By Mack Hogan, News staff
Boston University (BU) is approaching a deal with an unnamed investment group for the sale of the Boston University Theatre, home of the Huntington Theatre Company.
BU and the Huntington Theatre Company announced in October that they would be ending their 33-year partnership in the building on Huntington Avenue. The company, which won the Regional Theatre Tony Award in 2013, originally tried to purchase the space. However, the bid put forward was not sufficient for BU.
“We are acutely aware of the need to move thoughtfully and in ways that give both of us the time to transition to our respective next steps,” the university said in a joint press release with The Huntington Theatre. “To that end, the university will immediately put the theatre and two adjoining buildings on the open market, and BU will require any buyer to guarantee the Huntington’s use of the facility through June 30, 2017.”
According to the statement, BU’s distance from the theater company is a significant disadvantage, and forcing theater students to leave campus for a core part of their experience could no longer be justified. As the university constructs new facilities on its main campus, students will continue to use the facilities in the buildings adjoining the theatre.
The fate of the space is uncertain, as no official deal has been reached.
“If this space stays a theater, we are likely to retain residence in the BU Theatre,” Michael Maso, managing director of the Huntington Theatre Company, said in a November 2015 interview with The News. “If we do lose the space, volume of art and our flexibility may suffer, but the quality will be the same level.”
An investment group represented by developer John Matteson has been in talks with the Huntington Theatre Company, BU and the mayor’s office about a deal. The anonymity of the group has sparked concern in the neighborhood, with many fearing that it plans to close the theater in favor of a more profitable venture.
“Refusing to name the investment group is a clear sign that they are planning on closing the theater and using the real estate for something else,” NU freshman finance major John Galimi said. “They want to disguise the fact that they are defunding the arts.”
Huntington Avenue, which features the Museum of Fine Arts, McKim, Mead & White’s, Symphony Hall and the BU Theatre has often been called the “avenue of the arts.” BU and The Huntington Theatre Company expressed doubt about the property’s future in the press release.
“The Huntington will have the time to either look for a new theatre in which to present its programs after 2017, or talk with potential developers and buyers of the BU Theatre properties about establishing a new partnership,” the press release said.
Northeastern University (NU) initially put in a bid for the property, citing the location’s proximity to campus as an advantage. The university ended negotiations shortly thereafter for undisclosed reasons. Many in the theater department, however, argue that NU had a unique opportunity to save an important cultural institution.
“I think anyone in the arts would be quite disturbed about not having an arts presence on Huntington Avenue,” Nancy Kindelan, interim associate dean of the College of Arts, Media and Design, said.
While the investment group is the current frontrunner to get the space, local arts groups have started campaigning for The Huntington Theatre Company, using the hashtag #HuntingtonOnHuntington and asking for signatures on a petition to keep the company on the street it was named for, according to The Boston Globe. Even so, there is no official word that the investment group is planning on closing the BU Theatre in favor of another venture, as backlash has already been strong.
The investment group could not be reached for comment, and BU declined to comment.
“People come to Boston because of the creative energy,” Kindelan said. “We value the nature of culture, so losing the opportunity to have a physical place for that kind of thing.”
Photo by Nola Chen