Wayne State Announces $65M Project to Restore and Expand Hilberry Theatre in Detroit’s Midtown


Wayne State University in Detroit will build a $65 million complex in the Midtown district, to be called the Hilberry Gateway Performance Project. Approved by the school’s Board of Governors on Friday, the project includes the renovation of the current Hilberry Theatre and creation of a large addition for a state-of-the-art venue for theatre, music, dance, and arts-related events.

The new integrated complex will be the performance home to the College of Fine, Performing, and Communications Arts and provide for programs from the Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance. It will also feature programming from the Department of Music and house the Gretchen Valade Jazz Center and the Jazz Underground.

“The immense talent of our students and faculty at last will have the arts facilities to match,” says M. Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State University. “The Hilberry Complex will make Wayne State a true destination for culture and the arts, which supports our goals to provide leadership in the revitalization of Detroit as well as meaningful and mutually beneficial interactions with our community. I can’t wait for opening night.”

The project calls for renovation of the existing, 23,000-square-foot Hilberry Theatre, along with a 71,300-square-foot addition. The total cost of the project is $65 million, $55 million of which will be funded by bonds approved in February by the Board of Governors. The balance will be funded by private gifts, including support from Gretchen Valade.

“This space will allow us to create synergy between our nationally recognized theatre, dance, and music programs,” says Matthew Seeger, dean of the College of Fine, Performing, and Communication Arts. “It will also allow us to promote Detroit’s legacy in the performing arts, including jazz. In addition to creating our home for the 21st century, the Hilberry Complex will further solidify Wayne State’s role as an artistic leader and serve as a magnet for our committed audiences and patrons.”

Since 1963, the Hilberry has featured more than 5,600 performances for more than 2 million patrons. As a result, the facility is showing its age. Additionally, space limitations and near-constant use of the stage have prevented taking advantage of mixed-use opportunities in collaboration with the Detroit arts community.

Work on the project, which has been in planning for several years and was supported by a grant from the Kresge Foundation in Troy, will begin this fall with construction of a new main theatre on the corner of Cass and Forest, adjacent to the current venue.

The new facility will feature a full-thrust stage with appropriate wing space for the Hilberry to pursue more complicated productions and smoothly transition between productions. The facility will include dressing rooms, makeup rooms, and green rooms. The theatre will feature up-to-date lighting, along with new sound and video infrastructure.

Adjoining scenic, scenic art, and costume studios, as well as scenery storage areas, will be constructed. A modern café, a patron lounge, and a gallery showcasing the history of the Hilberry program will also provide space for guests to socialize.

Once the new theatre is completed, the current Hilberry Theatre will be reconstructed into the Gretchen Valade Jazz Center. This portion of the project was made possible by $9.5 million in gifts from noted philanthropist Valade as part of the university’s Pivotal Moments campaign. In addition to creating a world-class jazz performance venue and educational hub, Valade’s gifts provide for an endowed chair in jazz studies and an endowed scholarship in jazz studies. Her gift is also designated for renovation of the current Studio Theatre located in the lower level of the Hilberry, to be renamed the Jazz Underground.

The project will also provide much-needed space for the Wayne States award-winning dance program. A new flexible performance space will allow the program to significantly expand its offerings.