Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and the New York Philharmonic have announced that they are abandoning a $500 million gut renovation of David Geffen Hall and have adopted a new plan for the concert hall that includes phased-in renovations.
Announced in conjunction with a $100 million gift from David Geffen in 2015, the original proposal had called for a complete transformation of the hall while preserving the shell of the almost sixty-year-old Max Abramovitz-designed building. Focused on "improving audience and artist experiences inside the hall," the new plan reimagines the hall's configuration, with a focus on acoustics, and includes enhancements to its lobbies and other public spaces. According to the two organizations, the new plan also "has the major advantage of keeping the Philharmonic in its home without prolonged periods of displacement."
There were difficulties with the original plan from the start, the New York Times reports, including its scope, which called for considerable excavation and extensive work on the building's foundation — and would have required the orchestra to spend multiple seasons in another venue. Over the past year, both Lincoln Center and the Philharmonic welcomed new leaders — Debora L. Spar at Lincoln Center and Deborah Borda at the Philharmonic — who were selected in part for their experience with major capital projects. Spar told the Times there was "a general sense that the project had just gotten too complicated."
According to one Times source, officials at Lincoln Center, which was expected to raise 60 percent of the $500 million cost of the project, and the Philharmonic had clashed all summer over whether to proceed, with Borda ultimately prevailing in her view that they should not after it became clear that the orchestra would be displaced for three full seasons. Also hanging over the project were questions about how much money the city could be expected to contribute. While the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations made large capital investments in New York's major cultural institutions, the de Blasio administration has focused its cultural policy on smaller institutions. Officials at Lincoln Center told the Times they had not yet reached the stage of discussing financial support with the city.
The scrapping of the $500 million plan is the latest in a series of setbacks for cultural projects in New York City. In January, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it was dropping its plans for a new $600 million modern and contemporary art wing, and last month entertainment mogul Barry Diller dropped his support for a $250 million performance center to be constructed on a man-made island in the Hudson River off Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood.
Geffen, who initially said in a statement that he was "happy" about the new plans for the hall, subsequently excoriated wealthy New Yorkers for standing on the sidelines as the city's cultural institutions scaled back their plans for the future. "That a city that has as many wealthy individuals who've made a fortune in New York — that they couldn't show up and support the most important cultural institution in New York, I think is too bad and shameful," Geffen told the Times. "I had hoped the money I gave them would inspire more giving. Without great support, the opera in New York, the Philharmonic in New York — these kinds of institutions will greatly suffer."
When asked whether Geffen's gift had been properly leveraged, Spar said that it had catalyzed an additional $200 million to date for the renovation — and would inspire more. "There was a full intention of going out and raising the rest of the money as part of a public campaign," Spar told the Times, "but it wouldn't have been appropriate to go out publicly until we had an agreed-upon design."