Gearing up to fight an interactive theater in Fidi

A group of downtown residents has organized to fight a plan to make the historic building at 18 William/20 Exchange Place (at Beaver) into an immersive theater experience called “Sleep No More” (I know! Not the best name when you are presenting to the neighborhood).

Keep FiDi Safe has an online petition to challenge the group’s application for a liquor license, using the argument that “our unique, historic and now residential community simply cannot absorb a large scale venue like this with the potential of hundreds more people per day, 7 nights a week.”

The meeting, now on for Tuesday, Feb. 18, 6p, was rescheduled several times after the first presentation (made in April, I think?) was a standing room only affair and the community board was forced to send the applicant back to the drawing board. (Note the location this time is 1 Centre, 19th Floor South, at the borough president’s office.)

“Sleep No More” is the New York City production of a site-specific work of theater created by British theater company Punchdrunk. It is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, with inspiration also taken from film noir and the Salem witch trials. The company — dba Emursive — currently runs the show at a converted warehouse building that they call the McKittrick Hotel, way west in Chelsea. My recollection from their first presentation is that viewers move through the rooms while actors (there are more than 60 in the cast) move about them, almost like the audience is part of the show. You can sort of get a sense from this video:

Audiences enter every 15 minutes — the schedule in Chelsea has five entry times on weekdays and 10 on weekends — and this new venue downtown could accommodate hundreds at a time. That’s what has neighbors freaking out: the company said the occupancy is 3,500. (For reference, Broadway theaters hold between 500 and 1300, on average, and the David Koch theater at Lincoln Center is 2600.) “Our concerns transcend the sheer numbers and hours an alcohol fueled venue like this would present for our neighborhood’s safety, security and quality of life as we are already at tipping point with street, sidewalk and subway crowding; noise pollution; garbage overflow; heavy foot and vehicular traffic including delivery trucks needing to park on sidewalk, bottlenecks in off grid, narrow and one way streets; limited accessibility for Uber and other car hire; impeded emergency vehicle access.”

The building — best known as 20 Exchange Place — is a 57-story Art Deco building formerly known as the City Bank-Farmers Trust Building and built in 1930 for the newly merged National City Bank of New York and the Farmers’ Loan and Trust Company, predecessor firms of Citigroup. It remained the company’s headquarters until 1956, sold in 1979 and is now residential on the top. You can read Tom Miller’s post on the building here and my Where in Tribeca? post here. It is my recollection from the last meeting that the cavernous space on the ground floor and below has been empty for ages…



  1. So wait, FiDi, the third biggest business district in the country, with ample transit connections, and an influx of literally hundreds of thousand of workers daily can’t handle a couple hundred more people a day? Have they said this argument out loud? Just flat out NIMBY-ism.

  2. the area cannot handle another 500+ people loud drunks nightly 7 days a week. This type of venue belongs in area similar to the West Chelsea area.

    • Facts: There are 75,000 residents, 300,000 office workers and 14 million tourists a year that flow through FiDi. Whether this theater is approved or not, growth in FiDi is slowing does not appear to be slowing down. The Downtown Alliance recently identified about 3,400 housing units in the pipeline along with a host of new retail opening.

      FiDi must continue to embrace change (as it has over the past 20 years) and find creative ways to to tackle issues that are often a result of growth (garbage, congestion, safety, etc) while building a dynamic community for all.

    • Facts: There are 75,000 residents, 300,000 office workers and 14 million tourists a year that flow through FiDi. Whether this theater is approved or not, growth in FiDi does not appear to be slowing down. The Downtown Alliance recently identified about 3,400 housing units in the pipeline along with a host of new retail opening.

      FiDi must continue to embrace change (as it has over the past 20 years) and find creative ways to to tackle issues that are often a result of growth (garbage, congestion, safety, etc) while building a dynamic community for all.

  3. Seriously, this seems like such a good thing, a cool destination and not a pharmacy or food court, thank your luck stars!!

  4. Sleep No More has a history of cast members being sexually assaulted. I truly hope that they don’t open this new huge location. Unless they fully revamp the entire model nothing will change.

