City Desk

Development at 14th and T: Good News, Bad News Edition

We learned today that Dave Chappelle, yes the Dave Chappelle, has signed on as a potential investor with the Diner/Tryst/comedy club planned for the old Church of the Reformer at 14th and T Streets NW, the development plan we wrote about in July.

The bad news? That plan is close to imploding. Sources close to the deal say that the earlier agreement to lease the space from the current owner fell through. Rather than let their dream die, Diner/Tryst/Open City owner Constantine Stavropoulos and DC-Improv and Riot Act comedy impresario John Xereas, along with a few others—including Chappelle, a Xereas acquaintance who has D.C. roots—worked to get a deal together to buy the building. The bid is in the neighborhood of $9 million. The problem? They're not the only ones interested.

Big-box furniture outfit Room & Board, based in Minneapolis, has also put in a bid for the building, according to a real estate source. Although the bid is said to be close to what the locals have offered to pay, the current owners put their trust in furniture. The Room & Board bid has been accepted, the source said, albeit with a 60-day window where it can be retracted.

Stavropoulos, when contacted to confirm the news, said he could not openly discuss the negotiations, but added that he hoped "Room & Board realizes it's bad business karma to come into a spot where local D.C. businesses have defined a wonderful vision that is shared by local D.C. residents."

"We spent months working on this project, months cultivating neighborhood support and generating excitement for this," he continued. "We have a viable alternative and the financial backing to make it happen. If Room & Board wants to come to D.C., that's great. Just don't step on local businesses' and resident's dreams to do it."

The latest incarnation of his group's plan had the restaurant on the first floor, the comedy club on the second, and an indie movie "microcinema" house on the third, in addition to developing the property next door to 1840 14th St. as a yoga studio and dance space.

Xereas says he's been working on the 14th and T plan for more than six months and, at this point, "we've still got our fingers crossed, we've got everything crossed" that the local plan will prevail.

Room & Board spokesperson John Loer says he is aware that his company was looking to sign a lease in D.C. but referred more detailed questions to Chief Financial Officer Mark Miller, who was unavailable.

(City Paper photograph by Pilar Vergara)

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Comments

  1. #1

    Why put several local independent furniture companies out of business when there's only one comedy club in DC? C'mon people it's Dave Chappelle. The Room and Board company should buy a different building. DC needs a second comedy room so people aren't bored.

  2. #2

    Very mixed feelings here: On the one hand, the mixed use development would be ideal for that location. On the other, Room and Board is a GREAT furniture store offering better quality and cleaner style than any other competitor in its price range. I've written to them many times begging them to come to DC. Best solution would be for Room and Board to find another, equally centrally located spot, a really big one so I can spend lots of time there.

  3. #3

    Room and Board and Design Within Reach are about the same (I think I may prefer Room and Board, but its 6 of one, a half dozen of the other). 14th and T isn't even a spot that makes good business sense for them. Maybe they don't know this about DC, but if you aren't *right* *next* to other businesses, then DC peeps just won't go to you. RnB needs to go near 14th & P, and, sadly, 14th and T is just a little too far (Muleh and Vastu have been shrinking ever since they opened and now rely on clothing to try and get by). I heard the building with the Skynear furniture in it is for sale; RnB could try to go there. OR, what would be a great idea, is to help transfrom the old Central Union Mission into something, and they could agree to be the ground floor tenants. They would get any project instantly off the ground, AND put them right near 14th and P which is the best spot for them anyway.

  4. #4

    Perhaps if local business owners had not been forced to jump through so many hoops put into place by local busybodies then this would not be happening. This is predictable -- ANCs screw around with the the [relatively] small, local business owners and we end up with big box retailers. Why? Because big-box retailers have the deep pockets to hire lawyers, PR people, etc. to fight the local busybodies and the ANC -- unlike the much-less-well-capitalized local business owners.

    THEN, the local busybodies and asinine members of the local ANC BITCH about "big box retailers" taking up all the retail space.

