Center Stage announces $32 million renovation campaign

Tim Smith
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Center Stage is on a roll. $21.5 million pledged or received toward $32 million to transform building.

After a 15-month "quiet phase" of fundraising that brought in $21.5 million in gifts and pledges, Center Stage has gone public with a campaign to raise an additional $10.5 million to fund extensive renovations of the company's longtime Calvert Street home.

The $32 million project, which includes an expanded entrance and lobby and a total redesign for the fourth-floor Head Theater, is the largest capital campaign undertaken by Center Stage.

"It's a once-in-a-generation thing," managing director Stephen Richard said. "We are a bit ahead of where we thought we would be at this point. Donors have been just off-the-charts responsive. We're two-thirds the way up Everest, but it doesn't get easier."

Raising the additional funds is "a stretch goal, but an entirely feasible one," said Edward Bernard, chair of the fundraising campaign.

Construction will begin in January; the company will finish this season with productions staged at Towson University. A grand reopening of the Calvert Street venue is slated for January 2017; part of the building is expected to open a few months earlier.

Most of the design work for the renovation has been done by Baltimore-based architects Cho Benn Holback, the firm that designed Everyman Theatre's $18 million venue and Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's $7 million facility in the past few years. The designer for the Head Theater is the London-based theater firm Charcoalblue.

"The new Head will be transformative," said Center Stage artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah. "We will be able to change the seating configuration in one day, instead of two weeks. And the acoustics will be improved. It is a bad space to perform in now."

In addition to more spacious lobby area for the Head Theater, a 99-seat theater will be built on the same floor.

"This gives us a third space, where we can do exciting work for families and work by new and emerging playwrights," Kwei-Armah said.

The 541-seat Pearlstone Theater on the ground floor will get upgraded equipment as part of the renovations. The primary changes to that level of the building will be a new "entry plaza" named for the late Peter Culman, longtime managing director at Center Stage, and an expanded lobby with a two-story atrium.

"This will feel pretty transformative when people come back into the building," Bernard said. "It will feel much more like a contemporary theater than an old school converted to a theater. Just being in the building will be an experience."

The project also includes the creation of the company's first dedicated space for educational and community activities.

A substantial amount of the project's cost will cover replacement of the building's aging, hard-to-repair plumbing and electrical, heating and cooling systems.

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