Music and more: Philharmonic unveils new $2.5M Helen Haddad Hall downtown

The long-time community arts leader who frequently has waved away publicity and attention from herself finally has embraced the limelight.

Helen Haddad acknowledged as much soon after she arrived at the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic’s new, $2.5 million Helen Haddad Hall, a 125-seat, intimate and state-of-the art arts center for everything from recitals to meetings to plays to receptions and more.

“I’ve told my friends that I’ve got my name on a building,” she chuckled on Friday soon after getting her first look at the facility that now constitutes the first floor of the local orchestra’s headquarters at 315 Franklin St. in downtown Columbus. “I’ve told them to drive by and take a look.”

The project, completed by local Force Construction Co. Inc., which donated design fees, added the performance and event space to the rear of the 141-year-old structure where a parking lot had been. It also refurbished and updated the exterior and the second and third floors where offices are located. Plus, Toyota Material Handling donated office furniture for those spaces.

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Part of the upstairs work included re-opening long-bricked-up windows to let in more light, said David Force, the construction firm’s executive vice president.

The decision to name it after Haddad was made official after she and husband Bob Haddad, the founder of Columbus Container and also a huge supporter of the Philharmonic and its youth programs, donated $1 million to the effort in 2018. Plus, the couple donated the very building to which the new hall is attached.

Helen Haddad proclaimed the structure “very nice” soon after she walked in. Bob Haddad said he especially was impressed with the lighting on the nearly-white interior stone walls. They actually are split-face block that disperse the sound for greater clarity and to avoid echoes, according to David Bowden, the Philharmonic’s artistic director.

“The acoustics are perfect for what we wanted,” Bowden said, adding that the orchestra wanted a space for great-sounding chamber-style music that also could double as a strong setting for speaking and more — and that without a microphone.

“We think we hit the sweet spot,” Bowden said.

The facility features:

A state-of-the-art sound and lighting system that can be controlled by an iPad.

Herman Miller chairs.

A small catering kitchen.

A storage area behind the stage for the orchestra’s centerpiece instrument: a world-class Shigeru Kawai Concert Grand Piano donated by Columbus’ Enkei America Inc.

Cameras linked to a backstage screen that allow performers or speakers to know when it’s time for them to come on-stage.

A small green room and a restroom backstage;

A small but comfortable lobby space.

Tracy Haddad, the supporters’ daughter and the orchestra’s interim executive director, expressed the bittersweet thought that the organization could not have a general unveiling with her parents, other major donors and supporters and the community at large now because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she wanted to assure people that that will happen “when the time is appropriate.”

And though some people already have shown interest in booking the facility for an event, Tracy Haddad and Bowden both mentioned that that, too, will have to wait until an undetermined time of public safety. Rental fees also have not yet been set.

Force, a longtime Philharmonic supporter and concertgoer, mentioned that one of his most satisfying experiences since completion of the building unfolded last week when Bowden, a pianist since childhood, tested the acoustics by playing “Ava Maria” on the piano. The builder was moved to hear part of his work’s auditory beauty.

“It was one of those kismet kind of moments — one in which your knees almost become weak,” Force said.

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