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James Nederlander Dies At 94

New York

The patriarch of the Theater District’s second-largest landlord, James Nederlander of the Nederlander Organization, has died. He was 94.

The Nederlander Organization owns and runs a total of nine Broadway houses, including the Gershwin, the Neil Simon and the namesake Nederlander.

The area surrounding the world’s most famous cluster of theaters is in the midst of a shift towards retail spaces featuring live entertainment, with National Geographic recently signing a lease to bring a 59k SF “immersive entertainment experience” to Times Square, as well as Cirque du Soleil and the NFL teaming up on a 40k SF entertainment venue.

When you look at the numbers, the area’s original form of live entertainment may well have been the inspiration for the shift. According to Broadway League, gross revenue across all Broadway theaters for the 2015-16 season was a record $1.37B, up from $862M a decade earlier.

“There’s probably nobody more responsible for helping save the original Broadway theaters we have” than Nederlander, according to historian Kevin Draper.

In the '60s and ‘70s, many theaters in the area were lost, and the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, only founded in 1965, couldn’t designate many of them landmarks fast enough to save them, Kevin said.

It wasn’t purely about money for him,” Kevin says. “He really cared about the theaters themselves.”

Developers in the area, rather than seeking to tear them down, now recognize these theaters as a vital asset.

Maefield Development is even physically raising the Palace Theater, which is operated by the Nederlander Organization, by 29 feet and putting street-fronting retail underneath it as part of a redevelopment of the DoubleTree Guest Suites Times Square hotel.

James was in the business long enough to see the area's theaters falter and recover once again. He reportedly began working as a stagehand and usher for the Nederlander Organization, which was founded by his father, David, in 1939. He took the reins of the company in 1965.