In a bold gamble, two Tigers have joined forces to rehabilitate an old theater in the heart of downtown Wilmington, Del. Chris Buccini ’94 and Bill Taylor ’95 are leading the effort to “Light Up The Queen”: to bring back from ruination the huge, historic Queen Theater, abandoned and decaying for more than 50 years, and turn it into a live music venue. The property stands midway along Market Street in the heart of the city, a redevelopment zone into which local government and the Buccini/Pollin real estate firm lately have poured millions of dollars.
Many believe the theater is critical to the future of the rundown district and has potential to become a lively “community clubhouse” that can bring in nightlife, tourists, and young apartment dwellers. “The Queen has been saved from the wrecking ball,” says Taylor proudly, “and is now poised to serve as the cornerstone of the revitalization of downtown.”
Buccini and Taylor were childhood friends in Wilmington, fielding pop flies on the same Pee Wee baseball team. After Princeton they went their separate ways: Buccini joined his older brother in the Buccini/Pollin Group and helped build it into one of the biggest real-estate firms in the mid-Atlantic states. Taylor moved to New Orleans to head the Tipitina’s Foundation, dedicated to preserving the city’s musical heritage. After Katrina, his role was especially vital. When Buccini’s firm bought the Queen Theater, Taylor was lured back to his hometown as executive director of the new nonprofit Light Up the Queen Foundation, charged with raising money to renovate the building and create music and educational programs serving the inner-city community.
When he first set foot inside the abandoned 1916 theater, which had been a movie theater and before that a luxury hotel, Taylor was daunted. The last time a motion picture was screened there — a horror flick — was back in the Eisenhower administration, and now he surveyed a cavernous wreck marred by water damage, peeling paint, and prowling cats. It would take $25 million, he knew, “just to turn the lights on.” A complex plan was devised, with Buccini/Pollin, local foundations, and the city of Wilmington all chipping in, plus historic-preservation tax credits and money raised from benefit concerts. “We sought involvement from every segment of our community,” Taylor says. A key partner was World Café Live, the successful Philadelphia music venue that proposes to open a Wilmington offshoot at the Queen, complete with a restaurant and broadcast studio.
W. Barksdale Maynard ’88 is the author of the book Buildings of Delaware.