AP NEWS

Gina Vernaci named president and chief operating officer of Playhouse Square

September 21, 2018

Gina Vernaci named president and chief operating officer of Playhouse Square

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Gina Vernaci, executive producer and architect of the popular KeyBank Broadway series, is taking on a new role: President and COO of Playhouse Square.

She’ll assume the day-to-day operations of the $80 million a year arts and entertainment organization from Art Falco, who will remain the CEO of the Cleveland non-profit.

The move, says Falco, is a logical next step in the growth of Playhouse Square, a destination that draws more than 1 million visitors a year.

“She’s a proven leader,” Falco says of his longtime colleague. “She’s been involved in many aspects of the operations of Playhouse Square for 34 years. She’s well-respected internally – and is an important part of Playhouse Square’s culture, which is all about collaboration – and she’s well-respected nationally.”

Plus, he adds, “we’re a great team!”

“Gina has a proven track record of important contributions and visionary leadership,” said Jim Ratner, chairman of the Playhouse Square Board of Trustees in a prepared statement. “We have great faith in her ability to take on this role and exceed expectations.”

Vernaci’s new position will allow Falco to focus on The Lumen, a 34-story apartment tower under construction across from the Connor Palace on Euclid Avenue will include 318 apartments, 528 parking spaces and some 20,000 square feet of resident amenities.

The $135 million project says Falco, is the largest undertaking in the foundation’s history that began in 1973 with the goal of saving the once-glorious 1920s showplaces the State, Ohio, Allen, Palace and Hanna theaters that had fallen on hard times and disrepair.

“Right now, we’re about 20 months away from inviting our first tenant into the apartment building,” says Falco.

Vernaci is both honored and excited to help steer “an organization that continues to grow and evolve and think of ways to work toward the betterment of Cleveland all the time.

“Whatever it takes for Playhouse Square to tick on a daily basis will be my responsibility,” she says.

She’s already in charge of programming, marketing, sales and production – anything that is related to a show on any of Playhouse Square’s stages – as well as Playhouse Square’s education programs. In her new position, she’ll also oversee development, finance and some real estate,

It’s “a way to expand the lens that I see Playhouse Square through,” says Vernaci.

Vernaci’s passion for Playhouse Square began when she first toured its historic theaters in 1984 with then President and CEO Larry Wilker as a freshly minted studio arts major from the University of Missouri in Kansas City. She was interviewing for a job.

“The position was so transient that I don’t even think they thought to give me a title. ‘Intern’ probably comes the closest,” says Vernaci.

Wilker, later recruited by recruited by George H.W. Bush to run the Kennedy Center, was straight with her. “We’re not on financially secure footing,” she remembers him telling her. “We can’t predict what the future will bring – and I can only pay you for three months.”

He told her to go home and think about it over the weekend. Vernaci had other plans.

“I got home, I called him and I said, ‘I’ll start Monday.’ ”

More than three decades later, Vernaci has played a part in Playhouse Square’s success story, helping to turn a young, struggling enterprise into a national model of smart arts management and an economic engine for Cleveland and beyond, contributing an estimated $100 million to the regional economy annually.

Playhouse Square is more than a job to Vernaci. The intersection of Euclid Avenue and East 14th Street, home to Playhouse Square’s theaters and evolving neighborhood, is also the place where her work and life connect.

“Everything in life is best when it’s shared and not only do I share this with the great team at Playhouse Square but I share it with my husband Bill Hilyard,” says Vernaci.

“He understands and is as passionate about the arts as I am. To have someone like Bill, who is a) very cool and b) who I love dearly, by my side for this journey is immensely rewarding to me.”

They met at Playhouse Square, where Hilyard was a developed officer and married at Connor Palace – “downstage center,” clarifies Vernaci – in 1995.

Vernaci could never have imagined all of that as young woman from just outside of St. Louis, deciding to accept a post she was told might not last. She didn’t think twice about signing on.

“When I walked through these theaters with Larry, I so much related to the architecture, to the buildings, to the spirit of what this organization was all about,” says Vernaci.

“I thought, ’Whatever I can do, for as long as I can make myself useful, I’m gonna be at Playhouse Square.

“Thirty-four years later, here I am.”

AP RADIO
Update hourly