NYC’s Perelman Performing Arts Center opens at World Trade Center site

After years in development, the $500 million theater offers a space of entertainment and unity in Lower Manhattan

The Perelman Performing Arts Center, also known as PAC NYC, opened its doors this week near the site of the World Trade Center after years in developmental limbo. The $500 million center, which will host its inaugural performance on Tuesday night, marks the completion of a 20-year-long master plan to rebuild Ground Zero and the section of Lower Manhattan destroyed on 9/11. 

“The ultimate response to hatred is love, and the ultimate response to destruction is creation,” Bill Rauch, PAC NYC’s artistic director, told Jewish Insider. “I think it’s so appropriate that at this particular location, that there is a building and an organization that is devoted to creativity and to community — to making connections between people, bringing people together.”

“We have a real responsibility and a real opportunity to bring people together across all five boroughs and across the tristate area, at our location and that is certainly part of what excites me about all that lies ahead,” he added. Rauch joined PAC NYC in 2018, toward the end of a 12-year stint as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s artistic director, before which he worked as the artistic director of the Cornerstone Theater Company in Los Angeles for 20 years.

The cube-shaped center with a striking marble facade was first proposed 20 years ago as an unspecified performing arts center to fill the final space at the new World Trade Center site. After  a series of delays and operational shakeups, construction finally  got off the ground in 2016, thanks to businessman Ronald O. Perelman, whose $75 million donation reignited the project and inspired the building’s name.

Perelman Performing Arts Center designed by REX (Iwan Baan)

While the center bears Perelman’s name, its biggest benefactor is former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose  previously undisclosed donation of $130 million was made public in June. Bloomberg, who also chairs the 9/11 Memorial & Museum board, took over as chair of PAC NYC’s board in 2020, a position previously held by Barbra Streisand since 2016.

Ahead of Tuesday’s grand opening, the center held a ribbon cutting last Wednesday, with over 200 in attendance. Both Bloomberg and Perelman spoke during the event, alongside New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, 9/11 Memorial & Museum trustee Paula Grant Berry — whose husband, David Berry, died in the attack — Rauch and PAC NYC’s executive director, Khady Kamara.

In his remarks, Bloomberg noted that Lower Manhattan had never housed a performing arts center, and that adding such a space to the rebuilding plans was a top priority from the start.

“The arts, as we all know, is the heart of what makes New York a beacon of light for people around the world,” the former mayor said. “After 9/11, many people thought New York’s best days were behind us…Well, today it’s where you want to be…Today, there are more businesses in Lower Manhattan than there were on September 10, 2001, and twice as many residents…The community is more diverse and dynamic than ever before, and the best, I think, is still yet to come.”

Ribbon cutting ceremony to open Perelman Performing Arts Center. From left to right: Richard Cotton, Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Khady Kamara, Executive Director of PAC NYC; Kathy Hochul, Governor of New York; Ronald O. Perelman; Michael R. Bloomberg, Chairman of the Board of PAC NYC; Eric L. Adams, Mayor of New York City; Paula Grant Berry, Family Member and Board Member, 9/11 Memorial & Museum; Holly Leicht, Executive Vice President, Real Estate Development & Planning Empire State Development; Bill Rauch, Artistic Director of PAC NYC. September 13, 2023, New York. (Craig Warga)

With three performance stages, the goal of PAC NYC is to showcase not only diverse forms of artistic expression, but diverse voices as well — kicking off with a five-night global music series titled, “Refuge: A Concert Series to Welcome the World,” featuring artists including Common, The Klezmatics and Shoshana Bean. The center will also present conversations and downtown sessions with notable celebrities such as Kerry Washington, Jada Pinkett Smith and Ben Platt.

“We will present and produce music, dance, chamber opera, theater, musical theater, and we’ll even be a home for the Tribeca Film Festival a couple of weeks each year,” Rauch told JI. “So the work is very multidisciplinary, really across the range of performing arts disciplines, and the work in our inaugural season is very deliberately eclectic, because we wanted to give as many different audiences reason to come into our building as possible. The main thrust of our opening season is to welcome people into our building and to introduce our organization.”

While tickets to performances in the building’s three main theaters start at $39, the center itself is free to audiences seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. The center also houses Metropolis, a new restaurant by acclaimed chef Marcus Samuelsson, for visitors to enjoy.

“We really want to be a welcoming home for New York and for visitors to New York,” Rauch said. “I think that spirit of welcome and that sense of invitation is really active in the organization that we’re trying to build.”

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