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Hartford Stage Ready For Next Phase

Focus Will Be On Renovations, Endowment

June 20, 2007
By FRANK RIZZO, Courant Staff Writer

It will be endowment and renovations before expansion for Hartford Stage.

A campaign that will include an additional $10 million to the theater's endowment, a "dynamic" renovation of the theater's lobby, an update of the building's infrastructure to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act - including an elevator and special seating in the 489-seat theater - is expected to be announced today at the theater's annual board meeting.

The endowment-renovation plan - whose price is undetermined - will be the first part of a two-phase project. The second component will center on expanding the theater complex to Trumbull Street with a new, second stage, additional patron amenities and educational facilities.

The first-phase costs will be financed by a three-year campaign that will begin this fall. A previous study indicated the theater could raise $23 million privately through individuals, corporations and local foundations toward its longtime goal to renovate, expand and endow the theater.

Contributions from the city, state and federal government and national foundations have not been factored in. They are expected to be a major part of the campaign's second phase, though.

"For the theater to really address some of its most pressing issues, we decided how to prioritize our project so we can be a much more stable organization," Managing Director Michael Stotts said. "To do that we have to take care of all of the facilities that have been put on a deferred maintenance schedule over the years. Given these priorities, we've decided we needed to move ahead with the private fundraising component."

The $10 million addition to the endowment would bring the total to $16 million.

The theater owns its Church Street building and the city owns the land. The city waives any fee in exchange for upkeep of the building.

The renovated lobby, which will have a more visible presence on Church Street, will be geared to be a more customer-friendly environment, not the least of which will be more bathrooms.

An architect is expected to be hired by the end of the summer to develop designs for both phases. Design work is targeted for the end of the year, when the first renderings of the renovation will be revealed.

Facility, marketing and donor studies prior to today's announcement of the first phase of the project were paid for by a state grant of $500,000, the theater and an anonymous donor.

Work on the renovations is expected to begin in early 2009, midway in the theater's 2008-09 season. The renovations are expected to be completed in time for the 2009-10 season and perhaps for a summer season that year.

Hartford Stage will present the remainder of the 2008-09 season at another venue or venues in the city, but Stotts said no agreements have been made. Presenting no shows for the remainder of the season is not an option, he said.

Stotts said he is talking to several theater executives around the city, including David Fay, executive director of the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, whose 910-seat Belding Theater is widely seen as a possible temporary venue for Hartford Stage during the renovations.

The two theaters previously collaborated when Hartford Stage presented its annual production of "A Christmas Carol" at the Belding in 2001. The holiday show, now entering its 10th year, returned to the Church Street theater after that run.

Hartford Stage in the past year has also developed relationships with Hartford's TheaterWorks (helping to produce "Take Me Out") and the Aetna Theater at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (presenting a selection from the Stage's "Brand:NEW" play-reading series.)

Negotiations are underway on a contract extension for artistic director Michael Wilson, whose current deal expires at the end of the 2007-08 season, his 10th at the theater. Stotts began as managing director last year.

Walter Harrison, president of the University of Hartford and a board member since 2000, is expected to be confirmed as chairman at today's board meeting. Community leaders and Hartford Stage board members Jeffrey Hoffman, George A. Ingram and Christina B. Ripple will lead the capital campaign committee.

Hartford Stage is expected to announce that the 2006-07 season will show increases in net assets, investment income, contributed funds and ticket revenue.

Hartford Stage isn't the only Tony Award-winning theater in the state with a new building project. Long Wharf Theatre is also continuing its studies for a new theater complex in downtown New Haven. That project has already received a commitment from the state of $30 million in bonding with the expectation that the funds will be matched by other donors.

Managing Director Joan Channick said the studies, which were expected to be done this spring, will now be completed by the fall. Channick said she does not expect the new theater to be completed until the end of its current lease at the New Haven Food Terminal, which expires in 2010 with a two-year extension available.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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