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« An idea that ... | Main | Love notes »

Sunday, 26 February 2006

Comments

Christopher Henley

My e-mail to several council members was responded to by Jim Graham, who forwarded to me an e-mail from John McGaw of the deputy mayor's office, a response to another resident, which response I found very informative:

Thank you for your recent expression of concern regarding the impending loss of the Source Theater Company's building at 1835 14th St NW (Ward 1).

At the request of Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, I am providing this update. As Councilmember Graham states in his message (below): he regrets this loss, which is also of very real concern to Mayor Williams and Deputy Mayor Stanley Jackson. Over the past 20 years, the District of Columbia has invested almost $1 million in Source Theater Company with the public intention of maintaining this important incubator theater on the "14th Street, NW, Arts District".

Unfortunately, neither the $365,000 mortgage agreement executed between Source Theater Company, Inc. ("Source"), and the District in 1987, nor the $500,000 capital improvements grant agreement executed in 1999, nor a $25,000 grant agreement executed in 2004, contain restrictions on a 2006 sale of the building. While agreements that the District makes today do contain restrictions to ensure public benefits, there is no apparent leverage for the District of Columbia to prevent the sale of the building to Bedrock Management. I understand that Bedrock is a fine, well-managed business and we certainly appreciate the firm's confidence in the District as a solid place to invest. But to save the theater, which certainly cannot be replicated anywhere for what Source is being paid for the real estate, the only possibility is to appeal to the public with the hope that Source, as a non-profit, mission-driven organization, will succumb to public pressure to cancel the contract with Bedrock and preserve the theater as a small, affordable performance space.

It is my opinion that prior to entering into the sales contract, Source did not take reasonable and prudent action to save the theater. There are numerous producing cultural organizations (In Series, Actor's Theater, Washington Improv, etc.) as well as the Agnes and Eugene Meyer Foundation, which offered assistance to reinvigorate Source (e.g., feasibility studies, new financial capital, bringing on more responsible board members, etc.). Those overtures were rebuffed by Source, which maintains that their own studies indicate that the theater is not a financially viable operation. I would empirically dispute that fact, and have requested that Source provide the District with evidence that I can share with Mayor Williams to make their point conclusively. Thusfar this has not been provided.

I have even offered to retain our own consultants to produce a quick-turnaround feasibility study (if both Source and Bedrock Management would agree to permit the study) since the contract is now executed (with no contingencies) and settlement is scheduled for May. If the feasibility study is positive, I suggested to Source that they and Bedrock consider canceling the sales agreement without invoking penalties. While we encourage private investment in the District (after all, the District is a 10 percent "partner" in all restaurants), surely Bedrock could find an alternative space. I also indicated to the current Source leadership that the District would forgive the mortgage in exchange for a "new" Source Theater Company providing some community benefits. Thus the only fixed monthly expenses to operate the theater would be utilities, insurance and a small facility manager's fee. To date, I have received no response from Source.

Meanwhile, the District is determining what financial obligations Source has, including the balance due on the mortgage (mortgage principal and interest), plus returning the $25,000 grant awarded for roof repairs in 2004 by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities as there is no final report indicating that the grant was ever used by Source for that purpose. We intend to notify Source within a few weeks.

I appreciate your contacting us, and encourage you to convey your objections to losing this affordable performance space to the other Commissioners of ANC 2B, as well as Commissioners of ANC 1B, which may likely agendize Bedrocks' request to approve a CT license for their next meeting (March 2nd; http://anc1b.org/nextmeet.html).

Respectfully,

John McGaw

Huh?

"I also indicated to the current Source leadership that the District would forgive the mortgage in exchange for a "new" Source Theater Company providing some community benefits. Thus the only fixed monthly expenses to operate the theater would be utilities, insurance and a small facility manager's fee. To date, I have received no response from Source."

Wow. The plot thickens. I don't know how the ANC can get whoever is making decisons at Source to consider the very generous offer that has been made, but based on this letter, it doesn't seem as if the ANC is the problem.

Heather

I really don't want to "rain" on anyone or their ideals, but...

