Anyone who has visited the IFC Center in winter knows the particular pain of waiting in line for a popular film in the freezing cold. No, it’s not an effort to separate the diehard arthouse film enthusiasts from the weak dilettantes. The center, formerly the Waverly Theater and before that a church, is just really old and the owners sacrificed lobby space for screens. But now, relief for those long lines– and much more– may be on the way. The IFC Center is preparing for a serious upgrade, with plans to double the size of its building and add six new screens.
In order to do this, they plan to take over a weirdly-shaped empty lot behind the current center, bordering Cornelia Street, and build a three-story extension designed by Kliment Halsband Architects. The center’s capacity will jump from 480 seats to almost 1,000. With a meeting of Community Board 2’s Land Use committee set for tomorrow night, they’re currently drumming up supporters on Facebook.
When the IFC Center first opened back in 2005, independent films and documentaries were just catching fire. This was the pre-Netflix age, after all, and the new theater was a godsend to filmgoers hungry for art-house fare. Appetite has only grown in the past decade, as evidenced by new independent theaters like Metrograph, Syndicated, and the forthcoming Brooklyn location of Alamo Drafthouse. John Vanco, the general manager of the IFC Center, said the theater is often bursting at the seams and needs more space to remain competitive. In 2009, it scrapped its cafe in order to bump the number of screens from three to five.
“In order to really be embraced by the community we found that the diversity of programs is vital, so we need to be able to do more,” Vanco said. “What we hear from [the audience] is that we really want more films. So we decided that this expansion is really the way we can thrive and serve our audiences.”
Most of the new theaters, equipped with big screens, perfect digital projection and surround-sound audio, will be small, in keeping with the intimate, indie vibe– and, of course, the fact that independent films often have smaller viewership. But Vanco said while IFC filmgoers may be a smaller coterie than the Times Square superhero viewing crowd, they come often and they appreciate a greater diversity of programming and show timings.
“A lot of these smaller theaters are going to be perfect for these movies to not only play, but play full schedules and play for multiple weeks,” Vacno said.
Since 2011 IFC Center has also hosted the popular DOC NYC Festival. With more theaters, Vanco said, they hope to be able to add a genre festival and put more focus on retrospectives, since IFC still operates machinery that can play 35mm films (most big theaters have transitioned to digital-only).
And, of course, there’ll be no more waiting in the wind and rain. Instead, Vanco said they plan to make a beautiful new lobby, 10 times the size of the current little space (but no plans for expanded bar menu or alcohol) so you can relax in comfort before the show begins.
Don’t get too excited just yet– there are a few more winters out in the cold before that dream comes to fruition. Plans for the extension have already been approved by the Landmarks and Preservation Commission; now IFC is submitting them to the New York Board for Standards and Appeals and meeting with members of Community Board 2 tomorrow night as part of ongoing discussions. According to The Villager, an ad-hoc group, Friends of Cornelia St Coalition, has formed to oppose the expansion, worried after years of gentrification that it’s too big and might be “a real estate scam.”
Vanco said once they have all final approvals, construction might take a year and a half.