Housing Complex

The Howard Theatre District?

Over a year ago, I started noticing changes on Florida Avenue around the still-dormant Howard Theatre that were directly tied to the time when it would come back to life. The morning after the rejuvenated venue's grand opening gala brings another sign of arts-driven revitalization: A real estate listing identifying the area as the "Shaw/Howard Theater District" (the whole British spelling thing is taking a while to sink in).

"Not many chances left to invest in DC's face lift...Get in while you can!!" it squeaks.

Fair enough. That immediate area, with restaurants popping up all along Florida and 7th Street, is only going to become more desirable as the need to walk to U Street for food and entertainment diminishes. Nobody has tried to officially call it the Howard Theatre District—like some other artificial branding campaigns I could name—but the pretensions of a creative realtor are as good a way to get the ball rolling as any.

And actually, it's a significant fringe benefit of putting money into an arts institution. One of the Howard's many underwriters is the Local Initiative Support Coalition, a community development investor that kicked in $3.9 million in predevelopment funding. Historic theaters are a significant part of LISC's business, because they believe in the power of the arts for neighborhood revitalization.

Sometimes they're more transformative than others. LISC also put $90,000 in startup costs into the Atlas Theater, which is widely credited with kick starting the rise of H Street NE (often called the "Atlas District"). But it would be hard to say that their third dramatic investment in D.C., $220,000 for Gala Hispanic Theater in the restored Tivoli Building on 14th Street, played a significant role in the revitalization of Columbia Heights—that probably had more to do with a Target, a Metro stop, and a well-designed outdoor public space.

At this point, all signs point to LISC's investment in the Howard Theatre paying off. (And it beats the heck out of FRINJ, another proposed name for a place that previously floated between neighborhoods.)

UPDATE, Saturday, 11:07 a.m. - Alex Padro of Shaw Main Streets claims the first use of the term Howard Theatre District, in a MidCity DC ad from September 2011.

  • Political Observer

    Deanwood's Strand Theater is next???

  • http://shawmainstreets.org Alexander Padro

    I actually claim first use of "Howard Theatre District," in a September 2011 ad in MidCity DC promoting Pizza D'Oro, a new restaurant at 717 T Street, NW. I'll send you a PDF for verification. --Alexander M. Padro, Executive Director, Shaw Main Streets

  • Just Me

    Whatever. The Howard I think of for Georgia/7th is that institution that has been there a whole lot longer than the Theater and that is part of the Metro Station name.

    Just so long as they don't try to impose the name onto U Street, like they have done with Shaw, DC Arts District, and a half dozen other wannabe names, that want to cash in on U Street's name recognition to make themselves relevant.

  • http://twitter.com/monkeyrotica monkeyrotica

    Still no respect for "FloRhIde." Shame on you.

  • er

    regarding the spelling of theater as theatre, it's a way for places with live performances to distinguish themselves from movie theaters. it's not a new convention. if you look up the theatres you mentioned you will see that they use that form too.

    if the street car phases ever happen, the Howard will be the junction of a few lines. i think Fenty's plan was that this would be the Uptown Entertainment District, though that name sucks.

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