The venerable Hutzler's building in Towson, one of the area's first suburban department stores, may usher in another era of development if a group of arts advocates has its way.
About 100 artists, representatives from universities, government and business, and supporters of the arts will meet today to consider turning the four-story Art Deco landmark into a cultural arts center.
The proposed Greater Baltimore Cultural Arts Center would include a 300- to 500-seat performing arts theater, branches of the Peabody Institute and the Maryland Institute College of Art, class space for Towson State University and Essex Community College, and a number of arts-related retail stores such as the Maryland Fiber Arts Center and Towson Artists Supply.
The center would operate as a non-profit foundation, initially supported by public as well as private funds. It would be the first arts center of its kind in the state.
Artist Nancy Warner, who has organized and garnered support for the proposal, began thinking of forming a cultural arts alliance several years ago when she ran the Maryland Fiber Arts Center in Timonium.
She says sharing space, ideas, business knowledge and overhead costs makes sense in a tough economy. "I think the arts can no longer sit in a totally non-profit category," she says. "All of us in the arts field need to know more about business and how to make things pay for themselves."
The proposal for the center also would include galleries which such organizations as the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Contemporary Arts Museum would rent for exhibitions.
Among other potential tenants are Gordon Miller Music, the Potters Guild of Baltimore, The Stitchery, The Knitting Network, Heart to Please, Craft Concepts, Minimakers, the Baltimore Weavers Guild, Dance Rags, the Women's Co-op Gallery and the Maryland Pastel Society.
The Peabody Institute would be the biggest tenant, using 30,000 square feet to expand its community music school. The branch would offer instruction in such areas as piano, guitar and violin to the public.
"Everything about this proposal already exists. It's just a question of putting it together to make it more cost-effective and beneficial," Ms. Warner says.
The building has been empty since Hutzler's closed in 1989. A year ago, Charles and Laura Moore proposed turning it into an upscale home furnishings mall. A representative for the Hahn Co. of San Diego, which owns the building and makes the final decision on its future, says the company is "exploring various options."
Towson business leaders applaud any use of the building which helps to enhance the area. "Whenever I go to Bethesda or Chevy Chase, I see people walking on the streets at night and I don't see it here," says Dick Aarons, small business counsel for the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce. "Whether it's the Moores' proposal or the arts center, bringing business into Towson is what it's all about. And that means bringing them in on foot, not driving by at 40 miles an hour."