Should the District Sell Lincoln Theatre?
Last year, Blues Alley owner Harry Schnipper wanted to buy the Lincoln Theatre.
One problem: The troubled city-owned historic facility wasn't for sale.
Of course, that's not what Schnipper says he heard in November, when he mailed in a bid. Schnipper says the city's Department of General Services was soliciting proposals from potential buyers at that time. "It was briefly bandied about," he says. According to him, he never heard back from the department, which manages the acquisition, maintenance, and sale of District real estate.
When I called General Services, a spokesperson said they never put out a request for proposals for the Lincoln. But, he said the District's Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development might know more. So I asked the deputy mayor, Victor Hoskins, if indeed the city was trying to unload the theater.
"That is a fable," says Hoskins. His spokesperson Jose Sousa clarifies, "There was a solicitation put out for improvements to the heating and ventilation system, so, not for purchase but for work to be performed on the Lincoln Theatre. We did not put it on the market." Will it ever be for sale? "Right now, no, I don't envision that," he says, adding that the Lincoln Theatre is simply too important to the history of U Street NW.
A sale might make some sense: The Lincoln reopened in 1994 after D.C. chipped in $9 million for its renovation, but has since hobbled along, dependent on city subsidies and rarely making a major impact on the local arts scene. Last year, Mayor Vince Gray declared the theater's business model unsustainable, prompting public criticism from Lincoln's management. Jan. 1, the city's Commission on the Arts and Humanities took over the theater, and has begun the process of finding a new executive director.
I followed up with Schnipper to ask how he came to think the city was shopping the building. He said he doesn't have time to go through his records.
But in the event the District does decide to sell the perennial money-loser to someone who wants to run it as an arts facility, Schnipper might actually make a good steward: He's run Blues Alley for more than two decades without outside support, he says. The city, meanwhile, has already thrown millions of dollars at the Lincoln, which has been inactive much of the time nonetheless.
But, nope. No dice. Through his spokesman, Ward One Councilmember Jim Graham says "there is no interest in selling the Lincoln Theatre."
So much for that bright idea. See Schnipper's bid, below.
VIA CERTIFIED MAIL
November 3, 2011
Ms. Regina Payton, Realty Specialist
C/o Department of General Services
2000 14th Street, NW,
Washington, DC 20009
Dear Ms. Payton:
I am writing regarding the historic Lincoln Theater and the proposed possibility of its disposition. My name is Harry Schnipper and I am the owner of Blues Alley Jazz in Georgetown. Blues Alley Jazz is America’s oldest, continuously operating jazz supper club and has been in existence for half a century.
I am the presenter, promoter and producer of pre-existing quality entertainment at our Georgetown venue and countless other cultural institutions elsewhere. We have been a successful for-profit entertainment provider because we have access to proprietary pricing information and do not rely upon corporate sponsorship as do our competitors.
I have been in the market to purchase another venue for over a decade and have assembled a team of qualified professionals for exactly this type of purpose. I would like to further propose a tour of this property to determine if it is suitable to our needs. Please let me know as soon as possible how I should proceed. I look forward to your prompt and affirmative reply.
Cc: Councilmember Jim Graham
Certified Mail #7010 3090 0001 2121 4126
Photo by Flickr user Steve Snodgrass used under a creative commons license.