I think it's a little foolish and idealistic to try to "save the source", not that I wouldn't love to see it back in full swing... There are some huge inherent problems with the condition of the theater and the way it was (or was not) being run... The source needs a lot of work, a lot of love, and a hell of a lot of money, and correct me if I'm wrong, but it would take more than a team of "starving" artists (like myself) could muster up...

Also, I fear that the costumed walk will look, um... goofy

Ronnie

I think the idea is to save the building. As to the condition of the building, it looked pretty damned good on Thursday when I was at Boston Marriage. Yes, I know, I am not a building inspector. I am sure one was hired for the sale though and the potential buyers are still buying.

George Spelvin

I think it's important to keep separate two things-- the Source Theatre building, and the Source Theatre Company. Most of the talk I've heard is concerned about the building alone-- the company is regarded as moribund. But we may be getting the exact opposite, as the few vague statements from the board chair seem to imply hope that the company may produce again as an itinerant producing organization, well -funded by the proceeds of this sale. This, of course, could be a smokescreen to cover up a lack of plans that would be characteristic of the recent administration.

I wonder how long the money will last this time, if that happens? And I wonder if any foundation, commission, or individual would ever offer any further support?

matty

Thank you theater boy for picking up on Jeffrey Johnson's open letter to the theater and arts community earlier this week. As you know, the Source Theater building is being sold by the present board of directors of the soon defunct Source Theater Company to a well respected company that operates pool halls in this city, the suburbs and other cities around the country. Actors' Theatre of Washington is not alone in its shock and dismay over the sale of this building that has grown into a thriving theater space on the backs of so many hard working artists. All paid for through taxpayers money, many saints in the funding community and often the last dime those involved with creating Source could spare. In my recent conversations with the founder(s) and pioneers of the 14th street corridor back in the early eighties when Source came to be I learned that it was said to be impossible to get a theater district that attracted patrons in this part of the city. They proved the nay-sayers wrong. There was even a time when the theater faced a similar crisis to the one it now faces with developers only eyeing the property value and not the long term benefit of an arts center in the neighborhood. They were defeated by the efforts of citizens and government banding together to block the sale along with some risk taking attorneys that saw the bigger picture. We need everyone to SEE THE BIGGER PICTURE now!

The problem now is the enemy is from within. The current board of Source theater has rebuffed any efforts by a collaboration of artistic organizations, city officials, and foundations to work with them to find solutions to the problems, financial and otherwise. Often those involved in efforts to turn the situation around were held off with promises of open discussions for the future of the Source space. Announcements and meetings for this month and that came and went without announcements or meetings on the subject ever happening or, for that matter, even being planned. It leaves me to only speculate that the plan was to sell the space all the time. I find it difficult to accept that over the past year a multitude of public officials met with the parties involved in the present sale and no one thought that the loss of this sized venue in the neighborhood it is in was worth some public outcry or at least notification over the loss. Instead it seems that big business wooed them successfully as they all throw up their hands now to say "They have a contract in hand there is nothing I can do." I disagree strongly with that statement.

This deal has yet to be closed. DC citizens, the arts community, 14th street businesses as wells as those on U street and the government together must express their outrage over this sale. Questions must be asked why the deal was done so "under the radar"? "Why have no open discussions about the viability of the Source space and options to keep it a vital part of the 14th st theater/arts corridor been arranged?" A 14th street arts corridor has been part of the city plan for so long and is just finally being realized with the expansion of Studio theatre and the relocation of Gala Hispanic Theater onto 14th in Columbia Heights. The loss of Source will leave a major hole in the corridor as well as a major loss of yet another mid sized affordable venue to the many companies in need of such a space. Questions must be posed to ANC commissioners and councilman Jim Graham to understand "Where were you when you got wind of such a sale taking place?" "Why did you remain silent when it is clear that many of your constituents would not be pleased with live theater being replaced by beer and billiards?", "Do you have another Adams Morgan in mind when you sit in meetings listening to plans of big business to sacrifice an arts center for the sake of shoving a pool hall between two existing establishments that serve the same type of clientele?", "Did you not suggest that there must be another way?"

