Spot­lighters to re­de­velop land­mark Read’s build­ing

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Brit­tany Britto bbritto@balt­sun.com

The Bal­ti­more Devel­op­ment Corp. has ac­cepted Au­drey Her­man Spot­lighters Theatre’s pro­posal to ren­o­vate the for­mer Read’s Drug Store build­ing on Howard Street, a land­mark of black his­tory in Bal­ti­more, ac­cord­ing to the cor­po­ra­tion’s manag­ing direc­tor of mar­ket­ing and ex­ter­nal re­la­tions, Su­san Yum.

The city’s quasi-pub­lic eco­nomic devel­op­ment arm an­nounced this week that it has awarded Spot­lighters ex­clu­sive ne­go­ti­a­tion priv­i­lege for the site and is look­ing to iron out fi­nal de­tails of the the­ater’s pro­posal to move from its Mount Ver­non lo­ca­tion to Howard Street, where it would trans­form the old Read’s build­ing into an $11.6 mil­lion com­mu­nity arts cen­ter, dubbed the Au­drey Her­man Com­mu­nity Arts Cen­ter.

James “Fuzz” Roark, Spot­lighters’ ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, said the the­ater com­pany was hop­ing to sign the agree­ment by the mid­dle of this month af­ter its board re­views the plan. Then Spot­lighters would be­gin the ini­tial stages of the project, in­clud­ing draw­ing out fur­ther es­ti­mates, Roark said.

The 21,300-square-foot-project, to be named af­ter the late ac­tress and founder of Spot­lighters, would in­clude a 120-seat the­ater on the first floor, a 2,200-square­foot black-box the­ater on the third floor, a com­mu­nity cen­ter with rentable spa­ces, and an ex­hibit space that would house a replica of the counter where Mor­gan State Univer­sity stu­dents staged a sit-in to protest seg­re­gated lunch coun­ters in 1955, Roark said.

Stor­age space, a work­shop, of­fices for staff, and spa­ces for re­hearsals, dress­ing rooms and green room fa­cil­i­ties for ac­tors would also be avail­able, Roark said.

The site, which is blocks from the Hip­po­drome and Ev­ery­man the­aters, is one of 16 city-owned va­cant build­ings in what was pre­vi­ously known as the “Su­perblock” devel­op­ment. The city has split up the par­cel, al­low­ing prospec­tive de­vel­op­ers to choose parts they would like to ren­o­vate. The BDC be­gan seek­ing pro­pos­als to re­de­velop pieces of the block last year.

Roark says pre­lim­i­nary es­ti­mates put the project cost at $11.6 mil­lion. Pub­lic fund­ing — bond is­sues, state grants and tax cred­its — would ac­count for $4.5 mil­lion to $5 mil­lion, he said. Pri­vate fund­ing should make up the rest, “from in­di­vid­ual foun­da­tions and cor­po­ra­tions who want to see arts and the­ater stand­ing in the west side,” said Roark, who hopes to of­fer the­ater and arts ed­u­ca­tion to youths at the cen­ter.

Roark said con­struc­tion for the project wouldn’t be­gin for at least 18 months.

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