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Landmark Theater to Become the Altria?

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The Altria Landmark Theater? Dominion Theater at Landmark?

Somebody's going to pony up $10 million to give the estimable 85-year-old venue currently known as the Landmark Theater a new name. But who?

The smart money's on Altria, the Richmond-based parent of Philip Morris USA, but no one's saying anything publicly.

"We have interested parties in the naming rights, but we're not ready to disclose who they might be," says Tammy Hawley, press secretary for Mayor Dwight Jones. "We're pretty confident that the naming rights are going to be attractive enough to seal the deal."

The Landmark opened in 1927 as the Mosque Theater, but was renamed in the mid-'90s following a renovation because many saw the previous name as insensitive. At the time, city officials said they hoped donors would pay for naming rights, but that never happened. As additional renovations begin almost two decades later, the theater's naming ceremony looks to finally be in the works.

On May 29, City Council approved a $50 million renovation of the historic theater, with $10 million of that to be generated from naming rights. She says negotiations are currently underway, and that the city expects to reach an agreement in the next two to three weeks.

The council vote transferred the theater to Richmond's Economic Development Authority to negotiate a long-term lease with the CenterStage Foundation. The city's renovation plan is similar to the controversial taxpayer-funded renovation of the Carpenter Theater downtown, which reopened as a part of CenterStage in 2009.

A breakdown of the finances for the proposed Landmark renovations includes $17.7 million in tax credits; $14 million from the city; $10 million from the naming rights; $5 million in other charitable support; and $3 million in corporate donations.

As of press time, Altria and another possible source, Dominion, did not respond to queries regarding the naming deal, but both companies have contributed to the arts locally. Last year, Altria donated $2.2 million to arts and culture organizations nationwide including the CenterStage Foundation and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. In the 14 states Dominion serves, the power company gave $21 million in philanthropic donations last year.

City Councilman Bruce Tyler says he doesn't know who will step up, but says Altria, along with Dominion and Verizon, are likely among the top candidates. And he's willing to bet that Altria is at the top of the list. "I'd robably put my money on them first," Tyler says.

Naming rights for the Landmark might not be limited to the building, and could also include other areas of the structure, such as the theater space itself. Hawley says those details are also currently under negotiation.

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