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New Everyman Theatre to boost West Side

The Everyman Theatre celebrated the groundbreaking of its new West Side venue on Tuesday after more than four years of fundraising for a move that is expected to draw patrons and businesses to the growing community.

The $17.5 million project that will transport the theater from its former home on North Charles Street to West Fayette Street is being financed by a combination of donations from businesses, city and state government and individuals. Everyman has collected more than $16 million toward its relocation and is continuing to fundraise.

The building, formerly home to the Town Theatre, was donated to Everyman by Bank of America and Atlanta-based real estate company the Harold A. Dawson Trust and is valued at $1.8 million. The building opened in 1910 as a vaudeville theater and closed in 1990.

Daniel Hirschhorn, co-chair of the fundraising campaign, who along with wife and Board of Directors member Gina Hirschhorn donated more than $100,000 to the project, said in his speech at the groundbreaking that although fundraising began in 2006, the board has been planning the move for eight years.

“We tried to stay in our neighborhood originally,” Daniel Hirschhorn said. “We tried to get the Chesapeake Restaurant site, but weren’t awarded it, so we had to search to find other viable locations.”

Ian Tresselt, managing director of Everyman Theatre, said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake played a key role in the fundraising process by helping to secure $1.4 million for the project in city bonds.

Rawlings-Blake said in a speech at the groundbreaking ceremony that the theater’s move is a key factor in the revitalization of the arts community in West Baltimore.

“When complete, the new Everyman Theatre will be yet another example of the progress being made on the West Side,” Rawlings-Blake said.

“Bit by bit, one project by one project, we will breathe new life into the West Side,” Rawlings-Blake said.

Rawlings-Blake also said the project was an important jump-start to the economy during difficult times. The move will create 185 jobs during construction and 25 new jobs after the building’s completion, she said. The new location is expected to bring more than 30,000 patrons to the area each year to attend the more-than-200 shows Everyman will host, a potential draw for new businesses to set up shop in the area.

According to a 2008 study by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies, the theater is expected to have a $26 million economic impact on the area over an eight-year period.

Patty Bond, who worked on the fundraising campaign for the move, said she expects to see a flourishing of businesses in West Baltimore due to Everyman’s presence. She said that before the theater moved to its current Charles Street location in 1994, the block was 80 percent vacant. It has since become a vibrant arts district featuring restaurants and other businesses.

“Artists have always been on the leading edge of transformation and revitalization in communities,” Bond said. “They come in and bring life and people follow.”

While the move may bring business to West Baltimore, Nick Brooks, co-owner of the Bohemian Coffee House on North Charles Street, said Everyman’s move away from Station North may have a negative effect on businesses there.

“Right now this is a kind of fragile neighborhood, and any business that is open and can bring foot traffic is better than a vacant space,” Brooks said, adding that the Bohemian Coffee House frequently hosts customers who come in after Everyman’s shows.

The change of venue will provide Everyman with higher ceilings for more elaborate set design, increased storage and rehearsal space and more dressing rooms. It will also increase seating capacity from 175 to 250. Construction began in April and is scheduled to be finished by September 2012.