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Fate of Tivoli unclear despite mayoral action

(Published January 17, 2000)


Staff Writer

Despite the mayor’s intervention to save more of the historic Tivoli Theatre in Columbia Heights, the fate of the controversial building is still up in the air, caught between the forces of economic development and historic preservation.

Tivoli Partners, which won exclusive rights to develop the site on 14th Street NW, has about three months to come up with a new site plan that would remove the Giant supermarket from the "footprint" of the theater, preserving the back wall that will allow more of the interior of the structure to be restored. Tivoli Partners is made up of Horning Brothers developers, Giant Food Inc., Michele Hagans’ Lincoln Realty and the Development Corp. of Columbia Heights.

On Dec. 23, Mayor Anthony A. Williams announced he had brokered an agreement with Giant and Horning to reposition the Giant. The proposal accepted Sept. 9 by the Redevelopment Land Agency was for the Giant and other retail shops to be built within most of the theater, with Tivoli Partners restoring only the façade and the lobby.

Joseph Horning Jr. said his firm is currently in the process of assessing the property to see how the supermarket can be fit onto the site without encroaching on the theater.

"We’re working diligently on our part to find solutions so that this will work and we can get this built in a timely manner," Horning said.

He said in all likelihood some of the planned townhouses, which were to be built along Holmead Place and Monroe Street NW, will have to be eliminated from the original plans in order to accommodate the Giant. Horning said his company is currently exploring different configurations for the site. He would not rule out the possibility that retail shops would be proposed for the interior of the Tivoli.

"Whatever happens to the theater…is going to be far more costly because renovation (of the theater) needs to be done from the inside out," Horning said. "It means that there needs to be greater support from the city to experiment with all of these different plans."

Councilman Jim Graham, D-Ward 1, held a public meeting Jan. 14 with city officials and private groups to try to figure out possible financing options to pay for the restoration of the Tivoli.

Neither Horning Brothers or Giant Food representatives attended the meeting. Horning said he only heard about the meeting when he started getting media calls about it.

Estimates for restoring the theater presented at that meeting ranged from $10 million to $20 million. Participants discussed options from federal community development grants and historic tax credits to tapping the city’s operating budget in order to pay for the restoration.

However, even proponents of saving the theater said getting funding to save it would be difficult, made more so because there is no clear-cut plan on the table for what would become of the building.

Some preservationists complained that Tivoli Partners has been unwilling to consider restoring the Tivoli as a performance space.

"While we have wonderful plans for the use of the theater, we have the difficulty of specifically dealing with Tivoli Partners," Eric Sayles of the Tivoli Community Arts Consortium said at the meeting. "It’s been nearly impossible to come up with a workable plan that they’re agreeable with."

Charles Cassell of the D.C. Preservation League echoed Sayles’ sentiments.

"They (Tivoli Partners) do not seem to be on the same track as us," he said. "We can’t assume they’ll be cooperative. History hasn’t shown that."

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator