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City helps fund Tivoli plan

(Published October 9, 2000)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

The company chosen to develop the Tivoli theater site in Columbia Heights presented revised plans to the D.C. government Sept. 29 that would preserve more of the theater, reserve at least 6,000 square feet for cultural and arts uses and still keep a full-size supermarket on the site. But the new plan was only possible because the city agreed to kick in $4 million in direct funding for the project, according to a company official.

The city has also agreed to lease 10,000 square feet of office space in the finished project at above-market rates to allow Horning Brothers to secure additional financing. That lease would bring Horning another $4 million over 20 years in addition to the $4 million subsidy it will get from the city.

"The mayorís financing allows us to make this project consistent with the historical preservation requirements," company vice president Joseph Horning III said. He said the company is still looking to secure tax-free bonds from the city to finance the project.

But preservationists and community activists say the companyís redesign of the project does not go far enough toward their goals of restoring the Tivoli as a cultural and arts center for the neighborhood.

Eric Graye, president of Save the Tivoli, said reserving only 6,000 square feet of the building Ė less than a third of the original interior size of the theater Ė for arts use squanders the opportunity to create something on a grander scale.

"In my opinion thatís just a drop in the bucket as to what that building could support," Graye said.

Gary Imhoff of the government watchdog web site DCWatch.com said he is concerned because Horning wonít commit to putting a performance space in the theater.

"Thatís what they donít want because itís much more profitable to chop that space up into shops," he said. "My guess is that theyíre going to do that, and now weíre going to pay them to do that."

He said he fears the developers would turn the reserved space into art galleries "designed to fail" so that the company would later have an excuse to lease that space out to retailers.

Horning defends the work and research his company put into redrawing its plans. He said his company has talked with numerous arts organizations -- including the Washington Opera, the Tivoli Arts Consortium, the D.C. Youth Orchestra and the Gay Menís Chorus -- in an effort to find an appropriate tenant.

"Amongst all of them there is not one of them who are interested in using a 2,000-seat theater," Horning said, referring to the original size of the Tivoli. "Is there a user that will come to Columbia Heights for a theater of that size? We havenít heard of anyone.

"The dynamics of arts organizations in the city seems to indicate that thereís not enough demand for another large theater just up the street from the Lincoln Theater."

Horning Brothers was selected last fall to redevelop the Tivoli Theater site. The companyís original plans had a Giant Food supermarket built partially within the walls of the theater. But after community outcry over the entire theaterís proposed conversion to retail, Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Councilman Jim Graham, D-Ward 1, pressed to have some arts use included in the theater and to move the supermarket out of the "footprint" of the theater.

Horning said the additional costs to the project for the new site plan will be $7.9 million, much of that due to the additional preservation work which will be done in the theater.

Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator