In spite of its necessity and benefits, the renovation of Hill Auditorium is causing major revenue and scheduling problems for the University’s Office of Major Events and the University Musical Society.
“There is no replacing the revenue-generating ability of Hill,” said Kevin Gilmartin, director of the Office of Major Events. “We typically do 10 to 12 events that will not happen this year.”
“We’ve had to think outside the box with scheduling this year,” said Michael Kondziolka, director of programming at UMS. “There’s no place in southeastern Michigan as big or acoustically fine as Hill.”
Hill Auditorium, built in 1913 by renowned Detroit-based architect Albert Kahn, is internationally known for its acoustic majesty, Kondziolka added. “A man could stand on stage and the whole place could hear him without a mic, and they still can.”
But the University’s programming offices are not ill-equipped for the closing of this major venue.
“It’s not like we got a letter one morning that said the Hill would be closed for the next 18 months,” Kondziolka said. “We’ve been expecting this for a while.”
As well as early planning, the affected offices have been able to reschedule many events to alternate venues.
The Ann Arbor Folk Festival has been moved to the Michigan Theatre, Bob Dylan will play at Crisler Arena and the Vienna Philharmonic will perform at the Detroit Opera House.
All of them have traditionally performed at Hill Auditorium.
But many of the alternate venues present problems that were not encountered at Hill Auditorium. The audience at places like the Detroit Opera House will be generally farther away from the stage and pay increased ticket prices to account for the smaller size of these other venues.
While the University’s program offices are making efforts to reduce the severity of these inconveniences, a show scheduled in Detroit will be more difficult to attend. Many students, however, are willing to overlook these hindrances.
“Most of them, I wouldn’t have gone to anyway,” LSA junior Jenny Boan said.
“But if it was someone I really liked, it wouldn’t make a difference,” he added.
“As long as they still have the opportunity for students to see shows, then it’s okay,” LSA Senior Nick Katsoulis said.
In spite of all the scheduling and financial restraints, there is no question that the $38.6 million renovation is necessary.
“We’ve been looking forward to this for better than 10 years,” Gilmartin said.
Jeff Kuras, director of University Productions, said improvements to the building will include isle lights, sprinklers, smoke detectors, elevators for handicapped patrons, sound and light locks – sets of doors which dampen sound and light from the entrance way, a new lower lobby, technology to dampen the noise of the ventilation system, vastly increased bathroom capacity, new seating and a restoration of the auditorium’s original paint job.
“Right now, it’s very austere. The color will be sort of rich and saturated,” Kuras said.
The improvements will be worth the wait, said Gilmartin. “This is a necessary evil.”