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Knit maven eyes new venue

Developer gets thumbs up from city

NEW YORK — Knit Media founder and erstwhile chairman Michael Dorf is plotting his return to the Gotham music and arts scene, laying out plans and financing for an all-new live venue downtown that he hopes to have up and running as early as this time next year.

Dorf, who anchored his first business with the groundbreaking Tribeca club Knitting Factory almost two decades ago, hopes to set up shop in an as-yet-undisclosed space not far from the New York Stock Exchange building.

He envisions a hybrid venue capable of drawing both older, affluent auds and young fans with a taste for the avant-garde with a 800- to 1,200-seat theater for established music, dance and drama talent plus a 200- to 300-seat club space for emerging acts.

Dorf said he has a particular landmark building in mind for the new venue — to be called “Art Exchange,” in honor of its proximity to the financial markets — and is in advanced talks to secure the space, but he hasn’t ruled out other buildings in the lower-Manhattan area, which has been earmarked by the city as a hotspot for development in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Fertile ground

“Thank goodness there is ample opportunity for development downtown right now,” he said in an interview.

He’s also secured a large chunk of the $6 million to $10 million he estimates will be needed to develop the site — including a $500,000 investment from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. And Dorf said he’s gotten a strongly positive response from city government — from Mayor Michael Bloomberg on down — for the project.

Dorf said he hopes that the main space will cater to a slightly older, more affluent crowd than those who populate downtown rock clubs like the Bowery Ballroom, offering theater-style seating but also upscale food and drink service.

No combo like this

“The biggest complaint that I get is that there isn’t a venue out there where people can sit down, have a drink and see a show in a nice environment,” he said. “That combination just doesn’t seem to exist in the city right now.”

He envisions a booking strategy akin to the “residency” model of many of the city’s traditional jazz clubs, where big-name artists from several different genres come to play a smaller, high-end venue for five or six nights in a row.

Among the artists Dorf named as a good fit for the venue were Norah Jones and Sting (both of whom have played the comparably sized Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side) as well as top jazz names like Ornette Coleman and Max Roach.

Dorf, who started the first Knitting Factory venue in New York in 1987, left the company in February in what he characterizes as “a very amicable parting.” He will be free to begin work on the new project in earnest on May 1, following the expiration of a non-compete clause.

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