Baltimore officially gained a new performance and events venue on Wednesday as leaders of the Hippodrome Foundation cut the ribbon on the $20 million M&T Bank Exchange after seven years of planning and construction.
Created inside the former Eutaw Savings Bank building at Eutaw and Fayette streets, the Exchange is a flexible space designed to supplement the adjacent Hippodrome Theatre by providing a setting for a wide range of events, primarily produced by local community groups and organizations that didn’t need the Hippodrome’s 2,300-person seating capacity. The final phase of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center at 12 N. Eutaw St., it’s expected to draw 125,000 to 150,000 people a year and create up to 200 full and part-time jobs.
Philanthropists Mary-Ann and Walter D. “Wally” Pinkard Jr. cut the ribbon during a celebration that drew donors, arts leaders, board members, elected officials and others whose contributions made the Exchange a reality.
Guests then moved into the space where they saw a video explaining how the Exchange will be used and watched performances by local students, then observed as the building was transformed from a 600-seat auditorium to a three-tiered party palace for a celebration that went on into the night.
“We’ve been through trials, COVID, escalation and unexpected conditions…but finally we’re here on this happy occasion. We could not be prouder or more grateful,” said Olive Waxter, who started as interim director of the Hippodrome Foundation and last night was named its President. “This room has so much promise and will deliver so much for this community.”
“Today this historic bank building has a new life,” said Ron Legler, President of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center. “We paid attention and tribute to the historic value, but we added touring-quality sound, lighting and digital video, giving this room more assets than any other in the state of Maryland…It’s a shining example of how public and private partnerships can succeed.”
“Now more than ever we need to recognize the growing connection between the arts, local economies and neighborhood revitalization, especially here in Baltimore City,” said Adrienne Jones, Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates.
“The new M&T Bank Exchange represents an investment in our efforts to create a center for diverse entertainment while also providing more free outreach and education programs for the community,” she said. “What you are doing here makes a difference, and that is why the state has been so committed to supporting your work.”
“This is a phenomenal opportunity,” said Wally Pinkard, who serves as chairman of the Hippodrome Foundation. “The community will tell us what they want to do, and we’ll provide the venue for them to make it happen.”
The architect for the Exchange was Gary Martinez, partner and studio director of OTJ Architects of Washington, D. C., and a noted theater designer. Whiting Turner was the contractor. Andrew Springer is the Exchange’s executive director.
Before it even opened, the Exchange had numerous events scheduled, including Baltimore Magazine’s Best of Baltimore party, the Baltimore Met Gala and Visit Baltimore’s annual meeting.
Tonight, it will be the setting for Gov. Wes Moore’s birthday party, featuring a performance by rapper LL Cool J. It’s an early celebration for the governor, who turns 45 on Oct. 15.