  5. #5

    This is indeed sad news to hear for the neighborhood. From what I've heard from my neighbors, everyone I spoke with fully supported the coffee house/restaurant/entertainment space in this location. I’m concerned about this big box retailer who will be taking the place of independent local business owners who care about the neighborhood. Perhaps my oppenent, who is the current chairman of the Dupont ANC, will enjoy the furniture delivery trucks pulling up next to his house every morning.

    We want more independent retailers in our neighborhood, not more big-box retailers. Go to my blog (www.rogersforanc.com) to find out how you can contact Room and Board's President to tell him that 'thanks, but no thanks'. Let's keep our neighborhood big-box free!

  6. #6

    Call me Bob: This project had not yet gotten to the point of being "forced to jump through so many hoops." They didn't even have a lease yet. I, among others, had met with the project leaders to see how we could navigate the situation to activate this building. I'm not per se against national or international retailers (I don't hear anyone complain about Whole Foods or Mitchell Gold, for example), but I'm also very worried about our independent businesses--especially ones with a good trajectory and track record like Constantine. My bottom line: let's not start hurling rocks at one another within the community. This is another delicate juncture in the ever-changing projections for this building, and a lot of good and thoughtful people are involved.

  7. #7

    Room and Board is a relatively high end store bearing absolutely no resemblance to Kmart or Home Depot. Sure, it is a small chain, but "Big Box" is misleading. And although their Los Angeles location, the only one I've visited, is in a strip mall, I believe that their NYC and Chicago locations do their part to enhance the streetscape in centrally located shopping areas.

    This may not be the best space for Room and Board or the best use of this particular space, but DC should push for a Room and Board somewhere.

  8. #8

    If Dave Chappel and Constantine want a 24/7 500 seat venue, why not see if the old platinum space is available? I hear they're looking for a new business model.

  9. #9

    This is very unfortunate news. The project original project idea is a vibrant, mixed-use one that will be a real spark for the 14th Street corridor. The question here is a pivotal one for the development of that corridor: Will the area end up something resembling an outdoor mall or a neighborhood with real character that draws people to live and spend time there?

    I think that there is a market in DC for Room and Board--just as there is and should be for Target, Best Buy, and others--but why does the company need to be in this building, for which there was such a fabulous plan for independent businesses that would bring such energy to the neighborhood? Surely there are alternative sites that a store like Room and Board, which will be a draw in and of itself, could avail itself of in other parts of the District. They do not need to be spoilers here.

  10. #10

    This is depressing. That space has been vacant for years, and the only reason it has generated the interest of those out-of-state guys is because of the months of work by local businessowners to define a vision for the building, talk to the neighbors to see what *they* want, and generate interest in a multi-use community space. Local businesses take the risk, spend the time and come up with the ideas, and then the developers take those ideas to Mr. Deep-pockets from out of town. Nice.

  11. #11

    I support the mixed-use local business plan that has been in the works for this amazing building for the last several months. I support the creative spirit and community interest generated by people who live where they do business. Let the distinct flavor of DC continue to bubble up on 14th st! I believe we will all be the better fot it. No bix-box retailers in this building!

  12. #12

    Actually, to set the record straight [re:Hmmm}, Vastu has grown every year in the 6 years we've been here, added 3 full time staff people, expanded our showroom 50% with an interior design studio, and has never sold clothing. We believe this is not the best use of the space and would be a substantial blow to the momentum of the neighborhood. Logan Circle thrives because of the incredible mix of cool boutiques, coffee houses, galleries, theatres, performance spaces and yes, plenty of great local furniture stores. Adding a locally owned comedy club, theatre and diner to the mix would be a cause for celebration. There may yet be a place for Room & Board in DC other than in our mailboxes, but Logan Circle should not be it.

  13. #13

    This is NOT good news!! I chose to live in Logan Circle because it's not like everywhere else. Ugh. The thought of a catalog company coming in here and spoiling my cool neighborhood just makes me sick. How can we contact the seller of the building? If I wanted to live near a mall I'd move to Tyson's...

  14. #14

    oh no this is so sad. i love coming to 14th street from maryland (yes, the suburbs!) to find neat things in the shops. everyone is so friendly and nice and i always buy something i've never seen before. i like the idea of a coffee shop or comedy club. even suburban girls know how to be cool!

