Monday, February 16, 2009

"Save The Queen" in Wilmington Delaware

To say the long-vacant Queen Theatre on Market Street is dilapidated is to hint that mother of octuplets Nadya Suleman may have too many kids. To say it is cavernous is akin to suggesting the Grand Canyon is a mere slice in the earth.

But years ago I wrote an opinion piece entitled “Save The Queen” (the theatre, not Liz ), calling for its revival. Now the Buccini-Pollin Group is doing just that.

No one can accuse Mayor Baker's two best friends – Rob and Chris Buccini – of small-minded Lilliputian thinking. To the contrary, they are the broad-thinking Brobdingnagians of Delaware.

They own most of Market Street. But they realized the cornerstone of their $250 million redevelopment project was a 50,000-square-foot edifice smack in the middle of their properties spanning 10th Street to the Riverfront. The behemoth has sat deteriorating for 49 years.

The model for the renovated Queen is Philadelphia's World Cafe Live, a very, very happenin' live music venue that draws an eclectic array of acts from celebrated artists to emerging ones. It is an investor and will be the operator of the Queen; delivering musical fuel from Philly to energize downtown Wilmington faster than the Alaska pipeline.

Entertainment draws traffic, and eventually the three Big R's: renters, retailers and restaurants.

With its promise of solid economic and cultural development, its no surprise that the City of Wilmington has backed it with $1 million and already grants have been 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. Marshalling the non-profit arm is Wilmington-born Bill Taylor.

Taylor and Chris Buccini are childhood friends that attended Wilmington Friends together, boarding school for high school and went on to Princeton together. But more importantly, Taylor ran the legendary Tipitina's Restaurant in “N'awlins.” More than 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 after after Hurricane Katrina. Among other things, he created Instruments a Comin', which bought new instruments for every New Orleans school. He plans to replicate that kind of effort here.

The Light Up The Queen Foundation will create educational programming to engage and serve the community, exploring a range of cultures and perspectives. Workshops, master sessions, musical instrument distribution, and an artist co-op space are already planned.

And finally, dear readers, an Aisle Say quick quiz: In the movie “Robin Hood,” who served the King's English with more beauty, elegance and grace? Was it Errol Flynn in the '50s or Kevin Costner in the '90s? No question on that one. (Oh, that Midwestern monotone so did not work!) However in “Field of Dreams,” Costner did utter the mantra that will become the Queen's -- “build it and they will come.”

1 comment:

Christie said...

I'm excited for the possibility of a revitalization of the Queen and the possibility of a great live music venue in Wilmington - but I'm frustrated that I can't find info about when it's happening. Any idea when this place would open?