Aug. 26--The files in the office of any prominent architect are crowded with beautiful drawings and sketches that never got any closer to reality than appearing on a newspaper front page. The Capital has run a fair number of these never-realized visions -- to the point where it has occurred to us that perhaps we should collect them for a coffee table book. It could be titled "The Annapolis that Never Was."
Will architect Gary Martinez's striking visualization of the plan for the Maryland Theatre for the Performing Arts be another item for this collection? Or is it an actual coming attraction?
That depends on whether the nonprofit can raise $4.5 million by the end of September 2015 to meet a required escrow payment to the Carlyle Group, from whom it has been leasing the property next to the Westin Hotel at Park Place. If the MTPA can raise the funds, the land will be donated. If not, that may be the end of the theater plan, although the land will certainly be sold and developed in another way -- the current empty lot on Taylor Avenue is not making money for anyone.
The plans for the MTPA have recently been scaled down in a way that makes them more realistic and less flagrantly competitive with the nearby Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, which next month debuts a main theater that has had $2 million of renovation work. With new seating, better sightlines and improved acoustics, the old high school auditorium should be a much better home for Maryland Hall's resident companies. (Full disclosure: The publisher of Capital Gazette newspapers is on Maryland Hall's board of directors.)
The MPTA's organizers have given up on their original idea of a103,000-square-foot, $70 million structure with three stages and seating for 1,500. Martinez's revised plan will cover 65,000 square feet and have a 1,000-seat auditorium with removable seats, suitable for conferences or small Broadway touring companies. In short, it now sounds more like a possible supplement to Maryland Hall than a potential rival.
Annapolis punches far above its weight as a cultural mecca, yet its strong point is effective use of small venues by numerous groups. There's some doubt the city needs two performance spaces this big -- the theater at Maryland Hall will hold 727, minus 66 when the stage extension is used. But our guess -- just a guess, at this point -- is that if the MPTA is built, productive uses will be found for it. Certainly tourism development officials would love to have a sizable conference center as an additional selling point.
We can think of other hurdles, including the fact that the curving, narrow Taylor Avenue doesn't seem like a promising access road for a 1,000-seat theater. But such arguments are for the future. Right now we'll be very interested in seeing whether the MPTA's organizers can rally enough community support to bring Martinez's plans to life.
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