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The Margin: Why New York’s David Geffen Hall now has 138 restrooms after its $550 million upgrade

With the reopening of Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall in New York City this month after a $550 million makeover, there’s talk aplenty about the revamped venue’s much-hyped improved acoustics. To say nothing of its egalitarian design, which turns the plaza level into a kind of public living room.

But when concertgoers make their way to the 60-year-old hall, which serves as the home of the New York Philharmonic, there may be something entirely else that catches their attention. At least come intermission time.

Namely, the considerable increase in the number of restrooms.

There are now 75 places for women to go to the bathroom — or 28 more than before. And 52 for men, which equates to 11 additional. The hall also has 11 gender-neutral restrooms — an uptick of eight.

The increases are all the more significant given that the revamped hall actually has fewer seats — 2,200 versus 2,740 — as part of an effort to give the space a more intimate feel.

Officials with Lincoln Center and the Philharmonic make the reasons for the increases clear: When you gotta go, you gotta go — and you shouldn’t fear missing a minute of a performance due to a long restroom line.

“We all said, ‘We have to have great acoustics and many, many bathrooms. It was a group decision,” said Philharmonic Chief Executive Officer Deborah Borda. She added that she anticipates the intermission situation “won’t be the rush it was before.”

Lincoln Center’s newly revamped David Geffen Hall

Michael Moran

The situation involving theater restrooms — and the interminable waits to use them — is one that is playing out across the country. It has become particularly an issue for women — a “potty parity” issue, as it’s been dubbed — since they often aren’t provided an equitable number of facilities versus men.

“Do women count?” said Sally Fischer, a New York City resident who regularly attends cultural events, including performances at David Geffen Hall.

Fischer said she’s become so desperate at times that she’s taken to using a men’s restroom upon occasion. “I had no other choice,” she said.

The problem is particularly dire in older theaters that have traditionally had a smaller number of restrooms. On Broadway, where some theaters date back more than a century, the intermission restroom rush is so crazed that personnel are put in place to keep the lines in order and moving as fast as possible.

For some theatergoers, the situation has gotten to the point that they must come up with workarounds.

Miriam Carson, a frequent Broadway attendee who lives in Long Branch, N.J., says she often limits how much she drinks before going to an event.

“I want to be able to enjoy the show. I don’t want to think about how much I need to go to the bathroom,” Carson said.

But as a safeguard, Carson often tries to sit on the aisle — and she carefully observes when the first act might be ending, so she can get a jump on the rest of the crowd if she needs to go.

Lincoln Center isn’t alone in rethinking the restroom situation. When Broadway theaters are revamped, restrooms are inevitably added. The Hudson Theatre is one example: It reopened in 2017 after a long period of being used for other events and purposes. The remodeled iteration of the venue has 28 places to go to the bathroom, versus the previous 12.

The Palace Theatre, a Broadway venue currently being remodeled as part of a larger real-estate project called TSX Broadway, is also upping its restroom count — from 35 to 67. Domenick DiNizo of L&L Holding Company, which is the owner of TSX Broadway, notes the increase goes beyond what New York City building codes demand. But he says it equates to smart planning.

“People don’t want to be waiting on line when they could be getting a drink,” he said.

Still, DiNizo said it may be difficult for older theaters to add more restrooms without undergoing a major overhaul — or removing, say, a star’s dressing room. “These buildings are already utilizing almost every inch they have. If you’re adding something, you’re taking away from something else,” he said.

As they stand on those restroom queues in older theaters, some audience members might be wondering why this problem has emerged in more recent years. Didn’t theatergoers need to use the bathroom at intermission decades ago?

Dr. Seth Cohen, a urologist with NYU Langone Health in New York City, says that bathroom use has likely increased over the years due to two key factors — people are drinking more water (think of all the bottled products you see on store shelves) and people are drinking more coffee, which happens to be a diuretic.

Not that drinking water is itself bad. Dr. Cohen says it’s important to stay hydrated. But in the end, it leads to one inevitable result. “People are going to pee more,” he said.

Lincoln Center officials couldn’t say how much it has cost them to add all the restrooms, though it’s likely just a small slice of the project’s $550 million price tag. Still, Lincoln Center President Henry Timms said there was never a question it had to be done.

“We’ve all been concertgoers. Everyone involved in the project has been in that too long of a line,” he said. “It’s not the biggest problem in the world to solve.”

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