JCC plans new arts center Owings Mills site would seat 550 for performances

December 03, 1992|By Meredith Schlow and Linell Smith | Meredith Schlow and Linell Smith,Staff Writers

Continuing its push into the northwest suburbs, the Baltimore Jewish Community Center has announced plans to build a 550-seat performing arts center on its Owings Mills campus.

Construction of the $3.2 million facility on Gwynnbrook Avenue is to begin in the spring and take 18 to 24 months to complete, according to JCC Vice President Joseph Meyerhoff II.

The new auditorium will be the only performance space of its size with multi-use capabilities in the Baltimore metropolitan area, Mr. Meyerhoff said.

"Now we will be able to significantly expand our programming. . . . There's not a performing arts center in that area of the county, and I think there's a need for it," he added.

The 35- by 70-foot stage will be large enough for theater and orchestral performances, with space for up to 60 musicians. The theater will be fully accessible to the handicapped, with special seating, ramps and a sound system for the hearing impaired.

The current auditorium at the 40-acre Owings Mills campus has no fixed seats and room for only 100 people. The Park Heights JCC auditorium seats 200, but neither facility is properly equipped for major musical or theatrical productions, Mr. Meyerhoff said.

About half the events in the new center will be geared toward Jewish themes, including plays by the Jewish Repertory Theater, he added. The remainder will encompass a variety of the arts, including jazz and classical concerts.

Artists without Jewish connections or themes who wish to rent the center will be welcome, he said. And all performances will continue to be open to the general public.

Over the last 15 years, Baltimore's Jewish community has seen a migration to the outer northwest suburbs, and to the Owings Mills corridor in particular. Owings Mills is also one of Baltimore County's designated growth areas.

However, the JCC plans to provide bus service to and from the Owings Mills performance center from the Park Heights JCC for people who would otherwise be unable to drive to the Gwynnbrook Avenue location, Mr. Meyerhoff said.

The center will be funded largely by a $1.7 million grant from the Peggy and Yale Gordon Trust and a $600,000 loan from The Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, which directs the JCC and owns the Owings Mills property.

The Gordon Trust, established by a Baltimore native who made his fortune in real estate and manufacturing, supports the performing arts.

"He [Mr. Gordon] believed in making classical music available to the masses," Mr. Meyerhoff said.

"Presenting quality art in communities across the state can only increase people's appetite for the arts," said Sue Hess, president of Maryland Citizens for the Arts, a statewide advocacy group. "The closer the arts are to where people live, the easier it is for them to go -- and they are more likely to become addicted."

Hope Quackenbush, managing director of the Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts which operates the Mechanic Theatre and Pier Six, agreed.

"The more live performances we have, the more people we can bring out of their homes, the healthier we're all going to be," she said. "I'm very supportive of anyone who has the nerve and the courage to put on shows. The more, the merrier."

The auditorium's size may also be a drawing point, according to Fritzi Benson, director of conferences and rental facilities at Goucher College. Goucher's 1,000-seat Kraushaar Auditorium is Baltimore County's premiere venue for the performing arts.

"I think [the new center] would be a wonderful addition for the county," Ms. Benson said. "That intermediate size will fulfill many needs."

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