Thursday, May 23, 2002

Performing arts center planned for Blue Ash

Could become second home for ballet, opera, symphony

By Susan Vela,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BLUE ASH — The city and Raymond Walters College are formulating plans to build a $10 million performing arts center on the University of Cincinnati's Blue Ash campus.

        City and college officials envision a 1,000-seat venue that would host dance, theater and musical acts, and ultimately become a second home for the Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Opera and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

        No plans have been drawn, and financing details are sketchy. But officials said the center would offer a blend of the Aronoff Center's glamour and the coziness of the Southgate House in Newport.

        Arts officials see the Raymond Walters center as complementing — not competing with — the downtown Cincinnati arts centers.

        “The more exposure the people in our community have to our arts, the more likely they will be to be a regular (downtown) attender,” said Janet Taylor, the Cincinnati Arts Association's vice president.

        Blue Ash City Manager Marvin Thompson and Raymond Walters College dean Barbara Bardes have talked to performing arts organizations, who said that a more personal, educational 1,000-seat setting is needed in Greater Cincinnati.

        The Aronoff Center, Music Hall and Firstar Center seat more than 2,000. On the other end of the scale, Southgate House seats about 650.

        “It's very, very early in the concept stage. (But) what we are hoping to do is build a performing arts center that's (close to) the 1,000-seat range,” Mr. Thompson said. “This could ... offer our citizens a whole other dimension of culture and entertainment.”

        At tonight's 7:30 p.m. council meeting, Albert Pertalion, executive director of the Germantown Performing Arts Centre, a 824-seat venue outside Memphis, Tenn., will promote the facility. It is booked most of the year and will hold a production of The Vagina Monologues and performances by musicians Dave Brubeck and Itzhak Perlman in the coming months.

        Mr. Thompson and Ms. Bardes hope council members will be so impressed that they'll press ahead with plans that include construction deadlines, architectural renderings and financial details.

        For now, the two parties have talked tentatively of renovating and expanding a 500-seat theater in Muntz Hall and splitting equally the estimated $10 million cost.

        Mr. Thompson is hoping that corporate and private donations, plus revenues from the city's hotel tax, would take care of the city's portion. It's too soon for Ms. Bardes to mention finances.

        Right now, “we're talking about what would be the best partnership to do,” she said. “The arts are very closely linked to education and we think it's a perfect marriage.”

        The proposed facility would be the perfect way for parents to introduce their children to the arts and inspire them to seek downtown arts opportunities, she said.

        “They'll get excited and think about going downtown to the big show,” she said.


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