M&T Bank Exchange in Baltimore has opened as the city’s newest live event venue with a state-of-the-art Elation Professional lighting package that can cater to any occasion from concert to reception and everything in between. The new 14,193-square-foot performance space has been created within the shell of an historic 19th century bank building and represents the long-awaited final phase of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center.
When the refurbished Hippodrome Theatre opened in 2004 as the centerpiece of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, original plans called for a smaller performance space to open next to it. The Hippodrome Foundation had preserved the historic Eutaw Savings Bank as part of the larger arts complex, with the thought that it could become a flexible venue for shows and events that didn’t need the Hippodrome’s 2,300-person seating capacity. Now, nearly two decades after the Hippodrome reopened, that second performance space is finally complete.
As part of the renovation of the historic bank building, the foundation and its designers sought to ensure state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems. Jeff Kenney, head of HTG Events LLC, one of Orlando’s premier event production groups, was involved from the early stages. “Following conceptual discussions about how the room might be used, we looked at some of the other live entertainment rooms in the area,” he said. “The decision was made to enter the premium live event area but with a versatile space that had the capability to handle a variety of events.”
HTG Events has produced cutting-edge Electronic Dance Music events in the Orlando area for over 25 years, including some of the most technologically sophisticated tours and festivals. HTG collaborated with architectural firm OTJ Architects on the technology design and specification at M&T Bank Exchange, and ultimately provided the lighting, sound and video for the room.
HTG, located in Orlando, maintains a strong relationship with Freed Sales, Elation’s Florida-based manufacturers rep firm. According to Kenney, Freed Sales plays a significant role by offering crucial technical assistance whenever needed. He describes them as their dependable support system, and they frequently visit Freed Sales’ facility with clients to evaluate fixtures together.
The M&T Bank Exchange space was designed with a lighting infrastructure that can accommodate a wide range of events and includes two above stage electrics, an FOH electric, and three specials out in the room. The entire rig is hung on hoists which can lower or be pre-programmed for different show heights. Kenney handled all lighting placement in the room and leaned heavily on Elation’s high performance Fuze line to provide clients with a versatile system that offers a number of options. “It gives them the ability to frame from anywhere in the room so clients can come in and use the system any way they want,” he said “The system was meant to be flexible, to handle everything from a concert to a wedding without reconfiguring.”
Fuze Profile™ moving heads with RGBMA color mixing and dual gobo wheels populate balcony battens and give the LD an option to frame from 20 positions as a primary lighting source. Additional Fuze Profiles provide framing capability above the stage on the upstage and downstage positions. Fuze Wash 500™ moving heads hot off the Elation production line, also with RGBMA LED engines, give Fresnel zoom capability above stage, at FOH, and for house lighting, while Fuze Spot™ moving heads with RGBMA color mixing and two gobo wheels provide dynamic FX and specials.
The lighting FX package also includes Colour Chorus™ battens, Paladin™ hybrid wash/blinder/strobe lights, Cuepix Blinders™, and a room full of controlled architectural lighting. Every light in the room is LED including a 24-foot, hi-definition video screen that provides a dynamic graphics backdrop. A megabatten encircles the space for multiple lighting points each with a NETRON EP2™ node for signal distribution with headroom enough to add more gear when needed. The lighting console has full control of the room with the capability to handle floor packages as they come in. The room can be configured three different ways and can support crowds up to 1,351. Kenney emphasizes that the lighting design was rendered using Capture visualization software, including a ‘sizzle reel’ that plays a crucial role in impressing potential clients. He also commends Capture for its valuable and supportive network.
Turning the bank into a second events venue was a high priority for Ron Legler, president of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center. Another feature that sets the Exchange apart from other venues, Legler said, is the degree to which equipment is already in the building and comes with the rental of the space. Because the Exchange has so much equipment already in place, he said, renters won’t have to bring in as much of their own, and that saves time and money.
The adaptability of the space allows M&T Bank Exchange to cater to a variety of clients including theater and music groups, stand-up entertainers, companies, schools, and private groups. It also provides additional space for rehearsals and other activities associated with the Broadway Across America traveling productions that come to the Hippodrome, starting with the new production of “The Wiz” that opens the Hippodrome’s 2023-2024 season. The new space will also allow the Hippodrome Foundation to increase the number of students they can teach about lighting and sound. Andrew Springer, executive director of the M&T Bank Exchange, comments, “The Hippodrome Foundation will now have the ability to extend new youth programs that offer lighting workshops on this outstanding system; the impact of these opportunities is life changing for the communities’ young people.”
M&T Bank Exchange is already hosting events with a ribbon cutting ceremony to be held on October 11.