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What’s Next for the Loew’s Canal Theater?

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More now on the future of the Loews Canal Theater (31 Canal), which was partially protected by the Landmarks Preservation Commission earlier this month.  The decision was a big victory for preservation activists, who would love to see the shuttered 1927 building reopened as some kind of public performance space.

Last night, I spoke briefly with Amy Chin, head of “CREATE in Chinatown,” a group that hoped to turn the theater into a Chinese cultural center.  Last year, her organization and Loews Canal owner Thomas Sung released a statement saying an architect had been hired to study the idea.

The bottom line:  there seems little reason for optimism about the proposal.  During testimony last June, Sung said he “was in a frame of mind to cooperate” with the Landmarks Commission. But following the meeting he and his daughter, Vera Sung, made it clear they were concerned about their investment in the building.  Four months later, Sung has not shared the results of the architectural survey, which was supposed to evaluate the feasibility of building luxury apartments above the theater.

By early summer, Chin had begun looking at other potential sites for the cultural center. The clock was (and is) ticking on a planning grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which expires at the end of this year.  As of today, she has not heard a word from the Sung organization about the theater.  Sung’s office has not responded for requests for information by  The Lo-Down.

In the past few months, Chin has been in contact with other preservation-minded residents on the Lower East Side, including architect Ron Castellano (the Forward Building).  But without Sung’s cooperation, there’s not much that can be done. Another neighborhood activist, Brett Leitner told us:

As a resident of the Lower East Side, a history buff and a lover of movies, I could not be more thrilled to learn that the former Loew’s Canal Street Theater exterior has been designated a landmark. There is a rich tradition of film and theater on the Lower East Side that has mostly been erased from the landscape of the neighborhood, so it is all the more pleasing to see one significant piece of that tradition set aside for future generations to appreciate. I can only hope that as the Lower East Side continues to gentrify, this once majestic theater can be revived from its decades-long slumber to once again serve as a creative outlet for local residents. Hopefully, the remarkable renovation of the Sunshine Theater on Houston Street can serve as a template for the Loew’s Canal Street Theater.

We’ll be following the ongoing efforts by community groups to get the Loew’s Canal Theater reopened.

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