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Lois Weiss: Performance Art - Open Jar Studios Creates Rehearsal Space on Broadway
May 8, 2019
By Lois Weiss
Broadway’s dearth of rehearsal space has finally been satisfied and is already being booked by upcoming shows.
The two-year search for the ideal space was led by Jeffrey Rosenblatt, now with the Kaufman Organization.
Jeff Whiting, the artistic director of Open Jar Institute, brought together a partnership of Broadway insiders from all disciplines to create the Open Jar Studios, which he manages through his Open Jar Productions.
But when Rosenblatt started on the assignment, Open Jar Studios was but a dream that couldn’t afford to rent even a single one of the 25,000 square-foot column free floors at 1601 Broadway, which was the first space they toured.
Moving on, they had a lease out elsewhere for 11,000 square feet but realized the ceiling wouldn’t work.
Door number three held a 15,000 square-foot space that was being offered as a commercial condo for sale or lease. On the verge of signing the lease, the owner received an offer to buy the condo. The owner agreed to honor the lease but suggested he would become a partner in the larger venture providing more of the financial clout that was needed.
“He also realized the value to the industry,” Rosenblatt said of the rehearsal space. “At that point, we went back to Vornado, the owner of 1601 Broadway.”
No stranger to the theater industry, Vornado’s chairman, Steve Roth, is married to Tony winner and theater owner, Daryl Roth, while their Tony-winning son, Jordan, heads Jujamcyn Theaters.
The company agreed to remove a portion of the slab between the two floors which required reinforcing the steel to hold the new floor loads and meet building codes. They also added “tons” of soundproofing, Rosenblatt say.
(L-R) Andrew Albstein, Goldberg Weprin Finkel Goldstein LLP, judge for REBNY’s Sales Brokers Most Ingenious Deal of the Year Awards; Jeffrey Rosenblatt and James Cleary, The Kaufman Organization, second prize winners; David Robinov of Ackman-Ziff Real Estate Group and Woody Heller of Savills, co-chair of REBNY’s Sales Brokers Committee | Photo by Ed Lederman
The building even has freight elevators big enough to hold its pianos – one of which was played by both Elvis and the Beatles – along with the huge visiting theatrical sets.
The structural work created 24-foot-high ceilings in two, 4,000-square-foot studios that are perfect for full scale rehearsals with proper lighting and scenery scrims. There are also affordable small spaces that can even be rented by the hour for your kid’s cello lessons.
At the same time Vornado was negotiating, the theater industry embraced the idea and more investors lined up.
The group includes the Shubert Organization and Music Theatre International; three-time Tony winner and “Hamilton’s” Aaron Burr and now-“Carousel” star Joshua Henry; “Chicago” producer and Tony winner Barry Weissler; Fred Gallo of PRG Scenic Resources; director Susan Stroman; Hamilton choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who directed and choreographed the “Bandstand” film; lighting designers Ken Billington and Howell Binkley and other experts in scenery, sound and music.
The 51,436-square-foot facility now occupies the entire 11th and 12th floors and has become the largest in the city for rehearsals, auditions and support offices targeted at large-scale Broadway productions.
The asking rent was in the mid-$50s per square foot.
“He had a dream but it was impossible to find,” said Rosenblatt of Whiting’s vision and the search. “And now it’s in the middle of the theater district at 48th and Broadway. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
And soon, Moulin Rouge dancers will be kicking up their heels preparing for its Broadway run.