Disney Aims to Revitalize 42nd Street

The company banks on Snow White to disarm sleaze in Times Square

MICKEY and Minnie and their gang could elbow out the remaining pornography theaters and shady storefronts on New York's 42nd Street.

The Walt Disney Co. is coming to 42nd Street to restore a decayed theater and bring live family entertainment to the thoroughfare.

At a crowded City Hall news conference recently, Gov. Mario Cuomo (D) and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (R) hailed the agreement as a jump start for the struggling 42nd Street revitalization project.

Disney will put up $8 million and borrow $21 million more, at 3 percent interest, from the city and state to reopen the New Amsterdam Theater for productions adapted from favorite Disney features and original stage productions.

``Often where we go, people will follow,'' Disney's chairman Michael Eisner says. ``We'll see 42nd Street becoming the Great White Way that it was.''

``This was a sewer and everybody knew it, right in the heart of New York City,'' Governor Cuomo says. ``Now 42nd Street's going to be back. You're going to get rid of the filth and bring back the old values. People are going to bring their kids, imagine!''

Vincent Tese, Cuomo's economic development director, says the deal, which took half a year to negotiate, will create 490 jobs worth $16.9 million during the two-year restoration phase.

``When the theater reopens, there will be 385 jobs and a direct impact of $53.1 million a year, not counting shopping and dining that will be generated,'' Mr. Tese says.

New York City will realize $4.1 million a year in tax revenue, he says.

But will the street be safe?

``Absolutely,'' Mr. Giuliani says.

The recession and a softening of the real estate market sank 1980s redevelopment plans, which were built around giant office towers that were never constructed.

But under a revised plan for mixed entertainment and retail use, a cleanup already has begun.

``By the time this place opens, it will be a jewel in a necklace that's already formed,'' Cuomo says.

The New Amsterdam and several other theaters on the street just west of Broadway once staged opulent musical revues and plays. But about the time of World War II they became movie houses, finally surrounded by smut-peddling storefronts and menacing street life.

An Art Nouveau palace, the New Amsterdam opened in 1903 with a production of ``A Midsummer Night's Dream.'' It was the home of the Ziegfeld Follies from 1913 through 1927. In its last live presentation in 1937, Walter Huston starred in ``Othello.''

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