May 19, 201510:03 AMArt Beat
HMAC Progress Report
Imagine that you’ve come to see a nationally acclaimed band perform in front of an eager crowd of up to 800 people. You arrive about two hours early and use the side entrance to find a smaller room, replete with local artists’ contributions of sculpture, mixed media and paintings flung to the walls and hung from the ceiling with a carefully curated form of reckless abandon. A local band plays the congas accompanied by a flamenco guitar on the modest side stage while patrons play board games from the sordid arrangement of chairs and stools. Others belly up to the bar to swill their favorite cocktails and catch up with friends.
Finishing your drink, you navigate a long corridor to another room revealing a high-end cafeteria-style dining space, and you order a hamburger while the faint rumble of drums from the opening band hangs like a shadow from another floor above you.
After eating, you take the elevator up to the main stage just as your favorite independent band steps out in front of the crowd. A cool breeze blows in from the balcony where floor-to-ceiling doors have opened the entire front wall of the space to the spring night outside.
Pushing past the bar and through the crowd to the lip of the stage, you catch a glimpse of the band’s family and friends watching down on the musicians from the two green rooms that flank the performers another 15 feet up. Behind you, a VIP room looks out over the crowd.
You ascend after the performance by way of the elevator to have a nightcap at the rooftop bar before heading home.
The clincher? You are only minutes from home. There was no drive to Philly with an overnight stay in some Malvern hotel, nor did you have to endure the train ride to New York City just because “real acts don’t come to Harrisburg.”
No, this isn’t some ridiculous dream…or at least it isn’t anymore.
With the first phase of the Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center (HMAC) nearing completion in the early months of 2015, it is hard to believe that the project, which has cost well over $5 million, is actually going to reach fruition.
British native John Traynor is part-owner of HMAC, and after moving to the region years ago, he quickly fell in love with Harrisburg and its quaint architecture. He knew that its proximity to larger metropolitan areas and the region’s notoriety as a common thoroughfare could play to its benefit from a cultural perspective. He fell in love with the decrepit former Jewish Community Center and one-time Police Athletic League built in 1927 and purchased the building in 2007 with some partners.
To call the dream for the space “aggressive” is a sort of foreshadowing for the headwinds he and his partners would meet over the coming years. And because of the project’s daring scope, much has been written about the difficulties they encountered in pushing it forward in a small city during one of the most volatile economic times in recent history.
Over the course of the past eight years, the building has been up for sheriff’s sale four times only to be rescued by last-minute financing deals and angel investors. At no point did Traynor believe that his dream wouldn’t be realized, but it wasn’t only his commitment to the goal that ensured its success. The cast of individuals involved in the project range from the director of international production for NBC Universal to the bookings agent for the infamous 9:30 Club in D.C., and Traynor himself boasts a storied background as a New York City television producer for ABC and a one-time owner of a bed and breakfast in Spain.
During the years over which it seemed HMAC might never reach completion, the complex’s Stage on Herr had begun to develop its own buzz as a daring performance space, hosting nightly entertainment with the only commonality amongst all of the performances being their diversity. Over a drink, you could catch a rock or punk band, take in a modern dance performance or participate in an open-mic or karaoke performance.
With years of success already under its belt, Stage on Herr is proof that the project can and does work. If you need more proof, just stop in when HMAC finally opens its doors with food service and multiple floors of entertainment sometime in the early months of this year.
Get ready for it, because the arts and entertainment scene in Harrisburg is about to get even more exciting.