Wayne State has continued construction on the Hilberry Gateway project throughout this academic year.

The project includes the Hilberry Gateway theater and the Gretchen Valade Jazz Center, which will serve as the new performance space for students in the Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance and the Department of Music.

Director of Development John Wolf said the project has been in construction since 2019 and has taken longer than expected due to the addition of technology. 

“It's (Hillberry Gateway) all electronic as well as automated lighting that you can move and point,” he said. “So we've got that kind of technology going into the building so that the students can actually be trained on 21st century equipment.” 

Construction has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic but will continue, Wolf said.

“We are on schedule and the construction continues to move forward. Obviously, we've had significant challenges,” he said. “Not just COVID, but the impact of COVID on the supply chain, the impact of COVID on microchip manufacturing on a building that is very electronic. So we continue to work to overcome those challenges.” 

The Hilberry Gateway theater will offer an improved performance space for students, Wolf said.

“I think they'll be so thrilled to be in a space that is comfortable. The lobby is more spacious, the bathrooms are far more plentiful and in better shape,” he said. “So I think the experience will be better, which will help them, but the theater remains a lovely, intimate space.”

The Valade Jazz Center is a gift from jazz philanthropist Gretchen Valade, who it’s named after, said Director of Jazz Studies Christopher Collins. 

“She (Valade) wanted to create a jazz center, a place that was about performance, about education, a place that was about outreach as a community — all that she insists out of the Jazz Fest Foundation,” Collins said. “She also creates venues, very unique venues that are specifically acoustically electronically, logistically designed for jazz.”

Collins said he hopes the Valade Jazz Center will help engage the Midtown community in access to affordable jazz performances.

“Once it's active, it's going to be this rolling display of jazz performance, student performance faculty, regional, national, and international stuff happening here,” Collins said. “And then community based experience — much of it for free to allow communities to come in and experience maybe a certain Latino artist they may not be aware of, or some of our women leaders in Jazz.”

Theatre and Dance Department Assistant Chair Billicia Hines said she is looking forward to moving into the new Hillberry Gateway theater.

“I'm excited that it's going to be a bigger space,” Hines said. “It is going to be a more grand space to be able to fit in and allow more opportunities in this space. And it's a better fit — it's going to be a better facility than what we currently have.”

Wolf said the Hilberry Gateway theater and Valade Jazz Center are a turning point for performing arts at WSU.

“It's a huge commitment to the performing arts that the university has made and that doesn't escape us and the university understood that our programs were actually being held back by the inferior spaces that we had,” Wolf said. “We are most grateful for the commitment of the university and the recognition of the potential for the programs of theater, dance, and music, no doubt.”

Construction on the Hillberry Gateway theater is expected to be completed in fall 2022 and will be open to the public in February 2023, Wolf said. Following this, construction on the Gretchen Valade Jazz Center will begin, which is expected to be in 2023.


Shawntay Lewis is a contributing writer for The South End. She can be reached at hg6765@wayne.edu.

Cover photo by Quinn Banks, The South End's multimedia editor. He can be reached at multimediaeditortse@gmail.com.