The proposed restoration of Baltimore's Hippodrome Theater has become the starting point for an even more ambitious plan to preserve six buildings in the heart of downtown and create the city's newest attraction: a $35 million performing arts complex.
Besides replacing the Mechanic Theatre as a home for large-scale Broadway productions, the Hippodrome Performing Arts Center is expected to become the region's newest venue for dance, comedy and dramatic productions as well as lectures, conferences and concerts.
Planners predict it will be busy 200 to 250 days per year and draw 420,000 people annually, contributing to the rejuvenation of the area between Charles Center, Camden Yards and the University of Maryland's Baltimore campus.
Details of the project were disclosed yesterday in a presentation to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who toured the 1914 theater and voiced his strong support.
Standing outside the theater on Eutaw Street, just under the H in the Hippodrome's marquee, the governor pledged to include $1.7 million to cover planning costs in a supplementary budget that he will submit to the General Assembly this session.
"I think it has a lot of potential -- not just for attracting Broadway productions but for redeveloping the entire area," he said.
The idea for the renovations came from the Greater Baltimore Committee Inc., an organization of business leaders, and the Downtown Partnership, a nonprofit group that works to improve the city's business climate.
It has the endorsement of the Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts, the nonprofit organization that operates the Mechanic Theater in Charles Center. The BCPA wants to make the restored Hippodrome its principal location for Broadway shows in place of the Mechanic, which it considers inadequate for today's touring productions.
If approved by state legislators, the $1.7 million appropriation would be the first step in the restoration of the Hippodrome theater and adjacent buildings in the block bounded by Eutaw, Fayette, Paca and Baltimore streets.
Construction funds would come from a mix of public and private sources, including the state, city and a private firm that would run the facility, Theatre Management Group Inc. of Houston, Texas.
Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who also toured the theater yesterday, said he was pleased by the governor's reaction. "This will allow us to get more support from the state legislature and the City Council," he said.
Schmoke said that restoring the Hippodrome fits in with the governor's Smart Growth initiative because it's close to the state's light rail line and will help rejuvenate the surrounding area. He said the city is committed to providing up to $6 million over the next several years to help build the center.
Also pleased by the governor's support was Theatre Management Group president David Anderson.
He envisions a center filled with a wide range of performances, from large scale productions such as "Miss Saigon" to the Alvin Ailey dance company to solo performers such as Jerry Seinfeld.
Located at 12 N. Eutaw St., the 2,250-seat Hippodrome was designed by Scottish architect Thomas Lamb, and is one of the last grand theaters in downtown Baltimore dating from the vaudeville era.
Performers included George Burns, Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton and Bob Hope. During the 1930s and '40s, "the Hipp" was a magnet for moviegoers.
But in recent years, it lost customers to suburban "cineplexes." Last year, its former owner, Continental Realty, donated it to the University of Maryland so planning for its restoration could begin.
In their presentation to Glendening, planners explained that the freestanding theater would be connected to the buildings that surround it to form a self-sufficient complex that would take up most of the block.
They said the shell of the Hippodrome would be restored to house a 2,300-seat theater.
Just north of the theater, two bank buildings that were converted in the 1980s to a catering facility called The Grand would be recycled again. The building closest to the theater, the old Western Savings Bank, would become the main entrance lobby for the complex. The building at the southwest corner of Fayette and Eutaw streets, the former Eutaw Savings Bank, would become a second performance hall, a cabaret containing 300 to 500 seats. Additional space from the catering facility would be used to create meeting rooms.
In addition, a two-story building at 410 W. Baltimore St. would be acquired and used to house dressing rooms, rehearsal areas and lounges.
A state-owned, 975-car garage at the southeast corner of Fayette and Paca streets would be linked to the complex. Two cast iron-fronted buildings, at 412 and 414 W. Baltimore Street, would be acquired and converted to a loading dock leading to the stage.