  15. #15

    I'm an out of towner, and it makes sad to think that the originality and authenticity that the locally owned businesses bring to 14th street could be tarnished by a catolog retailer such as "Room and Board". I love being able to come into town and sit at the local cafes and build relationships amoung the local business owners...I hope that doesn't change!

  16. #16

    Seriously dis heartening. I love the idea of the place being made into a place I can go to get away. I love the whole mix of comedy, coffee, yoga ect... What need do I need with a furniture store??? most ppl in the area won't visit it and the store prob could do better in a different location. They should consider a different location!

  17. #17

    Ugh, why does this always happen? Some risk-takers take a chance on an iffy neighborhood, transform it into something cool, and then some crappy chain store moves in that everyone hates. Then everyone complains that there are no more cool stores and the place is just another outdoor mall. Room & BOard stay away!!

  18. #18

    Maybe I'm not going to make too many friends here, but as a retailer on the block I have to ask what will work best for me and my neighbors? The block has a wonderful balance of retail, dining and entertainment. Not tipped too much toward any one of them. Fact is though, that what will draw more people to me and the other retailers is ... another retailer. The Black Cat and Source are good neighbors but they don't help my business. They draw their crowds mostly after I close. The furniture store will go a long way toward cementing this stretch of 14th and U Streets as the place to go for furniture and home decor. Constantine S is a great guy. He has put a lot into his businesses and his neighborhood. But really, do we need to become more like 18th Street, that horrorshow of alcohol and jumbo slice? Discuss . . .

  19. #19

    I think Room and Board should find another spot. This has the potential to contribute a lot to the neighborhood and give it some local color rather than moving another chain furniture store that will probably go out of business just like the last one did... Storehouse.

    We want yoga and coffee, not furniture!!!

  20. #20

    big business has it's place and time. T and 14th isn't it. what has turned this hood around, (and i used to live here when it was hookers and drug dealers), has been the determination of the local businesses, those who remained and grew with the times, and those newbies who took a chance, and the loyalty of the hood inhabitants to shopping, eating, excerising, getting haircuts, etc., at their neighborhood mom and pop, if you will. the flavor of this dedication is what turned the neighborhood around and ironically gives it its draw to large corps. let's pull together on this again and do our best to welcome the small business/owner and prevent the "deep pockets" from stealing the show.

  21. #21

    Just sayin: Look at the daytime traffic that a Busboys & Poets and a Tryst drives in their neighborhoods. To say that either of them would create "a horrorshow of alcohol and jumbo slice" is a gross mischaracterization.

  22. #22

    It is unfortunate that the local business group was unable to lease or purchase the property. The ANC was not involved in any of these matters. In fact, because there was no lease nor ABC applications, the matter never came before the ANC for any approvals. The group presented their concept over the summer, but never returned for approvals. I followed up, but was told that lease negotiations were still underway. Everyone wants to see this property improved and occupied and the DC based property owner tells me he has accepted a contract from Room and Board. It is not the role of the ANC Commissioner to undo contracts, but I will continue to serve to bridge constituent concerns and business objectives in our area. I think it is unfortunate that my opponent chooses to mischaracterize the situation and my record in his attempt to promote himself. There is additional information about this site and other projects coming to our neighborhood at http://www.ramonestrada.org

  23. #23

    I hope that DC Government can stand up and take notice and support these local businesses! It makes absolutely no sense not to, and time and time again, these are the elements that are bringing back some soul to DC. With more than one furniture store already in the few block radius, there is nothing that I'd like LESS there, and I can promise that I'd frequent that area much more with the local businesses that are intending to buy this space. It's so clear that what the people who live here want is the yoga/coffee/comedy club combination!

  24. #24

    I am in support of the Tryst/Diner/Comedy Club project for the 1840 14th St location. As a 14th St resident (14th and Church) and a single women, the idea of having as much of 14th St well lit and active after dark would make the 14th St corridor a safer place to live. One of the great things about living in this neighborhood is the ability to walk to so many great restaurants, stores, and services. Having more restaurants that serve food past 11pm and early in the morning, would be a wonderful addition to this already fantastic neighborhood.

