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MCDONALD'S EYED FOR THEATER DISTRICT TRANSIT LOOP

Downtown planners want to demolish the vacant McDonald's restaurant in the Theater District and transform the site into a landscaped drop-off point for buses, taxis and cars.

Mayor Masiello said Tuesday that the city has been trying to work out a deal with the owner of McDonald's Theater Square Restaurant at 665 Main St. While the mayor said he hopes that his administration can achieve an agreement, he added that the city is not ruling out the possibility of seizing the site through condemnation.

Donald J. O'Connell, owner of the 33,000-square-foot site, said that he had only a brief discussion with the mayor and that at no time was a vehicle loop proposed.

O'Connell said he has "other ideas" for the site.

Within days of the closing, some downtown business leaders suggested that McDonald's prime site across from the Shea's Performing Arts Center could be the solution for making it easier for Theater District patrons to get to entertainment venues and restaurants. Vehicles would be able to pull up to Main Street from Washington Street, giving passengers access to the Main Street Pedestrian Mall.

Masiello acknowledged that it's probably too late to have the site ready for the upcoming theater season, but he expressed confidence that the project would be finished by next spring, in time to accommodate the multimillion-dollar stage expansion at Shea's.

The expansion will enable the theater to stage large-scale musicals, such as "Phantom of the Opera," and could increase annual attendance from 300,000 to 500,000 within two seasons.

Shea's President Patrick J. Fagan said that if attendance balloons by 60 percent, as expected with the theater's current expansion to allow large-scale productions, there could be accessibility problems on Pearl Street, the theater's primary entrance.

"Any time we can get cars closer to Main Street, that's a positive. . . . There's a tremendous increase in groups (that use charter buses) when you start offering mega-musicals," Fagan said.

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