Nowadays, North Howard Street in lower Mount Vernon isn’t much more than the Phaze 10 restaurant and lounge, the University of Maryland Medical Center, and the Eubie Blake National Jazz and Cultural Center; Antique Row is mostly a shadow of its former self. But recently, a theater redevelopment project has been approved for several neglected buildings on Howard St., hopefully spearheading the revitalization of the block.
Baltimore is home to a rich and diverse performing arts scene. For example, Center Stage’s 2014/2015 season features several plays such as the Tony Award winning Amadeus (a musical look into the life of Amadeus Mozart) Next to Normal and the stage adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life closing out the year. The Everyman Theatre begins the season with The Understudy (a black comedy about the egos of actors), as well as Grounded (a drama about a female fighter pilot’s reluctant, but necessary transition to drone piloting in light of an injury and family responsibilities). Everyman will also see the work of playwright Lynn Nottage performed within its walls, with the play “Ruined.”
The theater hub project will cost an estimated $7 million, which will be used to acquire three abandoned properties and convert them into a hub. This hub will consist of three performing spaces, each with a marquee, offices, meeting rooms, and, finally, a café for refreshments and beverages to quiet the appetites of future patrons.
Reaction to the project’s approval by City Hall has been nothing but enthusiastic, with comments ranging from abundant joy to measured excitement. The lead developer for the theater hub, Ted Rouse, was quoted by The Baltimore Sun as saying, “We are very excited to get to work […] our innovative co-working spaces on the upper levels, we have the small, but important, goal of reinventing capitalism so that it works for all residents of Planet Earth, not just the upper management of large corporations.”
Further excitement about the theater project also comes by way of the EMP Collective, a local group of young artists that run and manage a multi-use arts space downtown. The Collective is one of the groups that spearheaded the project from its inception and its artistic director, Carly J. Bales, is excited for the project and the further expansion of the city’s small but impressive arts scene.
In an interview with Maggie Villegas, also of EMP said, “This neighborhood has a lot of underutilized properties that have been in disrepair for so long, that the city is taking a chance on the DIY theatres. We hope that through this project, we can lay the groundwork for future artist-led developments. Baltimore should keep giving artists with big ideas a chance—that’s why we’re all here.”
The theater hub project is an endeavor which could signal the revitalization of the once-booming Howard Street corridor, providing another area of attraction outside of downtown neighborhoods and outlying counties for both citizens and tourists.