“The number of studios shutting down is distressing in a city with such a celebrated musical history,” Sting — who recorded part of his most recent album, “57th and 9th,” at Avatar — wrote in an email. “I understand how hard it is to keep a studio afloat in these times when so many can now make do-it-yourself records inexpensively at home, but there’s nothing like a room with a history where the music seems to have been absorbed into the walls.”
Chieko and Kirk Imamura have been managing Avatar since 1996, when Ms. Imamura and her mother bought the building out of bankruptcy from Tony Bongiovi, the Power Station’s founder, but they put it up for sale in 2015.
Mr. Muller, the founder and chief executive of P.D.T. Partners, a quantitative investment firm and an accomplished musician, was recording at Avatar when his producer, Rick Dipofi, brought up the “crazy idea” of buying the studio for Berklee’s use.
“At first I thought, ‘You’re right, that’s crazy,’” Mr. Muller said, “but the idea kept coming back to me and I thought, why not? I have the ability to give back, and it might be fun to help create a community — a place where lots of people are eager and excited to create music.”
Mr. Brown said that when Mr. Muller first presented him with the idea, his reaction was “wild enthusiasm with a little bit of disbelief.” Berklee, which is based in Boston, had long wanted to establish a more permanent presence in New York (especially, noted Mr. Brown, as a way to engage the almost 8,000 alumni working in the city).
Concurrently, the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment was expanding its portfolio to include music, the first time a city agency has ever had the mandate to support the industry. Julie Menin, the commissioner for the Office of Media and Entertainment, said that it was “looking actively at models to make a major impact in music,” along the lines of the city’s announcement in February that it would renovate the Bush Terminal in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and turn it into a center for film and TV production.
Stephen Webber, the former director of Music Production, Technology and Innovation at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain, was tapped to run BerkleeNYC. Mr. Webber said that the refurbishment will require closing the building for an unspecified time to upgrade the equipment, add virtual reality and augmented reality technology, restore the original Beaux-Arts exterior, and transform the first floor from storage into flexible-use rehearsal and performance space.
“We want to try to reinvent music education,” Mr. Webber said. “We’re looking at this place as a laboratory to figure out new methods of helping musicians and artists realize their creative and career potential.” In addition to programs for school-age children, Mr. Webber emphasized the need for continuing education for professionals and teacher training, as well as internship possibilities for Berklee students.
Mr. Bongiovi’s acoustical design, with unconventionally shaped “live-sounding” rooms created specifically for multitrack recording, attracted many of the world’s greatest artists, from Chic and Duran Duran in the early days to Paul McCartney and Lady Gaga more recently. (Meanwhile, the free recording time Mr. Bongiovi provided for his cousin Jon, and the extra cash he paid him for cleaning up the place, helped the band Bon Jovi start out.)
“Our first task is to upgrade and put together a world-class team for the best studio experience,” said Mr. Brown, the Berklee president. “The No. 1 goal has to be that artists want to come and record here.”
Mr. Muller said that the public-private structure of the facility means that Berklee can “keep it operating as a studio, but isn’t going to have to hustle for every last penny.”
“It’s all about creating energy and magic,” Mr. Muller said. “That’s when things get big.”
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