After owning the Agora Theatre and the surrounding property for more than 25 years, you'd think Henry "Hank" LoConti's decision to hand the cherished concert club over to MidTown Cleveland would be a heart-wrenching one. But to hear LoConti tell it, donating the property, which is valued at $6 million, to the neighborhood development corporation is his way to ensure the Euclid Avenue landmark has a future.
"We let it go because I'm very close to what is happening at MidTown," LoConti says. "I see all the changes, and this area where the Agora [is located] is just sitting there. Talking to [MidTown Cleveland executive director Jim Haviland], I got an idea for what the plans are, and donating the Agora and the offices to them works better for both of us."
In 1985, LoConti bought the one-time home of the Metropolitan Theatre as the new spot for his Agora Theatre, after the original location was damaged in a fire. With the property's large main theater and smaller ballroom, the Agora continued its tradition as a hot spot for live music. Indie rockers the Strokes, rap icon Jay-Z and classic rocker David Bowie are just a few of the big names that played the club during its run.
But after the House of Blues opened downtown in 2004, the Agora didn't attract the same level of talent, and it ultimately faded from the concert circuit. LoConti is convinced that with upcoming renovations such as new floors and the reopening of the Euclid Avenue entrance, the Agora can again be a vital live-music venue.
He says he'll be involved in overseeing the renovations and hiring someone to book bands. Plus, the people behind the Umami Moto food truck have just opened a new restaurant called The Hipp in the building to serve the neighborhood's lunch crowd. (See page 68 for our interview with The Hipp owner Jae Stulock.)
"By fall, we'll come back strong in terms of booking shows," LoConti says. "I want to get more shows into the theater. I hope most of the renovations are done by the time the building turns 100 years old in March of next year. I don't know of too many theaters that are 100 years old and still standing, especially with the history of this place."