March 23, 2018

WSU board approves $65 million performance complex for Midtown Detroit

A $65 million performance complex in the heart of Midtown Detroit that will enhance Wayne State University’s robust cultural offerings has been unanimously approved by the school’s Board of Governors. The Hilberry Gateway Performance Complex project will result in 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 immense talent of our students and faculty at last will have the arts facilities to match,” said Wayne State President M. Roy Wilson. “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 new integrated complex will be the performance home to the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts 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 project calls for renovation of the existing Hilberry Theatre’s 23,000 square feet and 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 generous support from Gretchen Valade.

“This space will allow us to create synergy between our nationally recognized theatre, dance and music programs,” said 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 thanks to a grant from the Kresge Foundation, 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, sound and video infrastructure, ensuring students and audiences experience the latest in theatrical and dance production.

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, renaming it 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.

This is the latest phase in a historic campus location. The university purchased the First Church of Christ Scientist, constructed in 1917, and refitted it to function as the Hilberry Theatre in the early 1960s. The historic Mackenzie House, currently located next to the Hilberry will be carefully moved to a new location on Forest Avenue within the same block.

The Gateway Performance Complex is part of Wayne State’s Pivotal Moments Campaign, a $750 million development program that celebrates the life-changing moments the university has helped ignite and creates new ones. 


Matt Lockwood
Phone: 313-577-5354

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