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Live at Lincoln Center? IMG May Have to Say Adieu to Bryant Park

The fashion shows at Bryant Park could be on thin ice. Buzz was building on Thursday that IMG may be forced to find a new location for the next round of...

NEW YORK — The fashion shows at Bryant Park could be on thin ice.

Buzz was building on Thursday that IMG, which owns 7th on Sixth, may be forced to find a new location for the next round of collections in February if an agreement with the Bryant Park Restoration Committee is not reached imminently.

According to sources, the Bryant Park Corp. has long been disgruntled with the timing of the shows. When the spring shows moved from November to the beginning of September, it also meant having to close the park on Labor Day weekend to allow for the construction of the tents. Then there is the ice-skating rink, which was set up in Bryant Park for the first time last winter, and which is said to have attracted enough sponsors to make it a profitable proposition for the park. The park would like to extend the rink through February.

Labor Day weekend to allow for the construction of the tents. Then there is the ice-skating rink, which was set up in Bryant Park for the first time last winter, and which is said to have attracted enough sponsors to make it a profitable proposition for the park. The park would like to extend the rink through February.

“We’re hoping they find a place to move,” said Dan Biederman, president of the Bryant Park Corp. “It’s problematic use of the park during different times of the year. It’s not popular with many park users. We’ve been doing this for a long time. We’ve done our share. The shows now consume almost 2 acres of the park. It was one tent — about 10,000 square feet — when they started.

“They have outgrown the park,” he added. “The question is can we and the city find them a better place. They are now so big I don’t think we can contain them anymore. It [7th on Sixth] is a very successful venture that looks like it will continue expanding.”

IMG, which works on a year-to-year contract basis with the park, is said to be considering several other venues. The possibility of 7th on Sixth relocating next season, however, is sending shock waves through the fashion community as well as some businesses in the area, which consider the biannual event a boon to New York business. The tents are not only convenient to editors and retailers, but have helped polish the image of the park and given it a sense of glamour.

“Space is such a premium in New York,” said Fern Mallis, vice president of IMG, on Thursday. “We have always had a year-to-year contract, and inevitably, this is something we face, so we always look at other options. We have looked at the waterfront, and at other places.”

Diane von Furstenberg, the incoming president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, is said to have taken the matter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. If Bryant Park decides not to renew the deal, IMG will be forced to find a new venue for the biannual shows quickly. Some sources close to IMG said the situation has taken on a sense of urgency with the next round of shows just five months away.

“IMG approached the CFDA a few weeks back to notify us that they may have an issue with staying in the park in February,” confirmed Steven Kolb, executive director of the CFDA. “We value Bryant Park as the ideal city location for editors, buyers and designers. The blueprint of the tents offers maximum venue space for the very full show schedule. We are talking to the city and are working in cooperation with IMG to help keep the tents in Bryant Park.”

Originally founded in 1980 as the Bryant Park Restoration Corp., with the assistance of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the BPC is one of the largest efforts in the nation to apply private management backed by private funding to a public park. The shows were first held in Bryant Park in November 1993. In the fall of 1997, after four years at Bryant Park, 7th on Sixth was relocated for a season to the Chelsea Piers, on the Hudson River at the end of West 23rd Street. The venue was heavily criticized because of its lack of access, uncomfortable seating and editors having to maneuver the West Side Highway to get to shows — never mind that finding a cab is even more challenging there.

“It’s unfortunate that in a city as fabulous as New York, there can’t be more spaces for an event like this to happen,” Mallis said. “It’s such an extraordinary platform for the fashion industry, which is so important for the city.”

An industry source said Lincoln Center is being considered as an alternative, though that area would be 35 percent smaller than Bryant Park, and would most likely involve a tent by the central fountain and another closer to 62nd Street, reachable only by an extensive footpath.

Mallis declined comment on Lincoln Center as a potential venue, but said any location needs to fulfill several criteria, including high ceilings, no columns, street access and nearby transportation.

“[Bryant Park] was the backyard of the fashion industry,” Mallis said. “It has become synonymous with the park. We have been good tenants and have worked diligently to repair any damage to the park.”

The fashion community is rallying behind Mallis and IMG and is demanding the tents stay put. Von Furstenberg has shown her signature line at the tents for the past two seasons. “Bryant Park is a great place to have it, and we should be able to stay there, absolutely,” she said. “It does a lot for the city. New York is the center of trade, and people come to New York to sell, whether they are painters, artists or in the movies. Since fashion is the number-two industry in the city, it is very important that we act like the professionals that we are.”

Zac Posen said: “We have shown in the Bryant Park Tents successfully for five seasons and to have that option removed would be most unfortunate.”

Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation for Bergdorf Goodman, said she certainly hoped IMG would not move the shows outside Bryant Park. Aside from relocating to the southern end of Central Park, she said she could not imagine where else in the city the event could still be held in tents.

“The fashion industry employs how many people in New York City? I would hope the city would support fashion week twice a year,” she said.

Fargo also noted that fashion week has helped polish up the park. “I would want to ask, ‘Didn’t our being here help restore the park’s image?’ It definitely has made this a much more chic hub in the city,” she said.

Aside from the “selfish” fact Bryant Park is a short walk for Henri Bendel’s president and chief executive officer Ed Bucciarelli, he said the current location is also centrally located for many other fashion executives. “I love the idea of having tents where everyone can go from one show to the next. Bryant Park is easy to get to, and it’s easy to get to other places from there,” he said.

Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue, also feels strongly the shows should remain at Bryant Park. “It has been their home for a long time….It’s wonderful to have a center and meeting place that everyone can go to.”

As for Lincoln Center, Wintour said: “IMG is very aware of the situation and is doing due diligence. They looked at Lincoln Center, which is much smaller than Bryant Park. We need to be able to accommodate everybody.”

Producing the shows in Bryant Park costs IMG about $12 million a year, and the park takes in more than $1.5 million from the shows each a year. They reportedly bring in more than $300 million of trade to New York.

“The fashion industry is a vital part of the city’s economy and we intend to ensure the long-term success of both the industry and fashion week,” said Andrew Brent, spokesman for the New York City Economic Development Corp.

Phil Columbo, asset manager and managing director of the Bryant Park Hotel, said the tents in Bryant Park helped revitalize the area and help businesses in the area. “The tents were essential in making Bryant Park what it is today,” Columbo said. “It works out great for our hotel. We do a tremendous amount of fashion business all year around, and [7th on Sixth] helps reinforce what we do as a hotel. [The shows] create a lot of panache, excitement and sexiness to the area. We love it and we would be sorry to see it go.”

While Columbo conceded that trucks and cars can block 40th Street, which can be “cumbersome” for guests, he said it was a worthwhile price. “The tents had a lot to do with the rebirth of Bryant Park being a special place in the city,” he added.

Stan Herman, the outgoing CFDA president, struck a passionate note. “Without any sensible alternative to go to, it would be like removing the heart of New York fashion with no respirator in sight,” he said. “I think it’s a dramatic situation.”

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