Monday, January 25, 2010

McGinty's Takoma Theater: After 86 Years, is "The Party Over"?

The battle between Milton McGinty, the 82-year old owner of the historic Takoma Theatre and Washington DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) came to a head on Friday. McGinty appeared before the Mayor's Agent, arguing that his proposed apartment complex was a project of special public merit and that the failure to issue permits would cause him unreasonable economic hardship, appealing an earlier HPRB recommendation to block redevelopment.

As Director of the DC Office of Planning, Harriet Tregoning served as the Mayor's Agent, hearing testimony from McGinty, friends and former associates and Takoma residents. Tregoning gave McGinty until January 29th to submit documents supporting his claim that the theater can no longer remain operational without causing him undo financial strain. The community, including groups like the Takoma Theatre Conservancy will have seven days thereafter to respond to McGinty's new evidence.

According to McGinty's testimony at the hearing, he has spent more than $250,000 on renovating and repairing the theater since 1983, when he purchased the theater for $300,000. The theater, designed by architect John J. Zink, was built in 1923.

McGinty began leasing the theater for public plays and performances in 1995. In early 2007, he closed it down, then drew protests from the Takoma Theater Conservancy when he sought permits to raze the building to pave the way for office space. The HPRB blocked that, and McGinty worked with architect Paul Wilson to draw up a new plan to convert the space into a 43-unit, five-story apartment building while maintaining the theater's original facade and including a 100-seat venue. Last October, the HPRB once again disapproved of granting permits for a plan that called for demolishing 75% of the theater.

At the time of the hearing, McGinty had made no plans for public space in his design, nor had he planned the inclusion of an affordable housing component to the project outside what the Zoning Commission requires by law. Another strike: while arguing that his project is of "special public merit," McGinty added that the designs were "nothing out of this world."

Despite the community's reaction to the plans, McGinty was resolute in his decision to convert the space, testifying at the hearing that since 1983 he's been on the front lines working to put the theater "together piece by piece."

"It's easy for others to vote to preserve the theater. That's free," McGinty argued, and maintained that he has not received any formal offers from community members or developers hoping to purchase the property - though that's unlikely to happen, considering McGinty placed the property in a family trust to prevent a sale and told DCMud in August that he never has - and never will - consider a sale.

When asked whether or not he had taken into consideration HPRB's recommendations with his architect, McGinty said "no." He was equally clear on his position for the future of the theater as a public performance space under his ownership, stating that "after 86 years, if you'll pardon the expression, the party's over."

Depending on McGinty's ability to proffer evidence that maintaining the property without development would cause him undo financial strain, the party may, in fact, be over for development plans as well.

Washington, DC real estate and development news


Anonymous said...

Save that theater. There are only so many left and we need to keep our heritage for future generations. I have no sympathy for this landowner, if he can't be creative about the re-use, then sell it. On the otherhand, if the city feels it's worth preserving (as I do) there should exist a mechanism for them to step up and back up the community by purcasing it if no one else will.

Just stop erasing our history, that party's ovah!

Anonymous said...

Please note this correction: The latest plan developed by architect Wilson and as presented to the HPRB, ONLY includes 43 apartment units. No venue of 100 seats are in the plans. Nor are the retail/offices at the front of the facility retained in the plan. The application calls full demolition of the entire building except the front brick facade and a portion of the brick facade continuing around the corner. A potential mixed-use building consistent with C2A zoning in the commercial corridor would according the plans become pure residential.

Anonymous said...

It is not true that he has not been presented with an offer. Several people have made offers. The Conservancy has made informal offers and reps from city government offices have met with him to say that the city would support the sale. The city has been in conversations with third parties about their plans and has encouraged Mr. McGinty to sell. He as refused offers from the Conservancy to make a bid. His price is more than twice that of an assessor hired by the Conservancy and their bank.

Anonymous said...

It is an unattractive building that isn't viable as a theater any longer. He's right, no one voting against his plans has to spend a dime to do so. this is the biggest problem facing development downtown. HPRB (a joke) and the community members (bored housewives and retired men with no hobbies other than making other people's business their own) are taking a stand to get something they have no willingness to take a financial stake in. No other developer will buy it, because the community won't let them develop it profitably. If the city were to purchase it to preserve it, taxpayers will have to foot the bill to keep it open because it isn't profitable. And then they'll complain about the high cost of living in the city. Preserve the buildings in the city that truly represent our heritage. Not a theater you never even patronized when it was open. If the community had supported the theater in the first place, we wouldn't be discussing this today. What do you care if behind the updated facade of an old theater, there are 43 apartments? No one else should have to foot the bill of maintaining buildings you feel you have some right to.

Anonymous said...

I am all for preservation of historic buildings but let the preservationists or the public absorb the costs. It may be historic and noteworthy but this theater is less viable then the Lincoln and will become another highly subsidized aka money losing venue. Can anyone on either side discuss a compromise - two groups of terrorists?

Anonymous said...

I am all for preservation of historic buildings but let the preservationists or the public absorb the costs. It may be historic and noteworthy but this theater is less viable then the Lincoln and will become another highly subsidized aka money losing venue. Can anyone on either side discuss a compromise - two groups of terrorists?

Anonymous said...

When will Washington DC really become a capital city?! Theater is a part of culture, and any new theater costs millions to built. Why cannot city reps see this property as a possibility to develop community's interest in the arts? Owner has a right to ask for a price for his property. If this place is not to be developed, than perhaps community's wise can buy it from Mr. McGinty, allow people to use it. Location is next to Takoma metro stop, great cultural potention. Plus, who wants to live next to the train?!

Anonymous said...

Their is a nice co-housing community next door to the theater. One solution is to make another co-housing community out of the theater and the adjoining parking lot.

Unless a private foundation or the city is going to foot the bill to purchase the property and then subsidize it every year, then what is all the discussion about. There is no extra money in the city budget. Why not encourage a second co-housing community which will bring interesting neighbors to the City.

The equally large theater at Coolidge high school a few blocks away could serve as a venue for neighborhood productions. Why not spend city money and limited neighborhood money on renovating that theater. A renovated theater there will improve the lives of the students and the neighbors.

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