  25. #25

    Supporters of the Tryst/Diner/Comedy Club/Theaters, please write to:

    John Gabbert, Founder and President of Room & Board, jgabbert@roomandboard.com
    Mayor Adrian Fenty amfenty@hotmail.com
    Jack Evans, Councilman for Ward 2, jackevans@dccouncil.us
    Jim Graham, Councilman for Ward 1, jim@grahamwone.com

    If they can block this, just remember when Dave Grohl's Black Cat comes up for renewal, they can sell that to Sears. Saint Ex can eventually be sold to McDonalds or Starbucks, and so on. This move, the furniture store, is going to kill all the furniture small businesses already there, as well as do nothing for the neighborhood. Why not just open another Target. As well, we are telling one of DC's most beloved sons to invest elsewhere, as well as the owner of the most successful diner in town, and the guy who saved the Improv from near ruins 15+ years ago? And since he left the Improv it has turned into fodder.

    Let them know what you think, because this is ridiculous. This type of store belongs in White Flint or Pentagon.

  26. #26

    And comment #22 from Roman Estrada is f-a-l-s-e.

  27. #27

    There is tons of space available on 14th st, empty car dealerships, 14th and W (next to the gas station), the list goes on. I'm happy Room and Board is coming into the neighborhood, Tryst/Diner/Comedy Club/Theaters will just have to find another spot, thats how it works.

  28. #28

    I'd drive into DC to see comedy or a movie. Certainly not going to drive into DC for yet another box store. If you want to attract a little out of district money, seems pretty clear cut.

  29. #29

    Dear Dave Chappelle,

    We appreciate that you want to invest your money BACK into the city you came from, but we are not interested. We want ergonomically designed, roll-away chairs. Those will improve our neighborhood much more than anything you can do.

    -- Rick James

  30. #30

    i am writing in support of local business! the 14th street corridor is a very special place and these small business owners have worked very hard to develop this concept which will do so much to add even more vibrancy to this neighborhood! i love a fancy davenport as much as the next girl, but sincerely hope that our friends from minnesota will reconsider and look elsewhere...

  31. #31

    I'm with Dave Chappelle and his group. Enough of big box stores that will suck the life and money from the area and then leave it once they file for bankruptcy. Help our city brother to put his love and energy back into the neighborhood. Thanks

  32. #32

    I'm of the opinion that D.C. residents do not need another store selling furniture which comes from sources which don't focus whole heartedly on recycled materials, renewable resources and has no interest in developing a local community. Correct me if I'm wrong but Room & Board do none of these things. Far more useful would be a multi purpose space with businesses that generate community in the local area.

  33. #33

    I've been patiently waiting for the new Riot Act. Viva la Comedy. C'mon! I, along with many others, drive from Gaithersburg regularly to see live entertainment & John X knows how to put on a show! Any of the suggestions above, 14th & P, somewhere, anywhere else for the furniture store would work. Just don't bump our local guys from this perfect spot.

  34. #34

    I'm one of the many local DC area comedians that was truly looking forward to this venue opening up. I'm truly sad to hear that this deal may fall through.

    DC and the surrounding area is a hot bed of great young comedic talent. We often get overlooked by cities like Boston, Chicago, NYC and LA for producing great comedic talent and often have leave and move to one of these cities to get discovered.

    In recent years D.C. has produced some really great comic talent. You can turn your television on every day and see a comic who's roots are from this area.

    I think it's commendable that John X, Dave Chappelle and their other business partners are trying to support and develop local comedy and comedians and keep them in this area.

    We wish you the best and appreciate your efforts!

    Please continue to support comedy in DC!

    Thanks Comedian Vince Barnett

  35. #35

    I am not a Room and Board fanboy, but one thing that they are not is big box retail, Do your homework like I did before you start flaming a company. They have been in buisness for over 25 years and will be long after the yoga place,coffee shop,comedy club go the way of the dodo.

  36. #36

    Come on people, do we really want another furniture store? How many residents here really care about expensive furniture? What are we turning this hip DC area into a yuppy/suburban oasis? Seriously, we're going to replace plans for a much needed coffee house and cinema for a furniture store?!

