Times Square's TKTS Booth to Get Facelift

After 30 years, the end is near for the TKTS shack in Times Square, where 1.5 million discount theater tickets have been sold annually. The shack will be replaced with a permanent building for discount tickets, more in keeping with the new glitz in the area.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. In the center of Times Square on one of the most expensive bits of real estate in the world is a run down shack. Not that its appearance stops thousands of tourists who line up there every day. We're referring to the TKTS discount ticket booth, which has been serving up half price Broadway seats for more than 30 years. Now the temporary pipe and canvas structure is about to get an architectural makeover. NPR's Robert Smith reports from New York.

ROBERT SMITH, reporting:

Standing in a long line in Times Square is a right of passage for the New York tourist.

(Soundbite of man selling tickets)

Unidentified Man 1: Hi do you have five tickets for The Color Purple.

Unidentified Man 2: They're all partial view seating. 59 and a quarter each.

Unidentified 1: Thank you.

SMITH: The wait for the discount seats can take hours. So there's plenty of time to study the garish TKTS banners and the pigeon stained walls of the booth. Tim Tompkins of the Times Square Alliance, says the booth is a symbol of the old Times Square.

Mr. TIM TOMPKINS (Times Square Alliance): Kind of loud and obnoxious. You can't miss it. But a little old, a little worn and in desperate need of a facelift.

SMITH: Oddly enough, when this temporary structure was first plopped here in 1973, it was one of the nicest things about the place. Victoria Bailey with the Theater Development Fund that runs the booth says it was an experiment.

Ms. VICTORIA BAILEY (Theater Development Fund): One of the reasons for the creation of the TKTS booth was a desire on the part of the city and theater industry to bring legitimate trade back into Times Square because Times Square was very scruffy when uh, the booth first opened. And if you were here at that point, you know you didn't spend a lot of time in Times Square. You went through Times Square.

SMITH: The experiment was a success. The booth now sells a million and a half tickets a year. Times Square has become a glittering tourist mecca. So the fund thought it was time to make the booth permanent. Architects have designed a new building in the form of a glass amphitheater. You'll still get the half off tickets. And according to Tompkins, something extra that Times Square never had, seating.

Mr. TOMPKINS: The whole structure which are these glowing glass steps are going to be the only place now in Times Square where you can finally sit down, have a cup of coffee, smoke a cigarette if you want to, and take a look at Times Square.

SMITH: Construction will begin this summer and Winston Royster (ph) is curious to see it. He sells newspapers next to the TKTS booth and dispenses informal theater recommendations.

Mr. WINSTON ROYSTER (Newsstand worker): Believe it or not Sweeney Todd, very good.

SMITH: Royster said the important thing is not what the booth is made of, but that it remains the psychological center of the city.

Mr. ROYSTER: Everybody recognizes it. And this is where you could come and fulfill your dreams about Broadway and Off Broadway, get wonderful shows at a decent price.

SMITH: Of course if the place looks too fancy, you might not realize you're getting a bargain. Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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