Published: February 13, 2007
The Seventh Regiment Armory has rarely looked better than it did on January 18, when the Winter Antiques Show opened for its 53rd year. In December, the not-for-profit Seventh Regiment Conservancy assumed responsibility for Manhattan’s premier venue for arts and antiques fairs, long managed by the State of New York.
The mission of the conservancy, whose 19-member board includes Winter Antiques Show chairman Ari L. Kopelman and Christie’s chairman Stephen Lash, is to restore the landmark structure, cash-starved and in need of repair for decades. The historic building houses reception rooms designed by Gilded Age notables Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated Artists, Stanford White, and Herter Brothers. Over the years, leaky roofs have damaged ornamented ceilings and walls.
By January, the conservancy had removed the great bronze doors of the brick fortress, which occupies an entire block on Park Avenue between 65th and 67th Streets, for restoration. The entryway abutting the 55,000-square-foot drill hall glowed under the soft light of antique chandeliers, newly cleaned and refitted. Civil War-era portraits were dusted, lit and labeled. Walls and windows were washed. With restoration slated to begin soon, the conservancy removed a coat check and scaffolding in a room designed by Herter Brothers.
Repairs to the building’s physical systems, from heating to electricity to elevators, are also getting underway. In 2007, the conservancy plans to install an air-conditioning system and modernize lavatories. The conservancy aims to remove concrete bunkers along the sides of the drill shed, freeing up more space for booths or exhibitor storage; clean exterior masonry and ironwork; restore interior wooden doors; and add better signs for visitors. The conservancy’s best guess is that the restoration will take five years and cost about $150 million.
Show managers got their first firm indication of how the repairs will be financed when armory rents went up in January from about $10,000 a day to $20,000 a day. This fall, the rate will increase to $30,000 a day. No assurances have been offered that rents will not go even higher.
The rate for charities — including East Side House Settlement, which produces the Winter Antiques Show, and the Art Show, organized by the Art Dealers Association of America and benefiting Henry Street Settlement — also increased, from about $6,000 a day to $15,000 a day.
In conversations with Antiques and The Arts Weekly, show managers shared their concerns about the hikes, which they fear will punish the already struggling middle-tier of the art and antiques market and fall heavily on dealers, as well as on the charities that benefit from these shows. While only the Winter Antiques Show and the Art Show donate their entire gate to charity, many armory fairs are fundraisers. Their beneficiaries include Memorial Sloan Kettering, Asia Society, the Brooklyn Museum, the Print Room of the Museum of Modern Art, Project A.L.S., Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, the Frick Collection, Bard Graduate Center and the Citizen’s Committee for Children of New York.
The conservancy continues to emphasize its commitment to keeping art and antiques shows as tenants but argues that, with the armory’s repair as its chief obligation, the “below market” rental rate must increase.
The managers we spoke to asked for anonymity. Each one told a similar story and each expressed concern about the future of the armory as a show venue. Each supports the conservancy’s mission and hopes to continue working with conservancy staff. All said that they had been informally warned last year that daily rent would go to $20,000. None expected the rent to triple in less than a year.
Promoters said that some changes, such as adding air-conditioning, and removing the concrete barriers along the sides of the drill shed, will ultimately lower their costs.
Managers questioned how the new rates were calculated. Asked one manager, “What does ‘market rate’ mean in the context of events management The financial equation has to be one that all parties can live with.”
Managers complained that they were not given sufficient formal notice of the increase. “Ideally, you’d like to have a year’s notice,” said one manager. Sanford L. Smith & Associates seems to have been the only promoter to add a clause to his contracts to protect himself against a possible rate hike. For his two spring shows, Works on Paper and the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, Smith said he would absorb part of the increase and pass part of it along to his exhibitors and the public.
Managers said that, based on their research, daily rent of $30,000 was high for Manhattan, especially considering the many extra costs, from covering the floors and ceiling to renting the coat check and the Tiffany room, that they must absorb. Said one manager, “The cost of producing a show at the Seventh Regiment Armory is going up by five to eight percent on top of the rent increase. Prices for advertising and labor are increasing, along with the costs associated with meeting a variety of new requirements, from building and fire code regulations to parking, loading and staging directives.”
All the managers said that they plan to proceed with their published show schedules, even though their profits will be smaller. They speculate that specialty shows and smaller dealers will be among those most hurt by the rent increases. As long as the Euro remains strong against the dollar, the Seventh Regiment Armory will remain an attractive venue for European dealers. Some managers are considering other venues in Manhattan. At least one promoter has dates at the Lexington Avenue Armory, where the rent remains low by comparison.
Said one manager, “The strongest shows will survive. Managers will make less money, and will have to be willing to make less money. The contractors will have to make a little less money, too. The minute we start losing dealers, our shows get less profitable. We have to keep our shows filled.”
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm