Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Howard Theater Redevelopment Team Ready To Break Ground


DCMud is always happy to report project groundbreakings, especially when historic preservation is involved. But when redevelopment plans, mired in financing complications, have remained in holding patterns for years, it is only natural to question the legitimacy of a phoenix-like ground breaking, especially in election season. Despite that, it seems that Shaw's Howard Theater groundbreaking scheduled for tomorrow is paid for and ready to build.

Plans to redevelop the historic Howard Theater have been in the works for years, but like so many idling Shaw development plans and Ellis Development's other nearby project Broadcast Center One turned Renaissance Project, the financial hurdles have been frustratingly difficult.

Earlier this March, the Washington Business Journal confirmed that fund raising efforts for the Howard Theater redevelopment non-profit group and their development partner Ellis, through both private fund raising means, an eight million dollar public grant, and tax credits, had secured 74% of the needed $15.5 million. But developers were reported to have still been laboring fruitlessly for further bank financing.

Now, Chip Ellis of Ellis Development has confirmed that funding is in place, and the team will begin actual construction next week. Ellis added that a TIF loan and a five million dollar loan from Eagle Bank helped finalize phase one financing plans, adding to money already promised by the District government. Ellis qualified the good news, adding that $3.5m more needs to be raised in order to commence and complete phase two of the construction, which will extend and widen the back of the theater, making room for classrooms, offices, a library, and museum. So while a time table for a final ribbon cutting still remains conditional upon the speed with which the last few million is secured, the news confirms that the groundbreaking is more than symbolic.

The restoration of Howard Theater, once a mecca for listeners seeking out the performances of African American musical stalwarts like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and later Sammy Davis Jr., is vital to the revitalization of Shaw. It also makes sense to anchor a significant new performance space, part theater, part museum, in this particular area, sandwiched between the wealth of music venues along the U Street corridor to the north and the entertainment heart of the city in Chinatown to the south. Local firm Martinez & Johnson Architecture, which also redesigned the Strand, continues to carry the burden of design planning. Architect Naomi Ueki said the most important goal in this project, like so many restoration efforts, is to "keep the historical elements that define the theater in tact and work around them." The first order of business is the demolition of the interior - a complete gutting - while making sure to protect the footprint of the building. Excavation of the ground floor will follow in an effort to dig out a basement level. In addition to general masonry improvements, replica windows, signage, historical lamps, openings and architectural details will all help bring the famous theater facade back to life. The available financing and long to-do list is expected to keep construction crews busy through January; by then developers hope to have secured the additional funds to transition smoothly into phase two.

Shaw residents who are tired of being strung along by promises without much action to follow will finally hear some racket from the construction site at at the corner of 7th & T Streets. This is at least reason to put on a jazz record and smile. Now, we can hope for the Wonder Bread Factory to provide an overture.

Correction: Steve Cassell of Four Points LLC has informed DCMud that while the name "Renaissance Project" was thrown around the idea table it was never finalized. "Progression Place" is the official project name for the development formerly known as "Broadcast Center One," while the residential aspect of the project has been dubbed "7th Flats."

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

i think i speak for most of us when i say, this is great, but do they have a contingency plan for when their business model fails?

Neighborhood Guy said...

Yep, while renovation of the building will eliminate a neighborhood eyesore, there is no way that this venture can be financially self-sufficient. This is more of a "feel-good" project than anything else -- an attempt to preserve the Shaw neighborhood of yesteryear when jazz was in its heyday. But that vibe is long gone, and the area has changed dramatically. The developers should have looked to the future, not the past, in deciding how best to use this historic structure.

Neighborhood Guy said...

Yep, while renovation of the building will eliminate a neighborhood eyesore, there is no way that this venture can be financially self-sufficient. This is more of a "feel-good" project than anything else -- an attempt to preserve the Shaw neighborhood of yesteryear when jazz was in its heyday. But that vibe is long gone, and the area has changed dramatically. The developers should have looked to the future, not the past, in deciding how best to use this historic structure.

Anonymous said...

The operator will be the folks who do the Blue Note jazz clubs, BB Kings and Highline Ballroom in NYC.

The business is in good hands.

Neighborhood Gal said...

I disagree with Neighborhood Guy. Nothing phony or backward about opening up an entertainment venue in Shaw, I don't see a downside here. The whole point of the article was that this is not a feel-good gesture, but a legit business that's really going to open. Don't be such a cynic.

Anonymous said...

anon 1:50,
i posted the first comment. i hope you are right. i really do want this to succeed but am perhaps too jaded and skeptical.

monkeyrotica on Sep 3, 2010, 8:27:00 AM said...

This theater will succeed so long as the Lincoln Theater management has NOTHING to do with it. The Lincoln has been an underutilized, taxpayer-funded money pit since day one. The nonprofit foundation that runs it is a joke. Ward 1 has dozens of theater groups starving for performance space, yet it remains dark for much of the year. It should have been privatized years ago.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I agree with the previous comment. I do not know why the city would spend a mass amount of money to revitalize this building, yet it goes unused. And I am pretty sure that the city is very well aware of the lack of activity and income that this historic landmark has not generated. And I am pretty sure that they-the city, has not done a damn thing to try to get whatever organization is in charge, in gear to get this building functional. The city does not hesitate to make sure that taxes are paid, and if someone defaults on paying taxes they get penalized-one way or another. The point I am trying to make is that if the city can keep tabs on taxes and the productivity of area businesses, then why would it fund a building that is non-functional but very much in demand for those who seek and desire to use it? It makes no sense. Its as if NO ONE IN DC IS MAKING ANY GOOD DAMN DECISIONS.

Anonymous said...

Also, along with the last statement above that I've made or the last post, I hope that what has happened to the Lincoln does not happen to the Howard. I hope that this time that whoever runs this place runs it professionally. Nuff said.

andrew said...

Interesting. I'm surprised such an experienced venue operator would approach the project.

Speaking of the Highline Ballroom, it's a disappointment that DC doesn't have a similar medium-sized music venue. The Black Cat and 930 book some great acts, but are fairly dumpy as far as the actual spaces themselves go. (DAR looks nice, but makes no sense for 90% of the shows that are performed there. Who books a rock show in a seated venue with poor acoustics?)

On the other hand, The Highline is a gorgeous new facility (in an older building). Alternatively, I'd love to see the operators of The National and The NorVA (in Richmond and Norfolk respectively) try their hand in the DC market. The restoration job on The National Theatre was gorgeously executed, and it's arguably now my favorite venue on the East Coast. The NorVA is a bit more spartan, but still has better acoustics, and is better-kept than the 930.

IMO, this may have been a better (re)use for the Howard Theatre in this day and age. I simply don't see the project being sustainable.

Anonymous said...

as the neighborhood becomes more and more white, a trend that is unlikely to change for at least the next decade of so, i thought i'd point out a perspective on white people and the blues:
http://www.postbourgie.com/2010/09/02/on-white-people-and-the-blues/

Anonymous said...

The Theater scene sucks because the audiences in DC are mostly old people. Younger people just like blogging and networking and watching the Daily Show. That's why the theater groups are starving and also why the Lincoln is usually empty.

thank god the Howard will be a smaller music club that serves food and liquor. That ought to keep the lights on.

Anonymous said...

Do you all believe the nearby Howard University student market is a viable audience for the theatre? It hasn't been tapped by the Lincoln yet.

 

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