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Music Hall Renovation Plan Sparks Concerns But Will Go Forward

Ann Thompson
Music Hall's Springer Auditorium.

Music Hall supporters filled Cincinnati's Council Chambers Monday to lobby for and against planned upgrades to the historic building. Ultimately the Cincinnati Historic Conservation Board approved a certificate of appropriateness allowing the project to go forward.

Though planning for the renovations has been ongoing for a while, details were only just recently released. Some are unhappy about plans to reduce seating. They're also worried the auditorium's lauded acoustics could be negatively affected by putting up new walls and pouring a concrete floor.

Walter Blair has been a symphony patron for some 50 years and doesn't like the renovation plan. "The hall should be for concert-goers, not the orchestra. Design the orchestra for the hall."

Music critic Don Vroon says the city will regret going with the floor and wall changes. "Acousticians are witch doctors," he says. "You can hire the best acousticians in the land but they cannot guarantee that the result will be as good as it is now. You're taking a big risk on a major, major landmark and one of the three or four best halls in the country and one of the best in the world."

Vroon and others spoke at a meeting of the Cincinnati Historic Conservation Board. That board must give approval for the reconstruction to move forward.

Several musicians testified in favor of the restoration plans. James Lambert said the lauded acoustics are good but also deficient. The large space is "sonically hard to fill." He says musicians on the stage also have difficulty hearing from the left to right sides of the stage and from front to back. Another musician, Owen Lee, agreed saying the space can be much better.

Officials from many local arts and preservation organizations also spoke in favor of the plan.

Violinist Stacey Woolley says he's not convinced about the acoustics. He's worried about the concrete floor that will be poured (and covered by wood flooring) and the cement board that will be used to bring in the auditorium walls. "These (materials) are foreign to our hall."

Woolley adds that acoustic testing did not include mocked-up walls. He says he asked for such testing but acousticians refused. "What will happen is maybe we'll have a good sounding hall, we won't know that until it's too late, and the things that are in this plan are irreversible."

On another major sticking point, the project's architect, Alan Weiskopf, told the board that the plan has already been revised to maintain access to the Town Center Garage from a pedestrian bridge across Central Parkway. The entrance will now go through the Music Hall ballroom and will be ADA-accessible to Springer Auditorium.

Work has already begun on the $135 million project. Music Hall is slated to close at the end of May and reopen in Fall 2017.

A staff report recommended approving the renovation plans, with a few changes. The report wants some changes to an exterior loading garage door, which the architect says is no problem. It also addresses concerns about the removal of the center aisle and the elimination of lobby chandeliers. The report says those chandeliers were added in the 1960s and thus are not historic and may be removed. The plan calls for adding torchieres instead.

Renovation Plans Include:

  • Two new elevators.
  • ADA-entrance from Central Parkway pedestrian bridge.
  • One consolidated box office for all occupant organizations.
  • Increased number of restrooms.
  • Removal of the auditorium's center aisle on the main floor.
  • The current box office would be transformed into a merchandising space.
  • A lounge for pre-show or for late-comers while they wait to be seated. Space comes from reducing size of Springer Auditorium.
  • New concession spaces on level flooring spaces.
  • The double escalator would be reduced to one that is reversible, and a grand staircase. The architect notes that escalators are not considered legal forms of emergency egress.
  • Less seating but seats will be wider and have more legroom.
  • Cosmetic changes to the ballroom.
  • Numerous upgrades to the back-of-house spaces, such as a larger music library, rehearsal spaces, and a trap for the opera stage.
  • Improvements for hearing, vision, and mobile accessibility.
Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Prior to joining Cincinnati Public Radio, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She enjoys snow skiing, soccer and dogs.