Hippodrome plans Eutaw Street: Legislators should look past worries to rewards of plan to renovate old vaudeville house.

October 03, 1998

IS IT A good idea to spend millions in taxpayers' money to turn Baltimore's old Hippodrome Theater into a 2,200-seat cultural center?

Members of the House Appropriations Committee, touring the abandoned Eutaw Street vaudeville house recently, voiced reservations. They worry that the projected $35 million in renovation costs might go much higher. They also wonder whether the rundown neighborhood would scare away potential theater-goers.

Their concerns are justified. Yet legislators ought to give free rein to their imagination and examine the Hippodrome project in a wider context. If they do so, they are likely to conclude that the revitalization plan, while somewhat risky, makes sense.

The derelict blocks near the theater can be intimidating, but that is going to change. The University of Maryland, Baltimore, which owns the Hippodrome, has been quietly accumulating empty buildings nearby. University officials decline to discuss their plans. But with a new business school soon to be built to complement the downtown professional schools and medical facilities, the campus is expanding, obliterating skid row.

The Hippodrome project also makes sense because parking is plentiful for theater-goers. The 1,000 spaces at the Baltimore Grand garage, which adjoins the planned theater complex, are taken by university users. But the old Hecht Co. garage has 750 spaces and the two garages at Lexington Market contain close to 2,000 spaces. Both are unused at night.

xTC Legislators are right to worry about the cost and feasibility of the Hippodrome plan. But considering the old theater's central location, its superior access to highways and public transportation as well as the parking nearby, the plan merits support. The region needs, and deserves, a first-rate cultural center.

Pub Date: 10/03/98

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