  5. As resident and owner in FiDi for 15 years – a theater space like this would be welcomed in the community. There are many businesses (restaurants, shops, etc) in the area that rely on foot traffic. The “Keep FiDi Safe” group does not represent the entire FiDi community and is providing a false and aggressive narrative (ie. an arts venue would lead to higher crime?). FiDi is one of the safest neighborhoods in NYC and I believe this venue would assist in the continued revitalization of the downtown area.

  6. As a FiDi resident/owner/family who has lived in the neighborhood for 14 years and next door to 20 Exchange we welcome a theater space/the arts. FiDi can definitely accommodate and we are not concerned about safety, in fact having a tenant occupy 20 Exchange/18 William would bring more light/foot traffic to a dark/deserted street(s) at night. Additionally, it would increase traffic/sales to local restaurants/bars. I believe that “Keep FiDi Safe” should focus their efforts on streetlights – provide more lighting to increase visibility, promote road safety for drivers and pedestrians, and to discourage crime.

  7. I live close to 20 Exchange and I have many concerns about this venue. It has a capacity of 3500 people and the company has proposed to run shows every night of the week plus additional shows on the weekend for at least 500 people. Also special event shows where capacity might be full. Trash and empty bottles/crushed glass are proposed to be collected at 3:30 AM every morning, and traffic is often at a standstill at the four-way street crossing of Beaver, Hanover, South William and William, with associated honking. I am worried about my personal safety returning home at night with hundreds — or thousands — of drunken revellers in the streets, depending what night it is, congestion from Ubers etc and the inability of emergency vehicles to enter the area. Obviously there are numerous community problems arising here, and this is only one of many large scale venues planning to move in to the historic FIdi area.

  8. Maybe a compromise solution: Allow the venue in, but limit (or eliminate) the alcohol part of the equation. It seems that the main concern is that alcohol-fueled crowds would cause problems in the neighborhood; hopefully a more sober crowd would be more civil.

    (Of course, the $10 question is whether the venture would be viable with such limitations on alcohol sales income…)

    • That’s a great point! I don’t think anyone would care if they did a daytime show that’s suitable for people of all ages. Having an adult show every single night would be a disaster. Fidi isn’t Times Square, people do actually live here. At the end of the day I think we don’t need more bars, specially in the basement of one of the largest residential buildings in Fidi.

  9. This neighborhood is not “residential.”

    You, “Keep FiDi Safe” (because it was soooo dangerous in the past LOL), chose to live here.

    You also chose to live in Manhattan which has been and always will (and should be) be a mix of residential, commercial, retail etc.

  10. It would be great to have this venue in W
    FiDi. Perhaps this would finally get the city to take care of the filthy disgusting streets in the”Landmarked Street Grid”, repair the potholed streets, replace the temporary terrorist barriers, eliminate the mountains of trash clogging the sidewalks, bring more foot patrol police to the area and reverse the growing homeless issues.
    People coming to the theater would be a boon to local businesses and would patronize local restaurants and businesses unlike the throngs of presominantly Chinese tour groups who clog our streets, take their photos and spend $0 in the local businesses.
    Sleep no more is not a drunken drug infused rave, it is truly a cultural experience and a rather high brow one at that. We should hope that their patrons come to our neighborhood and that business that serve this clientele come with them. I’d love to see more interesting restaurants, cocktail lounges, and music venues replace the sad watering holes, uninspiring steakhouses, etc…

    If Keep FiDi safe is true to their name they should welcome a venue like Sleep No More.

  11. I live at 20 Exchange and am all for this. Has anyone against it actually been to a Sleep No More show? “Drunken revelera.” Come on.

    I didn’t know the details until I got an angry red and black letter under my door directing me to the keep fidi safe website. Now I’m excited and have expressed my approval with local officials that are listed on their website.

    This is lower Manhattan, not the middle of Montana. Let the entertainment venues in! When the shows are going on it’s pretty empty down here. I welcome the people!

  12. Sounds like Sleep No More didn’t do their homework. Been to William Street lately? There are already delivery trucks parking on sidewalks, garbage piled sky-high, and any night Cipriani has an event there’s standstill traffic and relentless honking late into the night. We don’t need another thousand drunk out-of-towners every night of the week. Go back to Chelsea!

