In 1997 I wrote an opinion piece in the News Journal entitled “Save The Queen” (the theatre, not Liz ). The Buccini-Pollin Group has done just that.
To say The Queen is cavernous is akin to suggesting the Grand Canyon is a mere slice in the earth. To say The Queen is dilapidated is to hint that Nadya Suleman may have too many kids.
No one can accuse Mayor Baker's two best friends – Rob and Chris Buccini – of Lilliputian thinking. To the contrary, they are the Brobdingnagians of Delaware. They own most of Market Street. But they realized that the cornerstone of their $250 million redevelopment project was a 50,000 square foot edifice sitting right in the middle of their properties at 10th & Market to the Riverfront. The behemoth had sat vacant for 49 years.
Entertainment draws traffic...and eventually the three Big R's: renters, retailers and restaurants.
The model for the renovated Queen is Philadelphia's World Cafe Live, a very very happenin' live music venue. World Cafe, a non-profit, draws an eclectic array of acts – blues, rock, folk and world music; from celebrated artists to emerging ones. This theme will be followed in Wilmington.
I attended World Cafe last weekend to see a local Brazilian drum group. They rocked the place. Food and libations are available after a slight cover.
In fact, World Cafe Live is an investor in The Queen and will be the operator; delivering musical fuel from Philly as fluidly as the Iraqi pipeline. (well, ok, that's not a great analogy).
Brought in from New Orleans to marshal the project is Wilmington-born Bill Taylor. Taylor went to school with Chris Buccini but more importantly he ran the legendary Tipitina's Restaurant in “Nawlins”. In addition to having some of the best music in a city known for its music, Tipitini's had a foundation that helped to rescue the city's tradition. Www.tipitinas.com
Says Taylor, “after Katrina we created a fund raiser called “instruments a comin”. The end result was that the Foundation bought new instruments for every New Orleans school.” Other endeavors of the Foundation will be incorporated in the mission of The Queen and Taylor intends to “take the successes in New Orleans and replicate them here.”
$18 million of the $25 million project is raised says Taylor. The Queen's own Foundation, Light Up The Queen” is up and running. The City of Wilmington invested $1 million and grants are committed from The Longwood Foundation and The Welfare Foundation. (Thank you P.S duPont of Longwood Gardens fame).
World Cafe will follow its successful paradigm of a non-profit/for profit partnership. The completed project will include a main performing hall with dining, a second stage for live music in a casual dining venue, banquet/event space on the upper floors and a studio for regional broadcast of WXPN.
The Light Up The Queen Foundation will be responsible for creating educational programming that will engage and serve the community, exploring a range of cultures and perspectives. Workshops, master sessions, distribution of musical instruments, and an artist co-op space are already planned.
To promote the project, Taylor is staging a series of gigs at the Crosby-Hill Building at 605 Market St. Singer Sharon Little appears February 19. The next day, the 20th, Taylor is hosting the “1st Annual Mardi Gras on Market Street.” This is a fund raiser for The Queen. The entertainment includes legendary musicians from New Orleans. Party goers are encouraged to come in costume. Www.LightUpTheQueen.org