Barring an unexpected scratch, the curtain will rise again at the Hippodrome.
After years of planning and pleading, backers say the financing is nearly in place to overhaul the storied Eutaw Street theater. The last piece -- $17.4 million in state bonds -- is expected to win approval next week from the state Board of Public Works.
"We've been able to put together the funds necessary to build the Hippodrome," said Mark Sissman, president and chief executive of the Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts. "It's firm commitments. It's not people's wishes and hopes and visions."
As Richard W. Slosson, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, put it: "We're ready to go full bore" as soon as the state board gives its blessing.
The $62.7 million public-private funding puzzle is dizzyingly complex; a flow chart contains no fewer than 13 arrows. But they all point to this: By early 2004, the one-time vaudeville house should reopen as the city's venue for Broadway shows.
Interior demolition began months ago, paid for by public funds approved early in the process. Only recently, though, have all private-sector pledges fallen into place, erasing doubts that donations would materialize as the budget edged higher.
Until the private dollars were secured, the Board of Public Works could not legally approve the sale of state bonds. Now, that money will allow the theater to have its encore and, city officials hope, add vitality on downtown's west side.
Property tax $1 a year
The 2,250-seat theater, which will supplant the 35-year-old Mechanic Theatre a few blocks to the east, got another boost yesterday. The city Board of Estimates agreed to let it pay $1 a year in property taxes for 20 years -- forgoing an estimated $15 million in today's dollars.
The Hippodrome's rehabilitation, along with other key projects, has been viewed as an antidote to the decay that has troubled the once-thriving retail hub between the University of Maryland and Charles Center since the 1960s.
Putting patrons at ease
Last week, Bank of America broke ground on its long-awaited $70 million Centerpoint project across Eutaw Street from the theater. The bank and a partner are building 394 apartments, shops and a 400-car parking garage.
"Two projects in the core of the area are moving forward simultaneously, and that's wonderful," said Ronald M. Kreitner, executive director of WestSide Renaissance Inc., a business-funded advocacy group.
Sissman said Centerpoint, with its street-level shops and restaurants, will help put theatergoers at ease in the rough-edged neighborhood.
"We need to make sure there are comfortable, safe walkways on the street between available parking and the Hippodrome," he said.
The Hippodrome, where Frank Sinatra and Benny Goodman performed, will get a new stage and seats, while keeping architectural touches inside and out. It will be renamed for the France-Merrick Foundation, which is giving $5 million, though the new name will likely include "Hippodrome."
Two elegant bank buildings to its north will be renovated and used as a lobby area, offices and banquet space.
On the theater's south side, demolition has cleared the way for a new lobby, box office and restrooms.
After the bonds -- which will be repaid by a $2-per-ticket surcharge and state funds -- the largest public source of money is a $16.5 million state grant. Baltimore is giving $6 million, and Baltimore County $500,000.
Projected interest earnings are $1.1 million.
The budget includes $6.3 million in federal historic tax credits; those are to be bought by Bank of America. Clear Channel Entertainment, the company that will run the theater, will invest $8 million.
Then there are private contributions. The state law requires $6.9 million, but Sissman said the current tally is $12 million, an amount that will help establish an endowment once the shows begin.
The biggest private contribution is $5 million from France-Merrick, but there are more than a dozen other donors that Sissman did not identify. (Bank of America will make a $5 million "bridge" loan because it will take years for all pledges to be paid.)
All told, the theater's budget is $62.7 million, having risen in recent months from about $56 million. The increase is partly due to a decision to set aside more money in case of construction overruns, Slosson said.
The labyrinthine legal agreements, including something called a "subsubsublease," take several hundred pages to spell out.
The end result will leave the state owning the theater. The improvements, meanwhile, will be "owned" by a new company called Hippodrome Performing Arts Center LLC, which will include the stadium authority and nonprofit Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts. Such a for-profit entity is needed to qualify for federal historic tax credits.
Once the theater opens, Clear Channel must cover any operating losses. At the same time, it will get 90 percent of any profits, with the rest going to the BCPA.
That arrangement pleased Mayor Martin O'Malley. "We're inoculated against any loss," he said yesterday, "and yet we share in the profits."
Sun staff writer Laura Vozzella contributed to this article.