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VOL. 118 | NO. 230 | Monday, December 20, 2004

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Midtowns Future Resides on Stage

Midtown Property to Take Center Stage

$15 million Playhouse project to create theater district


The Daily News

It might not rival Broadway, but the stretch of Midtown that houses Playhouse on the Square and The Circuit Playhouse is moving one step closer to becoming its own brand of theater district.

In coming years, theatergoers will find an array of new options in Midtown, following a move by Circuit Playhouse Inc., operators of Playhouse on the Square and The Circuit Playhouse, to expand and renovate its historic Memphis properties.

New Playhouse. Circuit Playhouse Inc. has purchased property at the corner of South Cooper Street and Union Avenue near Overton Square. The land will be converted into a new $10 million, 400-seat theater to house Playhouse on the Square, which currently sits on the west side of Cooper.

The Circuit Playhouse, located at 1705 Poplar Ave., will then move into the current Playhouse on the Square location.

A $1.1 million warranty deed listing Circuit Playhouse Inc. as the buyer and Union Catfish Co. Ltd. as the seller was recorded Dec. 7, according to The Daily News Public Records Database, www.memphisdailynews.com.

Auxiliary uses. The theater district will include more than just the two theaters, however. The purchase also included an existing office building, former antiques mall and parking lots. The antiques mall will be torn down to make way for the new theater, but the five-story office building will remain. Its three upper floors will become a nonprofit arts center, housing arts groups, offices and theater rehearsal space.

Weve had dialogue with a number of groups in the city that are all very excited and interested, said Jackie Nichols, founder and executive producer of Circuit Playhouse Inc. Not just theater, but total arts.

Help for the Square. It could mean a shot in the arm for Overton Square, which has seen the departure of businesses including T.G.I. Fridays and the Vortex nightclub recently. The project also will benefit any nonprofits interested in a Midtown move particularly since the nonprofit center will be owned and operated by a nonprofit, which means no property taxes.

When youre leasing from somebody else, theyre automatically passing along those property taxes to you, Nichols said. So the nonprofit groups that are in there will not have to pay property taxes.

Chicago model. Chicagos Steppenwolf Theatre designed by John Morris, who is also the architect of the Playhouse facility is serving as an example for the new Memphis theater.

Its a neighborhood that has shops and restaurants and residential, similar to the Midtown area, Nichols said of the theater located in Chicagos Lincoln Park area. They totally revitalized the neighborhood up there and created a theater district.

Nichols said Circuit Playhouse Inc. considered locations in Downtown Memphis, but found greater potential for its project in the area surrounding the theaters current location near Overton Square.

We felt that the Midtown area was the best of all possible worlds, Nichols said. It has a neighborhood kind of feel to it. There are some efforts out there to create a whole arts district here in Midtown.

Dedicated design. The current Playhouse on the Square, located at 51 S. Cooper St., is housed in a former movie theater, meaning it is not designed for stage productions. Other theaters in town, including the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, The Orpheum and Germantown Performing Arts Centre, have what is known as a fly system, which lowers scenery onto the stage.

We dont have that, so theres no way for us to get any scenery on or off stage, Nichols said. The only way we can do it is to try to be creative with our designs. Theres no legitimate wing space for scenery or for entrances or exits.

The new theater will connect to the office building, allowing the buildings first two floors to be used for support space, including dressing rooms, restroom facilities, a costume shop and a backstage area. The 30,000-square-foot theater combined with 14,000 square feet of space in the office building will offer ample space for the theater group, Nichols said.

Once construction is complete on the new facility scheduled for 2007 light renovation work will proceed on the current Playhouse building to make way for The Circuit Playhouse. After the move, the current Circuit Playhouse building will be used for educational purposes and managed by TheaterWorks.

Raising funds. Circuit Playhouse Inc. is four months into the quiet phase of a $15 million capital campaign. Once the group meets half its goal, a public phase of the campaign will be announced and should take about a year to complete. Construction on the theater should begin in 2006, Nichols said. Nearly $4 million has been raised so far.

Much of the groups capital campaign centers on naming opportunities, ranging from a $2,500 balcony seat to $1.5 million for the stage and auditorium.

We realize its an awful lot of money to raise, but we think the payoff is going to be worth it, Nichols said. The enthusiasm has been enormous everywhere weve gone.


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MORTGAGES 62 223 16,417
BANKRUPTCIES 34 138 6,717