Thursday, February 07, 2002

Performers want Covedale Theater

Theater group hopes for city subsidy

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Its signature tower personifies the plight of the historic Covedale Theater. Its luster is tarnished, its future uncertain.

        But it's still standing. For how long, no one knows.

        The owner wants to sell it. Two potential buyers want to demolish it. A third, though, wants to bring year-round theater productions back to the West Price Hill landmark.

        Only one thing stands in the way of Cincinnati Young People's Theatre. Actually, 495,000 things. That's Hilsinger Realty's asking price.

        While Cincinnati City Council considers the group's request for a $250,000 subsidy to kick start a fund-raising campaign to save the theater at 4990 Glenway Ave., time pressures are mounting.

        “The window of opportunity is closing,” Young People's Theatre Artistic Director Tim Perrino said.

        Several council members, notably John Cranley, support the idea but would like to see private funds before considering “matching” funds. The Young People's Theatre is lining up potential private grants, and on Feb. 23 will meet to launch a fund-raising campaign.

        “Obviously the budget is tight,” Mr. Cranley said, “and we can't do as much as we like but I'm confident we can put together some kind of package.”

        The theater seats about 500 and would require little or no renovation. Mr. Perrino's plan: Move the children's theater operations from the Majestic riverboat, where about 100 young people perform each summer, and enlist other producers to keep the Covedale open year-round.

        The seller is torn. Emotional attachment and business decisions don't always align so neatly.

        “It's ideal for them,” said Hilsinger general manager Christian James. “They could walk in and start their performances. We're all from the west side, we'd love to see the building used as is.”

        He declined to name the other suitors or discuss their plans for the highly coveted property in Covedale's commercial district.

        Realtor Jim Roda and his wife, Dorothy, have had an office across the street from the Covedale for more than 30 years. Mrs. Roda, 74, took her five kids to the theater throughout their childhoods.

        The Rodas' oldest child, Donna, was less than a year old when the Covedale opened. She 55 now.

        After decades of success as a movie house with a theater-style stage, it was squeezed out by suburban multiplex cinemas. It closed for 1 1/2 years in the mid-'90s, reopened again and closed again. In 2000, it became the Covedale Cinema Grill.

        Mr. Perrino knows a public subsidy is a tough sell but he points to the success of the Esquire Theater in Clifton, which was declining when the neighborhood rallied around it.

        Meanwhile, for the Young People's Theatre, money is short and there is no timetable for the city to respond. And time is running out.


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