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Strand gets renewed push from Menino

Mayor Menino’s FY14 budget plan— unveiled this week— includes important line items that impact Uphams Corner’s Strand Theatre. The mayor proposes an additional $1.2 million to complete renovations to the city-owned facility on Columbia Road. The Strand has already seen millions in city funds for infrastructure work and cosmetic improvements.

Critically, the new budget would also add a new full-time employee to handle publicity and bookings at the Strand through City Hall’s Arts and Tourism office.

It is a welcome sign that the administration views the Strand as a viable venue for touring companies as well as local organizations and churches— and that it anticipates an increased volume of performances in the future. This all marks a shift from a City Hall posture that once seemed content to let the Strand sell itself— or not. An aggressive attempt by City Hall to market and support productions at the Strand could have a very positive impact on the local economy.

In fact, the Mayor’s Office of Travel and Tourism has shown renewed interest in the Strand over the last few years. Christopher Cook, who has led the arts department for the mayor since 2010, has been personally invested in making the Strand a busier place. And he has teamed up with some of the city’s most venerable names in theater and dance to make better use of the Uphams Corner landmark. Cook and the mayor have leveraged partnerships with the Huntington Theatre Company, Jose Mateo’s Ballet Theater Company, and Boston Ballet, among other high-profile names. Most recently, the Actor’s Shakespeare Project announced plans to bring its production of Romeo and Juliet to the Strand for five weeks, starting in September. That is — by far — the longest run of any show at the Strand in recent memory and the best signal yet that the venue may have legs going forward.

The Menino administration’s investment of money and personnel into the Strand — which has picked up intensity in recent years— will likely not be fully realized until Menino himself has left the stage. But his potential successors would do well to send a clear signal early on in this campaign season that the Strand will be a priority of the next administration’s arts and culture platform. A wise candidate will also seek to find innovative ways to better integrate the Strand into the business district that surrounds the theatre, and to help devise a more viable parking solution for the Uphams Corner neighborhood.

There is massive potential for growth and private investment with a viable community theater as the hub of activity in Uphams Corner. We hope that the next generation of city leaders will recognize the importance of building on the solid foundation now in place, thanks to the commitment of the Menino administration.