The Right Stuff
In early February, a performing-arts gem opened on the west side of downtown Baltimore. The Hippodrome Theater, a vaudeville house that long ago had been converted into a movie theater before being shuttered in 1990, was reopened as a stunning new venue for Broadway plays. Cost of the renovation: $63 million.
But forget about the theater itself. The story behind the theater is much more interesting because it's an example of how things get done in cities these days. The new Hippodrome is a public-private partnership, but that actually understates things. There are many publics involved in renovating the theater (the state, a sports authority, the city of Baltimore, the county) and many privates (numerous corporate and private donors, as well as Clear Channel Communications, which manages the venue and books the shows). And importantly, the city's foundations stepped up, including one that contributed $5 million at a critical point in the venue's long road to opening night.
Did we say long? It took 15 years from the decision that the Hippodrome was the right place for Baltimore's Broadway series until opening night. About 30 people worked tirelessly during this time, but two were critical: a banker and a former legislator, who shook the money trees. (The banker raised the private money, the former legislator sweet-talked the politicians.) Even then it took a lot of luck. The Hippodrome was in a bad part of town, but it was a neighborhood that others had their eyes on as well, including the University of Maryland-Baltimore, which was looking to expand there, and some private developers, who wanted to do mixed-use projects in the area.
Each of these interests and their projects gave confidence to the others, which was, in turn, a key to unlocking contributions for the Hippodrome. Today, looking back on the decade and a half it took to take the project from idea to reality, volunteers are overwhelmed by their accomplishment. "To sit down and create a strategy and to implement that strategy," says one, "there's nothing more satisfying for a person who works in public policy." Another who was involved tipped his hat to the local foundations: "This is a prescription for a successful project. Baltimore doesn't have the deep-pocket corporate base to do this by itself, so the fact that the (foundations) were there says an enormous amount." Posted 3/1/2004
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