Huntington Theatre staves off moving in Walsh-brokered deal

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BOSTON – The award-winning Huntington Theatre won a reprieve from a looming shutdown, as officials on Thursday announced an agreement to let it remain in the Boston University Theatre building, its longtime home near Symphony Hall.

A change in ownership of the property had raised the likelihood that the not-for-profit theater company would be forced out of the space it has occupied for more than three decades. But an agreement with the new owners, QMG Huntington, brokered by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has erased that possibility.

“We are deeply grateful to Mayor Walsh and his administration for their essential role in helping find a solution which will allow the Huntington to not only continue to produce ambitious, large-scale works in a renovated and expanded Huntington Avenue theatre, but also to expand and enhance our services to audience members, young people, our neighborhood, and the theatre community of Boston,” Michael Maso, the theater troupe’s managing director, said in a statement released by Walsh’s staff.

“From the very beginning we have been committed to bringing the key players to the table in order to maintain the Huntington’s home on the Avenue of the Arts,” Walsh said in the statement.

“We would like to thank Mayor Walsh, his staff and the BRA for their guidance through this process,” John Matteson, a developer who leads QMG Huntington, said in the statement, referring to the Boston Redevelopment Authority. “We would also like to thank BU for trusting us with this important property and mostly we look forward to a long relationship with the Avenue of the Arts and the new Huntington Theatre.”

Boston-based QMG Huntington bought the 890-seat theater for a reported $25 million in May. Boston University, which founded the theater in 1982, had given the space to the Huntington Theatre group rent-free, according to American Theatre. The university has said it plans to use money from the property sale for student services.

The drama troupe won the 2013 Tony Award for best regional theater and received Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston designation in the same year. The company employs more than 400 full-time staff and artists and generates more than $19 million in economic activity each year, according to the mayor’s statement.

The theater group enhances education for young people in Boston and across the state, serving more than 33,000 youth and community members annually, many of them from Hub neighborhoods, according to the mayor’s office. The troupe’s performances draw 200,000 patrons each year to its building across from Symphony Hall and to the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts at 527 Tremont St. in the South End.

“Having long-term control over our main stage theatre on a year-round basis is a huge step for the Huntington,” Peter DuBois, the company’s artistic director, said in the statement. “It means that we can explore additional artistic programming and partnerships throughout the year, and ensures that the Huntington can nurture future generations of theatre artists and arts organizations.”

Under the agreement, the troupe will gain exclusive control of the historic theater itself and a service wing to its west. Together, Huntington and QMG Huntington plan to renovate the spaces, allowing the theater group to expand its lobby facilities into a new shell and core space provided by QMG. The development group will take over Huntington’s production center, while its scenic, paint, and prop shops will move to another location.

More details will emerge in the upcoming months as to changes proposed for the property. The theater group has said it would launch a major new capital fundraising campaign to cover costs of renovating the space.

Neighborhood groups cheered the announcement.

“The Huntington Theatre is a backbone not only for a dedicated, engaged arts audience in Boston, but is also a tangible presence, and intellectual and emotional touchstone in our community,” said Kelly Brilliant, executive director of the Fenway Alliance, in the statement from City Hall.