  13. As a Fidi resident and owner, I am supportive of exciting, new businesses coming into the neighborhood. HOWEVER, this particular type of business (large format venue) will not work in 99% of the spaces due to the extremely delicate infrastructure, particularly the narrow, one-lane, one-way streets that are already extremely conjested. This block in particular (William and Exchange/Hanover) is particularly terrible.

    I live next door to this proposed Emursive project, and the traffic situation is already a nightmare. There is an existing large-format venue a block away (Cipriani Wall Street) and, on nights when there are events, the traffic and crowds are disasterous for residents. Streets are blocked, sidewalks are blocked, there are honking cars everywhere. It’s really disruptive. Even on non-event nights, I am often kept awake by honking cars that are stuck in standstill traffic on Williams Street. I can’t imagine a new 500-to-3500 Emursive theater venue on top of this.

    Not only is this a quality of life issue, it is a safety issue as well. If there was an emergency, I don’t think an ambulance or fire truck could get through with existing traffic, letalone new traffic from this proposed new venue.

    While I am a huge fan of Emursive’s productions, they don’t belong in this neighborhood due to our lack of infrastructure to support large venues. I wish this wasn’t the case, but sadly, it is.

  14. this discussion is so absurd. people scared for their safety? alcohol fueled Shakespeare? have you been to stone street or the seaport district that a company in dallas invented? it sounds like this space can accommodate thousands and they are limiting it to 500 people, be careful what you wish for could turn into something thats actually going to negatively effect the area, like a huge restaurant. This is New York City, Thousands if not millions of people travel through this neighborhood everyday and people are up in arms over 500 people drinking Champagne. Isn’t Stone Street a more likely target for people in the hood who despise drunken rowdiness? keepfidisafe should setup in westchester, this is not the way a cultural event should be welcome into the neighborhood. we should all hope they succeed and more interesting places are encouraged to make this city great, the seaport district is actually how keepfidisafe and BORING have brought unexciting and commercial enterprises bound to fail to our hood. Bring on Shakespeare!! I cant wait to see what they do, they obviously have a good track record!

    • In theory, a project like this sounds great. In reality, This particular location doesn’t work. If you lived nearby, you would know that traffic, crowds and trash are already a huge issue. Something like this belongs in the seaport – the seaport has the space, infrastructure, easy access to the FDR and Water Street, etc. Plus, the seaport isn’t a residential area and they need/want the crowds! Bring Emursive to the seaport!

  15. I mean why are people objecting to this? Its NYC, and FiDi is not some sleepy neighborhood, its still fairly hollowed out at night. If people want quiet, go two stops to Cobble Hill. Very quiet …. If I were to complain about anything it would be the excessive tourists and suburbanites who dont know what downtown is. But I wont complain because that’s part of the deal. Having an immersive theater wont ruin the neighborhood. Dead streets do.

  16. The venue wants to go from 6am to 3am with shows. This is not a regular show type theater event. A theater in itself would be great. Last show ends at 3am 7 days a week. I see how 3500 patrons rolling out into the streets every 2.5 hours until 3am is not good for the people living in the area.

  17. It is bad enough when events at the Broad St Ballroom end at midnight and drunks are screaming, yelling and fighting/vomiting on the adjacent streets. This is a residential neighborhood and most of us need to wake up early in the morning to work….we do not need drunks, fights and rowdiness 7 days per week outside our door. TK said it well…..6am to 3am is inappropriate for this street. Let them find a more appropriate venue for their business…one that is not residential…fewer headaches and problems for everyone involved.

  18. This post makes me so angry. Everyone wants to experience culture and nightlife in New York until that culture is suggested to be anywhere near their backyard. I have been to so many events at sleep no more over the past decade and it is high end interactive theater, engaging dinner theatre parties, magic nights featuring the best talent coming through the city and so much more. And all those people paying solid money for this experience will be looking for places to eat and drink in the neighborhood before and after the shows. We should welcome well run, exciting venues in our neighborhood, instead of cookie cutter crap that replace our favorite local spots like Ecco. All those who resist what this neighborhood has always been should move back uptown. This has never been nor will hopefully ever be the Upper East or Upper West Side. If that is the neighborhood you are looking for, that is the neighbor you should live in. I want downtown to stay incredible.