  37. #37

    It sounds like most people on this board are in rough agreement: Room & Board is not a bad store per se (and it may even be a great store--I've never seen one myself), but this isn't the location in DC they should choose.

    I don't just see it as "locals versus chain." I see it as a "safe" tenant (a furniture store!) versus a "risky" group of tenants (the arts? the cinema? the horror!). And that's what's wrong with Room & Board getting this space: It'd be one more example of the arts getting squelched in favor of standard retail.

    I hope someone provides Room & Board with a viable alternative space so that they can bow out gracefully and everyone can be happy.

  38. #38

    DC's comedy crowds are fantastic and they don't have much choice of where to see comedy. Bring more arts into the community - please support the crowds who support us.

  39. #39

    Check out http://www.KeepLoganLocal.com. Some really cool Logan residents set this up so that you can email the CEO and CFO of Room and Board directly from the site asking them to find another location. Keep Logan Local!!

  40. #40

    I love getting to that area early when I see a show at the Black Cat. I walk up and down the streets, poking my head into many of the stores, often spending money on products and food. A comedy club and diner would directly benefit ME (which would, of course, spread to other businesses in the area). A big box store will not. People will come there to buy furniture (while taking up parking), and leave. Why not put a Starbucks, 7-11, and Petsmart in while we're at it? Then the area can look just like any of the suburban strip malls.

  41. #41

    As a veteran standup comedian who has performed comedy all over the world and started doing it right here in Washington, DC it would be a dis-service to the community to pass over a chance like this for a furniture store.

    When people in this community are down and need a good laugh will they find it in the chair section?

  42. #42

    It's so hard to decide where I stand on this issue. On the one hand I'm a DC area Comedian, on the other hand I *do* tend to use furniture on an almost daily basis...

    How about this: Room and Board makes it a chair, table, bar & stool furniture store (one bar, tons of stools). They should also sell a stage with a microphone on it and maybe some nice cozy spot-lighting fixtures, and if any of it sells out they should restock within the day.

    Also in this plan they should give a key to John X and promise not to whine when beer turns up on the bar.

  43. #43

    a building so well-suited for what the local businessmen want versus a huge corporation that can afford to buy almost any building that they want....this is a no-brainer. get more locals to work in that area! the local project will do so much for that neighborhood than a furniture store!

  44. #44

    Keep it local folks.
    We are doing our neighborhoods or city no good by encouraging large National businesses to come in and push small business out of the way. For the past several years there have been local business at work trying to re-develop the area at 14th and T. Now that all of the hard work is done the big boys want to miove in and push the little guys out of the way. THis is not the way I want to see my city develop. You can bet that I will be emailing the CEO of room and board as well as our mayor to tell them how I feel.

  45. #45

    Many locals, businesses and residents, have worked to make this a great neighborhood. And, there's room for national companies, too. If the tryst & comedian group members are good business people, they'll stop whining and get going on another location where we can support them. Business is business. We'd like to give you our business, but dissing R+B is not the way to make it happen. Very poor form to blame them for your inability to make it happen at this location.

  46. #46

    There is definitely a need for comedic relief around here. I would like to have a comedy club in the neighborhood and agree that the group should look for an alternative space. It does not speak well of the group to hound the furniture company. A furniture showroom will be great for that space. I read that the mission building down the street is a possibility. Does anyone know if the group is considering that space? What about the places along U - next to Republic Gardens and on the corner of 14th and U? What about all that badly used space in the Reeves Center? Let's get creative here.

  47. #47

    Jule, the owner of Tryst seems to be your darling because you slant your articles by predominately using his quotes. Why not ask him about this crazy campaign to get the furniture guys to go away? Ask him: even if the furniture store decides not to buy, who says Tryst will get the building?

  48. #48

    Tom C:
    What is so "crazy" about a campaign where residents overwhelmingly want to see local businesses in that building and not a national chain that has no "local roots". Local businesses that would employ hundreds of DC residents, use local vendors, and give back to the community

    I ask you: What do you know about negotiations that started 6-7 months ago with the Tryst/comedy club regarding this property.

    And, what is your interest in not having the furniture guys go away - fear of competition

  49. #49
  50. #50

    Great quality stuff.

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