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DCTV to use Brooks Mansion

(Published July 3, 2000)

By JOEL FURFARI

Staff Writer

A deal has finally been reached to lease neglected Brooks Mansion to DCTV after more than three years of wrangling between the D.C. government, the Districtís public access cable television organization and neighborhood residents.

The mayorís office announced June 27 that DCTV has signed a 20-year lease for the city-owned property. Under the lease, DCTVís rent will increase 2 percent annually from a base of $149,950 in the first year. The District has agreed to credit DCTVís rent for up to $800,000 worth of renovations and repairs to the historic neighborhood landmark.

"The decision to negotiate the lease agreement is a clear statement by District leaders that public access television is important to the people of our city, and important to community development and capacity building," DCTVís board chairman, Kojo Nnamdi, said in a written statement.

For years, DCTV staff and volunteers have had to shuttle around town between three separate facilities. During the same time, the city-owned Brooks Mansion needed someone to move in and take care of it.

Councilman Vincent Orange, D-Ward 5, said he had been pushing the deal since his campaign two years ago and called it "a perfect shift for Brooks Mansion." The mansion had been home to the D.C. Cooperative Extension Service, affiliated with the University of the District of Columbia, until UDC consolidated some of its operations to the Van Ness campus a few years ago in a cost-cutting effort.

Brookland activists say they are pleased with DCTVís plans for the mansion. The deal is "a win-win situation," said Angela Rooney, who with her husband Thomas headed an ad hoc group of Brookland residents concerned about the mansionís future. "Itís going to help the community, and itís going to help DCTV, which plans to go digital."

The public access operation is required by the deal to make improvements to the mansion, which will be a welcome sight for neighbors who have become used to the propertyís neglect at the hands of the city government. Its last tenant, UDC, began using the mansion in 1987. Neighbors said the schoolís occupancy resulted in the neglect and abandonment of one of the areaís last remaining examples of Greek Revival architecture. Grass went uncut and basic repairs went unfinished, they said.

"Right now itís not really a habitable space," said Nantz Rickard, DCTVís executive director. She said DCTV plans to begin significant renovations over the next few months.

She said DCTV hopes to be fully moved into its new space a year from now. She said the new facility will vastly improve the public-access operationís ability to provide programming and train its volunteers.

"Our intention is to build our own studio and consolidate everything into one place... so we donít have to run all around the city," said Rickard.

With Brooks Mansion acting as a "hub of citywide communications" for DCTV, the station plans to build an all-digital studio facility that would be on par with the technology available at the premium cable channels.

DCTV has been in operation since 1987. The channel is paid for by the Districtís cable television providers, District Cablevision and Starpower, who are required by law to provide funding for public access programming. DCTV operates two channels -- 25 and 26 on District Cablevision, and 10 and 11 on Starpower.

DCTV expects to expand its television production courses for D.C. residents, which Rickard said will benefit people from all neighborhoods of the city. Last year volunteers put more than 95,000 hours of work into producing the public access cable channels.

The cityís deal with DCTV has had the support of its neighbors in Brookland since DCTV first made its proposal at a community meeting in 1997. Finding the right tenant for the mansion, which is adjacent to the Brookland Metro station, has been a major goal for area residents.

Both Rickard and Rooney said the deal faced heavy obstacles to its passage from the city government, which they described as having dragged its heels on the matter.

Rickard said DCTV had the full support of both Mayor Williams and Councilman Orange but that the process had been delayed and hindered under the administration of former mayor Marion Barry.

"We had put proposals in twice, and somehow they didnít go anywhere," she said.

Construction of the Brooks Mansion was begun in 1836 by Col. Jeheil Brooks, a U.S. government land agent. Brooks built the mansion on his 134-acre plot that he purchased for $6,000 from the Caddo Indians. Eventually, the land was subdivided and developed as the Brookland neighborhood, which came to be named after him.

After Brooksí death in 1886, the mansion became a church, a Catholic college and a high school. In 1979 the D.C. government purchased the property.

Rickard said DCTVís new presence in the venerable landmark will provide some high-tech benefits to D.C. residents.

"Public communications are very important.... There needs to be that kind of public space. Thatís how communities operate now," said Rickard.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator