Mayor fighting effort to rename Opera House
By Maureen Dezell, Globe Staff | August 4, 2005
Mayor Thomas M. Menino is quietly blocking plans to stamp the corporate logo of Citizens Bank on Boston's historic Opera House.
Four months after the bank and Clear Channel Entertainment announced plans to rename the newly reopened Washington Street landmark, it remains the Opera House -- a name the theater is likely to keep, in one way or another, as long as the mayor has any say in the matter.
Citizens reportedly paid Clear Channel less than $4 million for the seven-year naming rights agreement. Soon after the April 1 announcement of the deal, the bank expected to unfurl banners and to launch a series of promotions touting the showplace as the Citizens Bank Theatre.
But shortly after the deal was announced, Menino and his point man in the Opera House project, Boston Redevelopment Authority executive director Harry Collings, expressed their displeasure to Citizens and Clear Channel.
City officials and bank and Clear Channel executives have been meeting on and off since, trying to come to some resolution, Collings said. Compromises have been floated -- calling the theater the Citizens Opera House, for instance -- and sunk.
''The mayor feels that the Opera House is a very significant landmark, and that we need to do everything possible to protect this historic building," Collings said yesterday. ''The city and the BRA have worked for years with the preservation community and the arts community to save and restore these three crown jewels -- the Opera House, the Paramount, and the Modern Theater.
''The Opera House on its own is a very strong Boston identity and brand," Collings said.
Menino spent seven years maneuvering and cutting deals to pave the way for Clear Channel to purchase and begin refurbishing the decaying Opera House in 2002. When the theater reopened, following a $37 million restoration last summer, the mayor cut the ribbon and led the first official tour.
''The Opera House would be falling down right now" if it weren't for Boston's mayor, Clear Channel Theatrical president David Anderson said before the opening ceremony last July. ''We owe him. We will help him however we can."
But Menino was not consulted about the Citizens/Clear Channel plans, and the notoriously thin-skinned chief executive was said to have been infuriated. The fact the mayor and his staff learned about the naming rights deal only when they were invited to a press announcement added insult to a sense of injury.
A Citizens spokeswoman declined comment yesterday on the dispute. Anderson of Clear Channel was traveling and could not be reached for comment.
Asked how changing the name of a theater could harm it, Collings said that the Opera House bears a singular Boston identity and brand.
''People may say the Opera House used to be the Keith or the Savoy," Collings said. But artists who used the theater and the disparate interests who struggled to save it have always referred to the building as the Opera House. ''It's always going to be the Opera House."
Drew Murphy, recently named president of Clear Channel Entertainment/Broadway in Boston, said yesterday the company is still working with Citizens, its bank, and the mayor's office to resolve the dispute.
Finally. The Mayor and I agree on something -- though it is a bit disconcerting to realize he did what he could do to make sure Clear Channel got the venue. And if Clear Channel then wants to team up with him to keep Citizens' name from the marquee (which I saw this evening while walking thru Downtown Crossing... hello, could we please rip off a certain Andrew Lloyd Webber production logo any more?) then ...
Well, hell. I don't know who to root for in that case.
Anyway: Go Mumbles go!
PS: The newly-restored Paramount theatre marquee is FRIGGIN BEAUTIFUL. Oh my I made gleepy sounds seeing it for the first time.