Stavros Niarchos Foundation donates $5 million to transform Parkway Theater

What dilapidated city landmark has been promised $5 million toward a makeover?

An international philanthropic foundation has donated $5 million to help transform the historic Parkway Theater into a multipurpose film center, it was announced Monday.

The gift from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which has offices in New York, Athens and Monte Carlo, means that organizers have obtained promises for $13.5 million — or nearly 80 percent — of the $17 million needed to refurbish the 1915 movie palace near the intersection of Charles Street and North Avenue.

A total of $7 million will come from tax credits for federal and state programs, while the remaining $10 million was to have been raised from private sources. In addition to the $5 million promised from the Niarchos Foundation, additional gifts totaling $1.5 million also have been pledged, according to Jed Dietz, director of the Maryland Film Festival, which is spearheading the project.

"It's an extraordinary gift," Dietz said.

"It's absolutely unbelievable. This is a big project, but sometimes there are these moments when it goes from hope to reality. This is one of those moments."

When the 420-seat Parkway Theater opened nearly 100 years ago, it was a stamping ground for the elite, but the theater fell into disrepair in the 1970s. When construction is completed, the renamed Stavros Niarchos Foundation Film Center will have three screens, 600 seats and a live performance space. Classrooms and office space for film students studying at the Johns Hopkins University and at the Maryland Institute College of Art will be located across the street, at 10 E. North Ave.

Dietz credited Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels with securing the gift. Andreas C. Dracopoulos, the foundation's co-president, is a Hopkins trustee.

As Dietz put it: "This came in through Hopkins, and it is a huge vote of confidence in the city, in MICA and in us."

Hopkins became involved with the Parkway because it is located within its $10 million Homewood Community Partners Initiative. The goal of the initiative, which was launched in 2012, is to revitalize 10 neighborhoods near its northside campus.

Daniels described the Parkway renovation in a news release as "a once-in-a-generation moment … to reclaim a part of Baltimore's storied cultural history and transform it into the heart of our community's vibrant, dynamic future."

Since 1966, the Niarchos Foundation has contributed $1.49 billion to nonprofit organizations in 110 countries. The foundation's largest single gift is $796 million, which is being used to build a cultural center in Athens that's scheduled to open in 2016.

In a news release, Dracopoulos said his organization is "excited to partner with this unique alliance of academic and cultural institutions in Baltimore. We believe the combination of universities and arts organizations is a great untapped resource for improving our cities."

Though organizers still must raise $3.5 million, Dietz said this gift removes any last vestiges of doubt that the renovated theater will open in the fall of 2016 as planned.

"Because they believe in us," he said, "this project's going to get done."

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

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