The lobby of the Parkway Theatre. Photo courtesy of Post Typography.
The lobby of the Parkway Theatre. Photo courtesy of Post Typography.

The historic Parkway Theatre, closed since Jan. 2, will reopen for Artscape 2023.

Local attorney Caroline Hecker announced that the landmark theater at 5 W. North Ave. will be opened during the three-day arts festival, scheduled for Sept. 22 to 24 in the Mount Vernon and Station North areas.

Hecker also said the non-profit group that owns and operates the theater, the Maryland Film Festival, is still aiming to reopen the building full-time in the late spring of 2024, a period that coincides with the film festival’s 25th anniversary.

Hecker appeared before Baltimore’s liquor board on Thursday to represent the Parkway’s operators in their application for a 180-day “hardship extension” of its liquor license, which was otherwise due to expire.

The liquor board voted 3 to 0 to grant the request, allowing the operators to keep their liquor license active for the next six months.

The theater’s owners, the board of the Maryland Film Festival, announced plans in late December to “pause” operations in 2023, saying the non-profit was losing money and needed time to reorganize and come up with a sustainable operating model for a “post-COVID” era. 

The closing was a setback for the Station North area, because the theater had only recently fully reopened following a $17.5 million renovation and expansion and then pandemic-related lockdowns.

This is the first year Artscape has been held since 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and organizers have expanded its footprint to include more of the Station North arts district, where the Parkway is located.

The theater is a logical venue for Artscape because the renovation added lobby and meeting space, screening rooms and other facilities that can serve multiple uses during the three-day arts festival.

Before it paused operations, the Parkway had “a very difficult model, particularly with COVID,” Hecker told the board. “Their attendance is down 70 percent coming out of the pandemic. They closed at the beginning of this year — January 2 I think was the date — and they operated a handful of events in the spring, mostly as an events space with caterers, not using their own license but the catering licenses.

“They plan to open for Artscape, September 22nd to 24th, and then reopen fulltime in the spring, targeting May-June of next year,” she said. “They need to re-imagine their business model though. They’re having a really hard time finding and retaining staff. They were open Thursday to Sunday, so it’s not really a fulltime job for anyone. They’ve had a very difficult time with movie attendance being down generally.” 

Albert J. Matricciani Jr, chair of the liquor board, suggested someone who might be able to help.

“They need to get Barbie,” he said, referring to the title character of the blockbuster movie that opened in theaters last weekend.

Hecker said that’s not an option.

As a non-profit, “they can’t use grant funding to show major blockbuster motion pictures,” she said. “That’s actually a problem that they’ve run into. They’re limited in what they can show.”

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.