. “The architect was in place. Great. We didn’t know what was going to go inside the building. You can’t design a performing arts center without having a real notion of what’s going to happen inside.”

Boepple spoke of a café that would be a kind of cultural hubas well as other a­t­tractions beyond performances. “There are things going on all day, rehearsals, noontime events the community can come to. So the design is going to reflect that.”

Over the past few months, Boepple said, people in the performing arts community were “polled” about what should go in the center.

“We have put together a vision that the board has accepted,” she said, “and it will allow us to work initially with the theater designers to design a space that works for everybody.”

That vision, Boepple noted, is ex­pected to be revealed in the next three months. She said there is too much work left to be done on the site to predict when it will be completed. The new PATH station must open and the temporary station­—where the performance center will be built—must be demolished.

Boepple also would not say how much the center is expected to cost, only that it will be less than previous estimates, which ranged from $300 million to $700 million.

“The numbers you heard before were unmanageable in terms of raising money,” she said, “because we want a lot of the money to go into the program and make this a very exciting place to be.”

“You can have grand architecture, people will go, ‘Ooh, aah’ and come once,” she added. “You have to have great stuff going on to get them back.”

—Aline Reynolds contributed re­­­­­port­­­ing to this story.