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Handel Choir director Melinda O'Neal makes case for Parkway Theater renovation

Earlier this month, word came that the city of Baltimore is seeking a developer to restore the Parkway, a 1,100-seat theater on North Avenue built in 1915. Melinda O'Neal, artistic director and conductor of the Handel Choir of Baltimore sees the Parkway as a potential boon to local arts groups, provided that the renovation aims for a more practical eating capacity. Here's her guest blog posting on the subject:

In the several years I've been a Baltimore resident, it has become clear to me that the city lacks an adequate, mid-size live concert venue. Renovating the Parkway Theatre as a 450-to-750-seat venue suitable for film, dance, opera and live orchestral and choral-orchestral performance would be a significant step forward. Independent, civic performance organizations such as Handel Choir of Baltimore would be first in line in a flash - and I know others are very interested. My view: Build it, and we will come.

Of academic concert venues such as Falvey Hall at Maryland Institute College of Art (520 seats), Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher College (975 seats), Peabody Conservatory's Friedberg Hall (700 seats) and Towson University's Kaplan Hall (520 seats), there are various significant drawbacks, such as lack of acoustical hells, inadequate dressing rooms and backstage areas, or too-small stage areas. Often, they may be ...

unavailable to outside organizations (understandably, since they exist primarily for students). Note that two of these four venues are in the county.

Of the independent halls in the city, the Hippodrome (2,280 seats), the Meyerhoff (2,443) and the Lyric (2,564) are all are out of range due to cost and audience capacity. Gordon Center, the only independent, mid-size concert venue in the area (550 seats), is excellent in layout and acoustical design. But it is in Owings Mills, at least a 25-minute drive from the city.

Small and mid-size Baltimore performing organizations, desiring the relative intimacy of a mid-size hall but requiring enough seats to operate within a viable financial model, most often perform in churches, although they are nonsectarian, civic organizations. Handel Choir is profoundly grateful for the hospitality of the many churches that graciously host our concerts, but we recognize this is not always a comfortable fit.That said, acoustics in many of Baltimore's fine churches for live, non-reinforced sound performance are excellent.

Renovation of Parkway Theatre, with its central location in a district clearly on the upswing, would be a substantially positive step forward for a city vibrant with musical arts of many styles and constituencies.

Yes, build it. Provide reasonable parking access and good acoustics. Arts organizations, audiences, businesses and residents will come.

Melinda O'Neal

Artistic director and conductor of the Handel Choir of Baltimore

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