After initial panic over the closing of Lincoln Plaza Cinema January 31, there’s reason to believe that the renovated space could reopen as a theater under new management. However, it appears that longtime operators Dan and Toby Talbot were not only sideswiped when their partner, Howard Milstein, decided not to renew the lease, but that he also may have planned the closing a year ago.
The six-screen Lincoln Plaza at 63rd and Broadway is Manhattan’s essential and preeminent specialized theater since 1981. The theater has not been renovated extensively for years, and Milstein plans structural and waterproofing work on the plaza area above the basement theater. A Milstein Properties spokesperson said it viewed the end of the Talbots’ lease on January 31 as a good time to move forward.
In a statement, a Milstein Properties spokesperson said: “We are long-term members of this community and have played a central role in nurturing this special theater. At the completion of this work, we expect to reopen the space as a cinema that will maintain its cultural legacy far into the future.”
However, IndieWire learned from multiple sources that, a year ago, Milstein spoke with at least one party as a future credible operator: the nonprofit Film Society of Lincoln Center. That might suggest his company maintained real interest in continuing the theater, with similar programming.
When asked if Milstein approached other parties, a spokesperson had no comment. Similarly, a spokesperson for the Film Society had no comment when asked to confirm that these meetings took place.
In an email to the New York Times, a Milstein spokesman said it has yet to determine if the cinema would reopen with the Talbots in charge. Toby Talbot confirmed ongoing discussions with Milstein, but told IndieWire that there was no indication of imminent non-renewal and they never received a revised figure to continue the lease.
Beyond any discussions or cinephile concerns, it also seems that Milstein could easily find a prime tenant. Real estate values have multiplied significantly across Manhattan while movie grosses struggle to stay even. Lincoln Plaza, even with its pick of films, saw its average annual gross fall from around $5.5 million at the start of this decade to about $4.5 million this year.
Lincoln Plaza books months in advance. Specialized distributors key national runs with their commitment, often before securing any other theater. The January 31 closing will interrupt runs of”Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” (Sony Pictures Classics), which opens Dec. 29, “Hostiles” (Entertainment Studios) Dec. 15, and veteran Austrian director Michael Haneke’s “Happy End” Dec. 22. Israeli documentary “In the Land of Pomegranates (First Run) is set for Jan. 5.
It has been a scramble. Sony Pictures Classics has been the theater’s biggest supplier; a SPC spokesperson said they are evaluating their alternatives going forward. On December 14, Cohen Releasing learned that “The Insult” made the Foreign Language Film Oscar shortlist; on December 15, they no longer had a theater for its January 29 opening. After considering other options, they rushed up the date to January 12, giving them about three weeks of playtime. That shows how even with a truncated run available they like other distributors view the importance of opening there as paramount.
Distributors with major titles, particularly in March right after the Oscars, now must weigh their options — none of which provide the combined audience, reputation, auditoriums, seats, and location of Lincoln Plaza.