I’m just back from Cleveland Ohio, where I was attending an Historic Theatres conference. I was struck by their downtown, and its success in respect to our local situation. While it was a long time coming, the entire success can be traced to a singular action – the restoration of the theatres at Playhouse Square. The square is made up of a number of historic theatres including the Ohio, the Palace, the Hanna and the State which have all been restored or rehabilitated by a private non-profit entity. When this project started, downtown Cleveland was a wreck – now it is not. The holdings of the Playhouse Square Foundation now include a hotel, office buildings and parking facilities as well as a unique partnership in the IDEA center with Cleveland’s public TV and radio entities.
The restored theatres have led to increased office rentals, street traffic and new retail opportunities for downtown. I saw public art, pedestrians, busy shops and restaurants, new mass transit solutions and a sense of civic pride. Of course Tucson is not Cleveland, nor is it any other city, but I think we can learn a little from them. It has been said that every successful downtown revitalization has an historic theatre as a central component (Richard Moe – National Trust for HIstoric Preservation) and here we are in Tucson with TWO restored historic theatres.
How do we leverage these properties to greater overall success? Public support (not just cash), as well as insuring that multiple voices and decision makers are at the table for key discussions is a good place to start. We cannot continue to chase away key community members who are valued stake holders with experience. Government cannot always lead, and should not be in charge of our cultural resources if we are to become a world class arts community.