Housing Complex

Dupont Underground May Go Temporary

Everything is ephemeral these days, so why not a cavernous ex-streetcar tunnel beneath Connecticut Avenue?

The Dupont Underground, in fact, is one of those spaces that could use a boost of attention while it waits for a more permanent use. The Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground has had exclusive rights to the District-owned space for more than a year now, but hasn't nailed down either the financing to make the whole thing an arts institution or the tenants to commercialize it. In part, that's because of its decision to maintain control of the whole space.

"Early on there was within the board an ongoing debate about how to meet the exclusive rights agreement's requirements," writes Braulio Agnese, the Coalition's volunteer managing director. "One camp wanted to have a developer take the lead; although this would probably have made for much smoother sailing, it would also jeopardize what the ACDU hopes to accomplish: we would almost certainly not be able to match the persuasive powers of a developer's wallet and would thus get spent out of existence, likely, as the developer/partner sought more and more space."

So they've decided to run the thing themselves. But the Coalition's agreement with the city is expiring soon, and they're nowhere near negotiating a bona fide lease. Now, they're thinking about negotiating something smaller: A short-term lease to activate the space with performances, exhibits, and other events. Even that, however, is controversial. "The ultimate goal is creating a world-class design/arts/cultural institution, but there is some fear that activating part of the space early could brand us as a pop-up, here-today-but-maybe-not-in-a-few-months kind of place, something that might interfere with our efforts to get major institutional support and funding."

Ah yes, funding. The Coalition recently sent out a big fundraising appeal, but is really hoping for an infusion of public cash to get part of the way to the $30 million it needs to retrofit the space. "We'd like to convince the city that this is not just a run-of-the-mill project, that its potential long-term benefits to the city are worth their time, energy, and, yes, financial investment," Agnese says.

In a time when at least five big projects are fighting over the city's dollars, with neighbors crying out for investment in land they can actually see? Hm, long odds. In the mean time, you may see some pop-ups—if the city will even let them do that.

  • Drez

    It's been 15 years. Just do something, already.

  • Eric

    Why is no one considering using this space for streetcars!? I mean, it's a little strange that we are in the process of bringing stree cars back to dc yet this option has apparently not been considered.

  • Seriously

    Or until streetcars come back, why not make it an underground Metrobus stop? Might help speed the 42 through there and ease overall congestion around the Circle.

  • lefty

    the modern day streetcars do not fit down there and can't make the turnaround like they used to.

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  • miserableme

    We have a need for underground spaces. Climate change will make DC a miserable place to live, and being able to retreat to cool, underground places so we can begin to prepare future generations for survival as a mole-like species, is clearly the way to go. I also like the art thing, but we should focus on producing really good art, and not the stuff that passes for art today, just in case climate change causes the oceans to boil away. We want the aliens who eventually arrive to discover that we were really good at art, like the Egyptians.

  • J

    I've been in the space. It is totally useless as it is, and will take millions of dollars and lots of time to build out even the entrances to the space. Park Service, DC and other stakeholders/landowners will never come to agreement after the last failed attempts at making the space usable.

    Its a shame -- it could be used for something in which a 12" wide tunnel is adequate space. Even at the widest point, it is no more than 20' wide. Arts is probably not the right use.

  • Typical DC BS

    They should just fill this space in and be done with it. I remember they tried to put restaurants and other businesses in there in the 1990's- it just didn't work. The homeless kept causing issues with camping out at the entrances and using the stairways as toilets. There is no way to know it's even down there when it was open - where are you going to place signage?

    Other than storage, this space is useless.

  • Richard

    Sell it to Doug Jemal-- he apparently likes to own empty buildings.

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