Community Group Makes New Push to Bring Back the Metro Theater as ‘Major Tenant’ Is Interested

The Metro Theater.

By Fernanda Martinez

The Metro theater, on Broadway between 99th and 100th Streets, has been closed for 17 years, showing its last movie in 2005. Its facade is landmarked, but its insides have been gutted — for “imminent” occupancy by a tenant who is “very special,” longtime Metro owner Albert Bialek has told the press many times over the past decade and a half (at least). Each time, the deal fell through.

Now, a group of neighborhood residents is seeking to change that pattern, and it’s gaining momentum. The goal of Friends of Metro Theater (foMT) is to see the Metro reopened as “a multi-purpose space with a film component,” said Debbie Rosenberg, secretary of the group.  And they’re using social media to gather support, with a snazzy new website and videos like the one below.

“What’s interesting about this is that young people [at foMT] have developed a social media campaign that has liberated the Metro so it has a bigger life,” Rosenberg explained. “Normally, what would happen is, people such as me would make overtures — I raised money to get a structural engineer and then I gave up. Nobody was talking about it anymore. Now, what’s different is that more and more people are talking about the Metro, so now there’s community pressure that’s building.”

The Metro Theater, formerly called The Midtown, functioned as a conventional movie theater since its inception in 1933, except for a brief stint showcasing adult films in the 1970s. The building’s façade, a classic example of Art Deco style, was officially designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1989. In 2005, after a series of different leaseholders (including Dan Talbot who ran Lincoln Plaza Cinemas until his death in 2017), the theater closed for good. And in 2006, its interior, which was not covered by landmark designation, was gutted.

Over the years, there have been many false starts toward reopening. In 2020, Bialek filed a permit for retail space. “Something big is happening at the Metro Theater,” he told West Side Rag at the time. “I can’t give you details, but we’re in advanced talks, working very intensely on it…celebrities involved…and it fits right in with the new zoning regulations – we have no zoning issues. It will be a very special use for the theater, not a theater but something tangential….you’ll like it.”

Bialek had considered doing retail before. The last time concrete plans were discussed, they were to turn the theater into a gym run by Blink Fitness.

Remember the Alamo?

Before that, the Metro was supposed to become a new Alamo Drafthouse, run by a theater chain from Texas that serves food. But those plans also petered out in 2013 after the Alamo had done significant renovation work.

In the past, individual members of foMT have attempted to restore and revitalize the theater. In 2019, Rosenberg launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for renovations, and teamed up with an engineer to assess the amount of structural work needed to renovate the interior. After being denied access to the building, Rosenberg said she decided to reevaluate her strategy, and return the money she had raised.

Last Spring, the group launched a petition through Change.org in which they ask New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to “use the power of his office to breathe life” into the derelict theater. As of this writing, the petition has accumulated nearly 3,000 signatures, and the number keeps growing.

When reached for comment on Thursday, Bialek once again told the Rag that he is in “advanced discussions with a major tenant who will be moving to 2626 Broadway imminently.” Additionally, he said that “construction permits [have been] filed with the Buildings Department,” and the tenant is currently waiting on those approvals to begin construction. “I have a confidential agreement with the tenant, so I can’t talk about it,” he said. “But this is not a typical retail tenant. Call me in two weeks,” Bialek concluded.

Craig Sumberg, President of foMT, also recently heard from Bialek that a new renter is looking to occupy the space. Sumberg hopes that it will be a community-minded business, in which case Friends of Metro Theater “will be celebrating with everybody else.” But if the deal falls through, then foMT will “try and create a community-based institution that might take the building back and reopen it.”

Friends of Metro Theater will gather via Zoom on Monday, November 1st at 7 p.m. to share their dreams for the future of the Metro theater, and to inform the community how they can help. You can find more information on their social media channels.

ART, NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 36 comments | permalink
    1. Sarah says:

      I really hope something comes of this this time. That stretch could definitely use the activation of a daytime/nighttime attraction.

      The history of the efforts to lease the place is so sketchy, though, that one has to wonder what else is going on in there.

    2. D-Rex says:

      Excellent job on the photo caption:
      “Remember the Alamo?” :- )

    3. SadforUWS says:

      What is an “adult film”. I don’t watch children’s films because I am an adult.

      • chuck d says:

        Who are you, Travis Bickle?

        • UWS_lifer says:

          Well, SadforUWS, when a Mommy and a Daddy love each other very much…and they own some high quality video recording equipment, well, use your imagination.:)

          • SadforUWS says:

            why does it have to be a “Mommy and Daddy”. why can’t any two people love each other.

            • UWS_lifer says:

              Well, I didn’t want to offend your right wing and conservative sensibilities. Also, I don’t think you are actually this obtuse.

              Anyway, as an old hippie from back in the day, I’m all about free love and sexual expression. Sounds like you might have some unanswered questions of your own.:)

              Personally, I think they should just bring back the porno theater and end all the drama. I think it could be a nice addition to the neighborhood.

    4. RL says:

      remember going to that theatre – there was also another one up near 107th street I seem to remember. If the city has given it landmark status they sure as heck should help getting a tenant – this area needs serious help to revitalize it – already sketchy before COVID.

      • Bill says:

        Was that theatre the Olympic? I remember going there as well.

