Move to Theatre District nearing completion

by Beacon Staff • September 28, 2005

As construction of the Piano Row Building at 150 Boylston St. and renovation of the Paramount Theatre progresses, Emerson's students and staff remain divided over whether the move to the Theatre District will benefit the college.

The Piano Row Building, scheduled to open Sept. 2006, is both on time and on budget, Vice President of Public Affairs David Rosen said. The Paramount Center complex will be completed by fall 2008, Rosen said.

Across campus, Emerson properties at 100 Beacon, 132-4, Beacon 96 Beacon and 6 Arlington streets will not go on the market until spring or early summer, according to Rosen. All four properties will be sold to "the highest qualified bidder."

Some students who live in these dorms said that in selling the buildings, Emerson will be sacrificing a part of its spirit.

"It makes me sad," sophomore acting major Nick Fenster said. "Instead of selling the west side buildings, they should keep them. Emerson dorm life will have no character because everyone will live in a hotel. I'm glad that I'm not living on campus next year."

Rosen said the new building will bring much-needed space to the college community. The 14-story Piano Row complex will include rooms for about 560 students, space for meeting rooms, a new student union, a dining hall and various administrative offices, Rosen said.

The building will also house a regulation-size NCAA basketball court, which athletes said would make games more accessible to students and fans. The school's basketball games are currently played at other area colleges.

"I think this new facility will be great for the team's morale," said sophomore basketball player Ellie Fietlinger. "It has been a struggle always having to drive to Pine Manor [the Chestnut Hill college where Emerson plays its home games]."

Women's Head Basketball Coach Melissa Hart also said she thought the new court would help school spirit at Emerson. Hart said about 20 to 30 fans currently attend basketball games and about half of those fans are players' family members.

"I will tell you I am thrilled about the new facility," Hart said. "I cannot wait until we have our first season there next year and have home fans to create even more excitement."

The Piano Row building will be the first completely new residence facility built by Emerson College in its 125-year existence, Rosen said.

The Paramount Center, which cost Emerson $70 million, will include the Paramount Theatre, the neighboring Arcade building and an area known as the North Lot, which is located behind the complex.

The Arcade building will be a residence hall housing 250 students. The Paramount will be renovated into two separate theatres that will seat 450 and 150, respectively, and the North Lot property will be developed into a Performance Development Center.

The exteriors of both buildings were restored by the previous owners, Millennium Partners-Boston.

Rosen said the insides of those facilities, however, need a great deal of work.

The complex will include space for rehearsal and productions for Emerson's performing arts classes.

"I have heard several students commenting on the lack of rehearsal and studio space on campus," Rosen said. "But when [the Performance Development Center] is finished, we will go from not having enough space to having too much."

Meghan Evans, a freshman marketing communications major and dance minor, expressed her frustrations with the lack of practice room.

"It's very disappointing because I was under the impression that there were more facilities here," Evans said. "When I came for the April Preview, they told me there were more facilities and classes [for the dance program]."

Rosen also said that many of the theatre department offices and classrooms will be moved to the new Paramount Center complex when it is completed.

In a statement released after the groundbreaking ceremony for the Piano Row building in March 2004, President Jacqueline Liebergott said, "When I was named president of Emerson College in 1993, I had a dream-a vision really-of building a new campus ... one that would meet the academic and extracurricular needs of a school like ours in the 21st century."

Despite the new facilities, some students, like 100 Beacon St. Resident Assistant (RA) Larry Cohen, feel the Theatre District move will not be beneficial to Emerson.

"The dynamics of the new building will leave us with a sterile dorm environment instead of the rich and historical west side campus," Cohen, a junior film major, said. "It will be cookie cutter housing. I think the camaraderie among students will be different and the school pride altered."

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