Adapting a Historic Building into a Unique Experience in the Heart of Times Square

THESE WALLS CAN TALK

One hundred and four years ago, The New York Times set up its pressroom and reel room in a two-and-a-half-acre factory—directly under the newspaper’s offices in the center of Times Square. From there, hundreds of thousands of papers were printed, processed and sent on their journeys throughout the five boroughs every single day. Today, a different sort of journey is taking place at 226 W 44th Street, and this time, it’s underwater.

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The New York Times’s pressroom in 1999. Courtesy of David W. Dunlap/Redux Pictures/The New York Times.

Opening Oct. 6, National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey is a first-in-kind entertainment experience that pushes the boundaries of visual effects and brings the ocean and its underwater life to New York’s bustling midtown. Using 3-D stunning media in 8K resolution at 60 frames per second, unique visual effects and the brainpower of Academy, GRAMMY® and Emmy® Award-winning artists and producers, the experience provides guests with an immersive look at the journey from the South Pacific Ocean to the western coast of North America—all without the use of any real sea animals or aquarium tanks.

In an area that’s always been in near-constant flux, Times Square has recently been reimagined as an experiential destination for tourists and New Yorkers alike.

“The location across from Shubert Alley is optimal for capturing the energy and excitement of Times Square, and also puts us on a heritage street for Broadway shows,” says Alexander Svezia, co-founder and managing partner at SPE Partners, the creators and producers of National Geographic Encounter.

In an area that’s always been in near-constant flux, Times Square has recently been reimagined as an experiential destination for tourists and New Yorkers alike. With such large storefronts that are often multi-tiered and encompass thousands upon thousands of square feet, traditional retail stores haven’t always thrived in the area. The same fate has befallen restaurants, of which only a handful of large chain eateries remain. But for out-of-the-box exhibits and experiences, large interiors and endless foot traffic are important aspects of a successful location.

“We had very specific needs for large open spaces with high ceilings to accommodate our mega-screens and dome finale,” Svezia continues. “The overall footage at 60,000 square feet on multiple levels enabled us to create a unique journey for guests to make them feel like they’re going underwater.”

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Those parameters are exactly what CBRE brokers were looking for when they set out with SPE Partners to find the perfect location. Nestled in the heart of the Times Square theater district, Ocean Odyssey is the newest experience to join a handful of unique experiences. From long-lauded standbys, like Madame Tussauds wax museum and Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, to interactive spectacles like The Gazillion Bubble Show, and newer experiences like Gulliver’s Gate—a football field-sized space filled with highly accurate miniature global cities—experiences are staking their claim in the district and attracting big names (the NFL is opening a 40,000-square-foot, four-floor interactive exhibit this fall).

We knew from the minute we started this project over four years ago that Times Square was the only location we wanted to be in.

“We knew from the minute we started this project over four years ago that Times Square was the only location we wanted to be in,” says Eric Gelber, CBRE’s executive vice president of Advisory and Transaction Services, Retail, who represented SPE Partners in finding the location. “It’s where you’ve got more people than anywhere else; Times Square is the heart of New York’s entertainment industry and the tourist industry. Even people from New York go into Times Square for theater and other experiences, so it makes perfect sense for these types of venues to locate themselves there.”

Svezia agrees, noting that the historic significance of the location only adds to the interest of the National Geographic experience and its space: “We are on the cusp of a new form of entertainment for consumers. We are not virtual reality and we are not a movie. We take people out of their seats and put them into the center of a pulse-pounding, cutting-edge experience. And to know that traditional media was once printed on this site and now it has been transformed to give consumers a completely new kind of entertainment experience is so unique and cool.”

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