Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"Guys and Dolls" Lights Up Downtown

Posted by Bruce Miller
The figures are in for total attendance at Guys and Dolls this summer at the historic Empire, and if I were a bell I’d go … well, you know.

11,421 people came streaming downtown to catch our sizzling summer hit. In comparison with other recent winners, 11,307 rushed out to get a peek at The Full Monty, and 10,418 believed that Mame charmed the husks right off of the corn. Both of those musical blockbusters were at Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn.

Convincing all of Barksdale’s large and vibrant audience, many of whom live in the suburbs, to venture into downtown without a parking deck was not without its challenges. We offered valet parking (free to subscribers, $5 per car to everyone else), hired an off-duty policeman for each performance, and engaged in a LOT of positive and proactive communication.

It worked! Not only did a great many suburbanites make the trek back to the heart of our city, even better, they had a wonderful experience! To the best of our knowledge, there was not a single frown-inducing moment during the ten-week run.

Now I know, a lot of you come downtown all the time and are sitting back now saying, “What’s the big deal? Who doesn’t love downtown?” I’m with you. I’ve been down here on Marshall (my office) and Broad (our theatre) pretty much every day since 1986.

But the perception persists among many of those who have yet to become downtown denizens that once you cross Belvedere all hell breaks loose. Shoot, a lot of folks misperceive that all hell breaks loose once you cross the Boulevard.

Thankfully, this summer, a wonderful time was had by all. That bodes well for Barksdale Theatre and next summer’s Empire run of Thoroughly Modern Millie, for our many downtown neighbors, and for the CenterStage facilities set to open a little farther downtown only one year from now.

Our good neighbors at Tarrant’s Cafe and Bistro 27, two of the eight outstanding restaurants that have opened within two blocks of the Empire, wrote us letters to express their appreciation for our bringing the big summer musical down to the Arts District. “In one summer,” wrote Ted Santarella, owner and chef at Tarrant’s, “Barksdale Theatre has single handedly brought thousands of new faces to our neighborhood. Speaking with other merchants, particularly restaurant operators, we have not only seen an increase in foot traffic into our businesses, but felt the positive impact on our bottom lines. Barksdale has brought a new market of customers who ‘haven’t been down here in years,’ and may now return on their own to enjoy another evening out.”

Carlos Silva, owner and chef at 27 (pictured to the right), agrees: “I have been enjoying the benefits of your play (Guys and Dolls). Every weekend my restaurant is full between 5:30 and 7:30. Normally on a Saturday the crowd doesn’t start to grow until 8:00. Thanks to you, I have a full turn of tables before my usual crowd arrives. My revenue has increased across the board.”

When we joined the first urban pioneers and invested $2.3 million in the historic Empire way back in 1986—and gambled our future—this is exactly the type of neighborhood transformation and downtown revitalization we imagined. It’s been a long time coming, but the Richmond Arts District, which runs for five blocks along Broad and Marshall from Henry Street on the west to Art 6 on the east (just a few steps beyond Foushee), is now one of Greater Richmond’s hottest neighborhoods.

We’re proud to have been here from the beginning, and to be contributing still to the vitality of this community. We now know that nothing but great things are on the way for this upbeat corner of downtown Richmond!

--Bruce Miller


Steven Koehler said...

Congratulations Bruce, to you and the whole Theatre IV/Barksdale crew. It is always good to hear of the continued success and health of both organizations. I still feel such a strong connection to the companies, and very much to The Empire itself. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Big congrats to the Barksdale/ Theatre IV gang. This is clearly what the downtown leaders have been hoping for -- an attractive magnet to those who want to experience our great amenities and cultural assets. Hats off folks! Keep up the good work.