The Havre de Grace Cultural Center at the Opera House received a Maryland Preservation Award for Project Excellence: Community Impact from the Maryland Historical Trust at the 43rd Maryland Preservation Awards ceremony held in Annapolis Feb. 1.
The city received a recognition that is “a very coveted award if you’re in the circles of the Maryland Historic Trust,” Mayor William T. Martin said during Monday’s City Council meeting.
According to the Maryland Historical Trust, the Preservation Awards “are the highest level of recognition for historic preservation, heritage education, and community development projects in the state.”
The category of Project Excellence is awarded to projects that “demonstrate superlative historic preservation standards,” according to the Historical Trust.
Martin was on hand in Annapolis to accept the award, along with Bill Price and Rebecca Jessop, the respective board chair and executive director of the Havre de Grace Arts Collective, the nonprofit organization that manages the city-owned Opera House.
“It was an honor to work with the Maryland Historic Trust to make a 19th century building come alive again as a 21st century state of the art performing arts center,” Price said in a statement released by the city government.
Martin gave all credit to Havre de Grace voters who approved a $2.1 million bond referendum in 2016. That money covered more than half of the nearly $4 million cost of renovating the historic downtown facility. The remainder was covered by contributions from private donors, Harford County and the state.
“The bulk of this project was voted on by the citizens, approved by the citizens, and the citizens are paying the bill,” Martin said Monday, reiterating remarks he made during the awards ceremony in Annapolis.
“I wanted everyone in the room to know that, that when it comes to preserving historical structures, and when it comes to promoting cultural arts, that it’s the citizens that make this happen,” he said.
The Martin administration fast-tracked the renovations after voters overwhelmingly supported the bond bill, which was on the spring 2016 city election ballot, according to the city’s news release. The the renovated building opened this past August.
Arts Collective representatives delivered a glowing report to the mayor and council Monday on the Opera House’s first six months. The renovated facility has drawn people from around the Mid-Atlantic region and boosted downtown businesses.
Price, the Arts Collective board chair, said more than 10,300 patrons have visited in the past six months, compared to 3,500 a year before the Opera House was renovated. A large chunk of visitors hail from Havre de Grace, but many people come from other parts of Maryland, as well as Delaware, Pennsylvania, even New York City and the Washington, D.C. region, according to Price.
He said business at downtown restaurants has improved by 23 to 75 percent around 6 p.m. — based on anecdotal information — as people get dinner before an 8 p.m. show.
“We start our performances at 8 o’clock specifically so that people can have a dinner and a show and it is paying off,” Price said.
According to the city administration, the Cultural Center at the Opera House is expected to serve more than 20,000 people annually.
The Tidewater Players, the Havre de Grace community theater group that used the Opera House as its home base for more than 25 years before the renovation, is again based at the refurbished facility. Two new theater companies and a dance company also call it home, Price said.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we built it and guess what, they came,” he said.
Price, along with the mayor, thanked the many volunteers who support Opera House operations and productions. Martin said he believes the facility is becoming an “economic engine” for the city, a key selling point when promoting the renovation.
“The future looks great for the Opera House,” Martin said. “I have very little doubt that it’s just going to be better than ever.”