The D.C. Center for the LGBT Community announced late Friday that it has put on hold the renovation of the space into which it planned to move in September in the city’s Reeves Center municipal building following news one day earlier that the building will likely be demolished in three years.
Mayor Vincent Gray and at least three of his top aides said the city would help the D.C. Center find a new location if and when the Reeves building closes.
Gray’s comments came during a news conference on Thursday in which Gray announced that the Reeves building at 14th and U streets, N.W. would be given to a private developer in exchange for land to build a new soccer stadium in the Buzzard Point section of Southwest D.C.
“We are going to make sure they are relocated to a suitable place,” Gray said in response to a question from the Blade.
Gray announced that the land swap was part of a proposed $300 million deal involving the city and D.C. United, the major league soccer team that has long sought to move out of the city’s aging and outdated RFK Stadium.
“Since signing our lease in January of this year, the D.C. Center has expended thousands of volunteer hours and thousands of dollars in renovating the space in the Reeves Center with anticipation of a September move-in date,” Center Board President Michael Sessa said in a July 26 statement.
“Unfortunately, continued renovation of the Reeves Center space will stop effective immediately until we have a better understanding of where the mayor proposes to relocate the D.C. Center,” Sessa said.
The soccer stadium deal and land swap must be approved by City Council. And two other private owners of land needed for the new stadium, including PEPCO, have yet to consent to sell their respective properties.
But Gray and five members of Council who support the deal predicted the remaining obstacles would be overcome because the multi-million dollar project would be of great economic benefit to the city.
Matthew Klein, president of the Akridge development company, which would acquire the Reeves building in the land swap, unveiled an architectural drawing at the news conference of a new building that would be constructed at the site of the Reeves building. The new building is expected to include residential and commercial space.
D.C. Center Executive Director David Mariner noted on Thursday following the mayor’s news conference that the Center’s 15-year lease at the Reeves building requires the Center to spend at least $70,000 to renovate the first-floor, storefront space to get it ready for occupancy.
Mariner said the demolition part of the renovation has been completed through the help of volunteers from the community. With the sudden news that the Center’s stay in the building is likely to be two or three years rather than 15 years or more, Mariner said the Center’s board must decide whether it still makes sense to move into the Reeves building.
“I don’t think we are prepared to invest the time, energy and labor on a massive renovation project if you can’t guarantee that we’ll be there for more than two years,” Mariner told Brian Hanlon, director of the D.C. Department of General Services (DGS) in a conversation following the news conference.
“You mentioned time and money and investment and I think there are ways to incorporate all those things into where we’re going,” Hanlon told Mariner.
Hanlon said one possible way to address the expenses noted by Mariner is for the city to offset them in a new rental agreement at another nearby city-owned building or city-operated building.
Tony Robinson, a spokesperson for the Office of the City Administrator, told the Blade that Gray and other city officials were looking into new rental space for the center at a private building in which a number of city agencies are located at 1250 U St., N.W. The building is two blocks from the Reeves building and one block from the D.C. Center’s current space at 1318 U St., N.W.
The Center had to look for a new location after an unrelated development project required that it vacate its current U Street space.
“What I’m saying is the DGS, the mayor, the government is committed to making sure you all find a home in Ward 1,” Hanlon told Mariner. “It’s my understanding that that’s the epicenter of the community that you serve. So we’re committed to working that through.”
Sessa told the Blade earlier in the day on Friday that Center officials will be meeting next week with Gray’s chief of staff Christopher Murphy and possibly others from the mayor’s office to discuss the Center’s options.
“Of course that’s under review,” said Sessa when asked if the Center was considering dropping plans to move into the Reeves building. “Everything is under review. But what action we take has to be based on our discussion with the city, which hasn’t happened yet.”
In the Center’s statement released later in the day on Friday Sessa said, “We have requested a meeting [with city officials] immediately as we are scheduled to vacate our current space within less than 60 days. We look forward to hearing the mayor’s plans and working with the city to ensure a permanent home for the LGBTQ community.”
Fate of gay nightclub unclear
Robinson of the City Administrator’s office told the Blade the soccer stadium proposal calls for building a hotel and other businesses such as restaurants and shops near the site of the new stadium.
The gay nightclub Ziegfeld’s/Secrets is located in that area at 1824 Half St., S.W., which is outside the footprint of the soccer stadium but within the area for the ancillary development.
Robinson said the property owners of buildings and land outside the stadium footprint are free to decline to sell to developers and remain in the area as long as they wish.
“There are no plans to do eminent domain for anything except what’s in the footprint of the site [of the stadium],” he said. “There are no plans to close any other facility.”
However, Ziegfeld’s/Secrets currently rents its space in a building owned by Denver businessman Marty Chernoff, who owned and operated the former gay nightclub Tracks in a warehouse building that has since been demolished to make way for an office building.
Chernoff told the Blade that he has known Ziegfeld’s/Secrets principal owner Allen Carroll for a long time and will give Carroll the first right to buy the building if and when Chernoff decides to sell it. He said at least one real estate broker representing a developer has approached him to buy the building.
“I want to make it completely clear that I am not the one forcing him out,” Chernoff said. “So if he chooses to do something because of whatever economic pressure there is or something like that, that would be his choice.”
Carroll couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance President Rick Rosendall said LGBT community advocates called on the city to help Ziegfeld’s/Secrets find another suitable location when it was displaced in 2006 by construction of the Washington Nationals Baseball Stadium.
The baseball stadium development forced Ziegfeld’s/Secrets, which features drag shows and male nude dancers, and four other gay clubs to move from the unit block of O Street, S.E., where they had been located for close to 30 years.
Rosendall said GLAA would urge the city to assist Ziegfeld’s/Secrets to find a suitable new home if the club is displaced yet again by development triggered by the proposed soccer stadium.