Remember back at the turn of the century when they were going to re-place the perennially temporary TKTS booth in Duffy Square with a brand new pavilion topped by a ruby-red spectators' bleacher overlooking the theater district?
They still are. But now, seven years into the planning, the city and theater-district groups are going to rehabilitate Duffy Square, too: expanding its edges for a 37 percent gain in space, repaving it with illuminated panels set into granite and tearing down the fence around the statue of the Rev. Francis P. Duffy.
On the occasion of Father Duffy's 135th birthday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is to preside at a ground-breaking today for the $12.5 million project. A truly temporary TKTS booth opened nearby yesterday at the Marriott Marquis Hotel.
Crowning the new Duffy Square will be a glass staircase to nowhere, 27 steps high (three more than in the three broad staircases in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art). With room for more than 1,000 people to sit on the staircase, it would be a kind of public amphitheater to the spectacle of Times Square immediately to the south.
"I think it's going to be New York's Spanish Steps," said Brendan Sexton, an adviser to the Coalition for Father Duffy, who was a member of the jury that chose the design for the new TKTS booth in 1999. He was also the president of what is now called the Times Square Alliance.
The current president, Tim Tompkins, jumped in to add, "The Spanish Steps on steroids."
The alliance, which runs the business improvement district, envisions a new Duffy Square as the keystone in its plan to improve street life in the overcrowded Broadway-Seventh Avenue vortex. "There is so much clutter in Times Square, this will be a striking shift," Mr. Tompkins said. "Finally, there'll be a place where you can sit down and look."
The Theater Development Fund, which runs the TKTS discount ticket program, hopes that people who flock to this new gathering place will also become theatergoers.
A renovation long in the preparation stage may be about to come to completion.
"I imagine a person sitting there having lunch and saying, `What's go ing on here?' " said Victoria Bailey, the executive director. Perhaps that person would end lunch hour at one of the 12 windows' in the new fiberglass TKTS booth tucked under the staircase at 47th Street. "We'll be able to sell much more efficiently," Ms. Bailey said.
There are 10 windows in the current setup, which consists of two trailers surrounded by a network of pipes and sail-like vinyl panels em-blazoned with huge red T's and K's and S's. This was designed by Mayers & Schiff in 1973 as a temporary measure. It is now old enough to be eligible for landmark statues.
Indeed, some of the panels may be acquired by the Museum of the City of New York, said Veronica Claypool, the managing director of the fund.
The architects of the new TKTS pavilion and Duffy Square are Perkins EastmanNand William Fellows Architects, working from a concept by two Australian architects, John Choi and Tai Ropiha, who won a 1999 competition sponsored by the Van Alen Institute.
"The whole intent was to take the essence of that concept and make a glowing, floating, red amphitheater," said Nicholas S. Leahy, a principal in Perkins Eastman.
The steps will be made of three-layer laminated glass panels, one and-a-half inches thick. They will be The top of the steps will be 16 feet above the sidewalk, as high as the current pipe structure and just slightly lower than the top of the Celtic cross that is a backdrop to the statue of Father Duffy. That was important to the Father Duffy coalition.
Father Duffy, who died in 1932, was most famously chaplain to the Fighting 69th Regiment in World War I. He was also pastor of Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church at 329 West 42nd Street.
Bruce Meyerson, who served in the 69th Regiment as a first lieutenant and is now chairman of the coalition, said he was pleased with the overall plan for Duffy Square. "The entire site works," he said. _ "Everything blends together."
It took a lot of mixing to blend.
Construction was supposed to begin in 2000. Then the leadership of the Theater Development Fund changed hands. Then terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, slowing down many projects in the city and affecting the theater fund more directly, because-it had a booth at the trade center. The downtown TKTS booth has since reopened in the South Street Seaport.
Then, as the concept was translated into real plans, the fund incorporated the needs of the alliance, which wanted a better streetscape, and those of the coalition, which wanted a better setting for the Father Duffy statue. Then there was give and take with New York City Transit and the City Department of Transportation.
Then the financing had to cobbled together: $5.5 million from the mayor's office, $4 million from the City Council, $1.5 million from the alliance, $1 million from the fund and $500,000 from the coalition.
The project now seems to be under way. And because the major structural elements are prefabricated, the completion date is not too distant.