Curtain goes up on the Public Theater’s renovation


Famed actors, playwrights and assorted theater luminaries packed the lobby of the Public Theater on Tues., March 9, for the groundbreaking of the Lafayette St. cultural hub’s $35 million, two-year renovation project. Above, from left, Sam Waterston of “Law and Order” fame, Oskar Ustis, the Public’s artistic director, and actors Liev Schreiber and Philip Seymour Hoffman donned hard hats for the ceremony. Below, Eustis whacked a lobby wall with a golden mallet as Andrew Hamingson, the Public’s executive director, waited his turn. The theater has raised $28 million, and expects to have all the cash by year’s end. The work includes restoration of the theater’s facade, expansion of the lobby, construction of a 150-person mezzanine lounge overlooking the lobby and a tripling of bathroom space. Heating and air-conditioning systems will be revamped. Outside, the entranceway will be expanded with a new staircase, with long, handicapped-accessible ramps on either side. To accommodate the bigger stairs, in front of the theater a sidewalk “bump-out” will extend into a lane of Lafayette St. New sidewalk poster boxes and exterior lighting will also be installed. Two of the Public’s three theaters will remain open throughout the construction. The sidewalk bump-out proved to be one of the more contentious issues at Community Board 2 last year. Last March, after a lengthy and heated debate, the board narrowly voted 19 “yes” to 17 “no” to give the plan its advisory approval. At the time, one Noho opponent warned, “If an entire lane is eliminated due to the enlarged stoop, we risk pushing traffic into the bike lane, bottlenecks of traffic and less access for emergency vehicles.” But other neighbors said Lafayette St. is quite wide, not too heavily trafficked and can handle the bump-out. .