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With Theater Groundbreaking, BAM Cultural District Begins to Take Shape

More than six years after it was first announced, construction on Theater for a New Audience's Brooklyn home kicks-off Friday.

For the Classical and Shakespearean-inspired artists behind Theater for a New Audience, it's the play that's usually the thing.

But on Friday morning, the works of dramatic masters like Gogol, Ibsen and of course, Shakespeare, took a temporary backseat to a celebration over the groundbreaking of a 299-seat theater located in the heart of the long-envisaged BAM Cultural District on Ashland Place between Lafayette Avenue and Fulton Street.

"This theater is a dream-come-true for us," said Jeffrey Horowitz, the founder and artistic director of Theater for a New Audience, joining elected officials, members of Brooklyn's cultural community and Tony award-winning director Julie Taymor at the groundbreaking event.

In many ways, Friday's start of construction on a 27,500-square-foot performance space — on a lot that was formerly home to the once-opulent Hotel Granada and later, the notorious welfare hotel, the Brooklyn Arms — was a long time coming.

When it was first announced in 2004, the theater was originally supposed to rise at the corner of Flatbush and Lafayette avenues. Then the site was moved across the street to the corner of Lafayette Avenue and Ashland Place. 

This week's groundbreaking took place at a third location — this time in the middle of the block on Ashland Place between Lafayette and Fulton Street. 

"It's wonderful not to have a moving target," said Ted Rogers, chairman of the theater company for the last 18 years, at Friday's ceremony. 

Rogers said there were several advantages to having the theater's footprint in its current location, which lies along a walking path between and .

"We may be less visible by motor traffic," Rogers said. "Here we're much more accessible for pedestrians ... and that's exactly what we wanted."

Designed by architect Hugh Hardy, the building features a glass facade with a proscenium design meant to draw visitors from a planned outdoor plaza to an intimate three-level theater inside. 

The theater company has already received the funds to cover the building's estimated $47.5 million price tag, with a total commitment of $66.5 million raised through a combination of public and private funds, Rogers said. 

According to Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Steel, the project is expected to create 175 construction jobs, as well as 20 full-time and 100 seasonal positions. 

The "top-off" for the structure is expected this fall. 

Taymor, who directed what would be the first in a legendary career-making string of Shakespearean productions at Theater for a New Audience in 1986, said Horowitz had asked her to direct the first production in the new space. 

"I don't know what it is yet," she said. 

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