Point Park has raised $45M for Downtown Pittsburgh Playhouse project

| Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, 11:25 a.m.

Point Park University could begin construction next spring on its $74 million theater and education complex planned for its Downtown campus.

Set to open in 2017, the new Pittsburgh Playhouse will replace the Oakland facility that has served as a venue for education and entertainment since its founding in the 1930s.

“I will always miss it because I grew up in it. But it was falling apart,” said actress Shirley Jones, who began her career there in 1952 as a scholarship student at the Playhouse Theatre School.

Located on a 1.6-acre site between Wood and Smithfield streets, the new Pittsburgh Playhouse building will have entrances on Forbes Avenue and Fourth Street. The project was designed by the Cleveland-based architecture firm Westlake Reed Leskosky.

Since Point Park University took over the Playhouse in 1968, students in the Conservatory of Performing Arts program have shuttled between academic classes Downtown and performing-arts education in Oakland.

“We are excited, because the design of the building is clearly aligned with the mission,” said Ronald Allan-Lindblom, vice president and artistic director of Pittsburgh Playhouse. “The old Playhouse building has been held together with duct tape. We will be able to expand our technical area and design program.”

When completed, the new 92,000-square-foot facility will consolidate learning experiences for the Conservatory's 700 students into the Downtown campus and provide them with three performance spaces — a 560-seat proscenium/thrust theater with an orchestra pit and two flexible studio theaters — as well as dressing rooms, rehearsal studios, 10,000 square feet designated for construction of sets, costumes and others technical elements and an 11,147-square-foot sound stage for cinema-arts programs.

The new Playhouse is expected to attract 60,000 nonstudent patrons to the Downtown area for performances by the Conservatory Theatre Company and the Conservatory Dance Company, as well as those by Playhouse Jr. and The Rep, its professional company.

“It will become the heart of Downtown,” said Point Park University President Paul Hennigan. “It will provide an academic facility for programs of the highest caliber … The new Playhouse will serve the community by providing an intriguing venue.”

The new building will integrate with two historic structures owned by Point Park University — the former Colonial Trust Co. building designed by Frederick J. Osterling that now serves as the University Center and the former 1903 Pittsburgh Stock Exchange on Fourth Avenue that will become a cafe and coffee shop.

Plans for the complex require the removal of the buildings at 320, 322 and 330 Forbes Avenue. But elements of their facades will be incorporated on the walls of the two-story courtyard that will serve as a gathering place and outdoor performance area.

Hennigan is particularly enthusiastic about the new building's many large, street-level glass windows that will allow those passing by to observe activity in the lobby and main theater.

“Eighty percent of the time, there is no performance onstage,” Hennigan said. “But we wanted to showcase 100 percent of a production — rehearsals, set design, lighting design, classes with guest artists — to showcase what we do.”

So far, the university has raised $45 million for the project, including $14 million from the university, its trustees and campaign leaders; corporate gifts of $18 million; $5 million from a grant by the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program; and $8 million from foundations. Proceeds from the intended sale of the Oakland Playhouse site and pending gifts are expected to provide an additional $10 million.

On Dec. 4, Point Park launched a capital campaign to raise the additional $20 million to complete the project.

“This is a major event in the history of this theater. I was thinking how amazing it was that Hennigan …put this together,” said Richard E. Rauh, a longtime financial supporter of the Pittsburgh Playhouse, whose father and mother — businessman Richard S. Rauh and actress Helen Wayne Rauh — were instrumental in the Playhouse's founding.

“We are not finished yet,” he said. “There's a lot of money to be raised, but we are on our way.

“The important thing is that no matter how we do this, the memory, the thought and the name is continuous … We are just heading into a new era, and that new era will be exciting.”

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808, acarter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ATCarter_Trib.

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