The planned action tomorrow at the ANC1B meeting at 7pm at the reformer building at 1200 U st. NW is the first of many actions planned by local activists to enlighten the DC citizens on the issue and request that commissioners, Ward 1 residents and residents at large petition the government to urge the principals involved to back off the sale of the property and consider options that do not cost the neighborhood a valued theater venue. Organizers have asked actors as well as theater professionals - along with all others interested in supporting the effort - to walk together to the ANC meeting starting at the Source Theater at 630 pm tomorrow. Actors are asked to wear theatrical costumes so that residents and the media get a clear image of what will be lost to the community if this sale is finalized.

Actors' Theater clearly supports this action. We have moved our curtain time back tomorrow night a half hour so that our cast involved in what CANNOT AND SHOULD NOT BE THE LAST SHOW AT SOURCE can walk with the group in support and return in time, allowing that "the show must go on". We (ATW) do plan to make a statement when new business is taken at the meeting and hope others will have much to say on the topic during that part of the meeting. Our efforts to get on the agenda were not successful and I question why that is when so many have voiced concern with what role the commissioners played in supporting or discouraging such a loss to the community they serve.

I must point out that your characterization of this planned event as Jeffrey Johnson's costume clad parade is colorful but inaccurate. Those organizing the event felt Jeffrey had a unique voice as Artistic Director of a company possibly put at risk when kicked to the street again by the Source board. Organizers asked him to send out a letter of invite to join the commitment to a costumed presence at the meeting. He thankfully did just that.

Jeffrey and I both believe GLBT theater should be alive as part of the theater community in Washington and we feel the Source is a great venue that our audience has also embraced as their own. This issue, however, is bigger than ATW or any other of the interested artistic organizations involved in saving the Source. Furthermore, while we feel the business plan to maintain the Source as an arts center that we have put together with the In-Series and others is a sound option to a commercial sale of the property, we recognize that other incredible solutions may be out there. We support the exploration of all options. Together we need to leverage the parties involved to back off the sale and look at these options to secure the future of a thriving arts center. I believe it is at the very least morally criminal that more than a half million dollars in tax payer money spent creating this theater space can be lost by the poor management of one small theater company, but it will be lost if something isn't done to make sense of this tragic situation.

There is no effort to save Source Theatre Co.as an arts organization that I know of and would like to make that distinction clear to all interested in supporting the cause - our interests are in keeping the space a vitals arts center for performance and other artistic disciplines. I
would point out that one of the strengths of the business plan developed by a collaborative between ATW, the In-Series and others is that there would be an administrator, hired by the contributing artistic organizations, beholden to the building and its longevity as an arts center rather than beholden to any particular company in the collaborative (non-profit or otherwise). This would allow different sized artistic groups with varying missions to use the space, one of the last of its size in the neighborhood. The Source Theater space would also continue to offer service to the community no matter what happens to any of those individual companies utilizing it. It has and does serve many in the community as well as the city at large and deserves protection for the venue's future as well as all investments made (past and present) in the property by taxpayers, grant writing foundations and individual donors. I hope, in whatever solution can be found, this type of assurance will be made to those of us in support so we don't find ourselves in the same situation some years from now.

Lastly, I call upon my fellow actors and theater professionals to make a stand tomorrow in what is the first of many actions organizers are planning so that we may carry momentum into what will be a hard fight, but a fight for what we all know is right! SAVE the SOURCE THEATER venue! Join us at the theater (1835 14th St. NW) between 6 and 6:30 pm to make signs, don costumes and then walk to the ANC meeting together to show the elected leadership that we will not allow them to let us down by remaining silent when an arts treasure is being threatened in our city. Do your part to honor the history of thousands of artists that have had an impact on the work at Source Theater, its legacy and that have been impacted through their experience. Help to ensure that thousands more may have the same opportunities to flourish.

Thanks for your support and attention to this.

Sincerely,

Matty Griffiths
Managing Director
Actors' Theatre of Washington

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