        • Robin says:

          The Olympia! Where audience participation was de rigeur!

        • Nick T says:

          Yes, The Olympic a great rep movie house along with the Thalia & The New Yorker on UWS.

        • Gloria DeVidas Kirchheimer says:

          The Olympia.

          • Reed says:

            it was a great movie house…right next to the movies was the wonderful Olympia Diner.

            On it’s last days the Olympia was full of people smoking crack pipes….I used to ask people if they would move over because the flames from the crack were so high we couldn’t see the movie screen. The City neglected this part of the UWS and we deserve to have the METRO as a showcase to revitalize the community.

            • Will says:

              Bull, the last movie I saw there was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Crack hadn’t been big in the area for 10 years.

    5. Berele says:

      The owner of the Metro has, over the course of the past decade, claimed that a tenant was imminent. I would be skeptical!

    6. GMB says:

      My dream-use would be a great club for live music like Bowery Ballroom or an interesting Movie theater like Alamo. If it ends up being a community driven effort than a multi purpose theater similar to Symphony Space but a bit less formal. Show movies on a drop-down screen but also serve as a performance space. A big plus would be a few small practice/rehearsal, lesson or even recital rooms. I don’t think Symphony Space has those.

    7. Mark says:

      Anyone who believes Bialek is capable of closing a deal for the Metro must be a newcomer. I’ve lived next to the Metro for 30 years–he has been saying a major tenant was imminent every week since 2005. He made a fortune when he sold the Metro’s air rights to Extell for the Ariel, which has enabled him to let the property sit vacant. Only when it’s out of his hands will something happen.

      • LivesOnUWS says:

        I have so little faith that Bialek even cares about the UWS. Good point about selling the air rights. Why develop anything if you can get the money for doing nothing. Let the next person worry about the cleanup.

        A Blink Fitness would have been great. Alamo would have been doubly nice.

        Bialek, stop with this “confidential” BS. If someone has, paperwork filed then you can say who it is.

    8. Debra Blank says:

      Why doesn’t this group join forces with the New Plaza Theatre people?????? They certainly share a strong interest.

    9. Randy Turner says:

      in 1981 and 1982 I lived just north of the Metro. I remember seeing silent Buster Keaton movies with live organ music in the theater.

    10. M. Alf says:

      The Metro was a lovely Art Deco single large theater, with warm lighting and graceful caryatids along the walls. It was a pleasure to attend. Truly greedy persons decided to split the theater into upper and lower uglier theaters, thinking only of raking in twice as much by showing two different features, Ticket prices had been low in the original; the owners didn’t make much more after destroying the Deco: people went freely from one to the other. Of course it went out of business. I have hoped someone would restore the original impressive venue from ~20 years ago.

    11. Ed says:

      Is no one going to mention Rem Lezar being in the video?

      0:23

    12. Steve smith says:

      As of October 30th, 2021, DOB shows no in process filings, so more Bialek BS! Another fantasy!

    13. Suzanne says:

      I think Columbia Univ. should rent the theatre- students could showcase their work – art, music, film, and run it themselves. It could be rented out for income and show movies to the general public as well. Good experience for students in the arts!

    14. Irate Partisan says:

      Why not try out adult films again? That would be spicy

    15. Carolyn says:

      I think the Metro Theater could become a wonderful theater for young creative performing arts groups to perform their works in….new dance groups, new opera companies, a new acting playwright center. These groups currently perform in church basements……. It would be wonderful to have a space for young performers.

      • Roxy says:

        I agree, how wonderful if it could become a performing arts center of some kind. They did it with the Beacon. So depressing to walk by it day after day and see it molder. That whole block is a mess.

    16. Near Bway says:

      I would love for this place to open. But, it has been vacant since before I moved here, in 2006, and I am certain the interior is destroyed from neglect and the elements.

      I’d be thrilled if an Alamo moved in, or anything, really, but I suspect it is waiting for demolition. It’ll probably sit and rot for another 15 years, though.

    17. NYYgirl says:

      Will believe it when we see it

    18. Carolyn Stem says:

      My original comment wasn’t published for some reason….but I will repeat somewhat what I hope for the Metro……to be turned into a theater for small independent arts groups….dance, opera, theater, recitals. We need a proper place for young artists to perform and experiment.

    19. Lynn says:

      Call me negative but I don’t see anything coming out of the metro. The place needs a complete renovation which would be a fortune and theatres are not making money. Movies suck for the most part and people are more comfortable watching from home where they have alot of options and cheaper. I think they should get rid of the landmark status and demolish it.

      • Lighten up, Francis says:

        I agree with one part of your post: you’re negative.

        “Movies suck fir the most part” is just dumb. Glad you’re not making decisions.

    20. david natoli says:

      Agree with UWS_Lifer, bring back the adult films. The UWS is lovely but has swayed so far into bland yuppie playground.

      Either that or collaboration with the Lincoln Plaza people seems a no brainer. Similarly to whats his name from Hamilton saving the Drama Book Store, there must be someone with deep pockets and love of film who would help with construction costs.

    21. I just signed the Change.Org petition and donated. We need somewhere above 96th Street to gather for entertainment. We need an art film venue and more.

      So much effort went in for the landmarking (I should know), what a drain to see the place just sit there, idle.