Monday, September 25, 2006

Merriweather in Winter?

So, I'm an idiot. I showed up for the Merriweather meeting tonight promptly at 7:30 pm -- a half hour late. For this, I blame my calendar, which had the correct meeting time but failed to alert me when that time was near. I guess that's what you get when you're still using a pen and paper to schedule your life.

Anyway, I didn't miss much and what I did miss was easy enough to pick up from the discussion (and from others in attendance who I hope will add their input here).

Generally, the consensus is that Merriweather is doing great, thanks to the stewardship of IMP Productions.

However, the panel seemed genuinely concerned about the lack of action on its recommendations from a year ago -- namely, that structural improvements and other investments were needed to keep the pavilion viable for the coming decades. The panel, it should be said, has always been very supportive of Merriweather in its current configuration and recognized early on the important role it plays in the county.

"We're a little frustrated with the lack of progress," said Rand Griffin, chair of the panel, adding. "What we intend to be is an active participant in [this] process."

Another of the panel's recommendations was that General Growth needed to commit to a long term deal with an operator for the pavilion. IMP has been working with single-year contracts since it took over the venue a couple years ago, and in a bit of theatrical timing, it received its contract for next year today. A longer contract represents both a commitment to keeping Merriweather open and an opportunity for IMP to make the investments urged by the panel, as well as a few others.

"I have to pinch myself whenever I'm there. I can't believe I'm allowed to run it," said Seth Hurwitz, co-owner of IMP. As for a long term contract, he said the longer the contract, the more money he'd be willing to invest. "I am available to sign on for the rest of my life, and then some."

GGP vice president Doug Godine also maintained his commitment to the pavilion, saying his company was "absolutely" committed to keeping it open-air.

"It should be the cynosure of Columbia," he said.

Despite this support, he stressed that his company is still working with the county to come up with a final plan for Town Center, which will also help add clarity to the Merriweather situation.

"We're not waiting for the county. We're working with the county," said Godine. "We've been spending a considerable amount of time on Merriweather Post."

Time, however, might be running short for IMP, which is looking for a venue that it can call its own, where it can operate shows year round. Although he said IMP's already found a few potential spots, if it can reach an appropriate, long-term agreement with GGP, this venue could be Merriweather.

Yes, that's right. Three years ago, the ostensible impetus for closing MPP was so that shows could take place year round. But, as Hurwitz stressed, he has completely different vision.

Although an architect has only given a preliminary assessment, Hurwitz believes that he can convert Merriweather into an open-for-the-summer and enclosed-for-the-winter venue, similar to the Tweeter Center in Camden, New Jersey. Only better (and not in Jersey).

IMP books shows at several venues in the DC area now -- the Patriot Center, for instance -- but an enclosed Merriweather would allow them to consolidate all these shows into one place.

However, Hurwitz understands the importance of keeping Merriweather's outdoor character and said that his architect has "revolutionary" ideas for accomplishing this.

"I believe we can turn Merriweather into a cultural center, not just for Columbia, but for all of DC and Baltimore."

Now, all of this sounds good (particularly the have-our-cake-and-eat-it-too idea of an convertible venue that still maintains its Merriweatherness), but without a long term commitment that's more than just words, it won't happen.

To this effect, Griffin made a great point. Since the vision of Merriweather's future is well-known and largely agreed upon, it should lead the transformation of Town Center. Rather than wait for the details of the master plan to be filled in and the zoning to be finalized, GGP can show how highly it regards the pavilion and our city by taking the necessary steps to see a successful future for both is guaranteed.


Anonymous said...

Why doesn't Merriweather have a "green" roof? This is square footage that is only a roof for events maybe 50 days out of 365 each year.

Why not make it green, allowing it to scrub the air of greenhouse-gas carbon dioxide, instead of being yet one more source of urban heat island effect?

HoCo Exile said...

Was there any discussion of the parking issue?

It would seem that what is needed is a commitment, like by GGP and the county, to create a lot fo public parking the town center area that can be used by MPP and other town center facilities (as yet unbuilt...). The most logical, if only, place seems to be the mall parking lot which would need to have garages built to accomodate the occasional MPP concert along with the normal retail customers to the mall.

Hayduke said...

The parking issue was discussed, and though all admitted it was very important, they also felt that through the master plan it could be worked out. The master plan, it seems, will call for a significant number parking garages in the area, several of which will serve both offices (during the day) and Merriweather (at night).

As for a green roof for the pavilion, I think doing so would be prohibitively expensive. But that doesn't mean it's not something they could explore as part of the expensive improvements needed to keep it viable and/or transform it into a year round venue.

Anonymous said...

Green roofs are cheaper than many imagine.