In the past four decades, generations of Lower East Side residents have grown accustomed to walking past the parking lots and abandoned buildings that make up the seven acre Seward Park Urban Renewal Area. But what most people don’t know is that there’s also a fairly sizable business operating out of an old firehouse on the SPURA site.
The Angel Aerial Corp. provides equipment — everything from water trucks to scaffolding –to production companies and movie studios. They’ve been using the decommissioned fire station at 185 Broome Street (between Clinton and Suffolk) for the past 15 years. Yesterday, I spoke with Angel Aerial’s co-founder Jim Miller, who lives in the East River Cooperative (where he’s on the board of directors).
Miler told me he’s supportive of a long-range plan for the SPURA development site. He’s had a good relationship with city agencies, who lease Angel Aerial the firehouse on a month-to-month basis. But that doesn’t mean Miller is satisfied with the status quo. During our conversation, he outlined a bold proposal to temporarily use a portion of the SPURA site for a vastly expanded film production business.
Along with the large sound stage company, Broadway Stages, Miller has pitched the city on the idea of building a major production facility on one or more of the development parcels. Over the years, a lot of films and TV shows have shot scenes inside the 1930’s-era Broome Street building. Among them: “Oz” (HBO), “Law & Order” (of course), “How to Make it in America” and “MacGyver.” But Miller believes there’s a huge amount of untapped potential.
“Do you want to see 300 (additional) people walking the streets on the Lower East Side every day (patronizing restaurants and shops)?,” he asked. Especially in light of the State Legislature’s recent decision to renew movie industry tax incentives, Miller is convinced there would be plenty of demand for a sound stage on the LES. “Let’s be honest,” he said. “In this economy there’s not going to be money to do whatever the community wants to do on that site for a long time.” Until such time as the site can realistically be developed, Miller argues, the city and the community might as well generate some short term revenue and enliven the immediate area.
For the past two years, Community Board 3 has been trying to develop a plan for SPURA. Given those ongoing conversations, Miller knows the city might very well be hesitant to embrace his idea. But then again, who knows how the delicate negotiations will play out. After all, the debate about these parcels has been raging for 43 years — and counting.