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Stadium deal prompts D.C. Center to reconsider move

Mayor promises ‘suitable’ relocation after Reeves building closes

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Reeves building, D.C. Center, gay news, Washington Blade
Reeves Building, D.C. Center, gay news, Washington Blade

Reeves Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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the city and D.C. United, the major league soccer team that has long sought to move out of the city’s aging and outdated RFK Stadium.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

Ziegfeld's, Secrets, gay news, nightlife, Washington Blade

Ziegfeld’s/Secrets (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. peter rosenstein

    July 29, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    The DC United Soccer stadium deal looks as if it will be a great deal for the city and it appears that the deal involving the Reeves building won’t impact it for a couple of years. I fully believe the Mayor when he says he will work with the Center to make sure it has a home but not moving into the Reeves building at this time may be the wrong thing to do if its sale is not imminent.

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Photos

PHOTOS: High Heel Race

Spectators cheered along drag queen contestants for the 24th annual event

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@dragqueenathena and Dan won the 24th annual High Heel Race. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The 34th annual High Heel Race was held along 17th Street on Oct. 26. The winners this year were @dragqueenathena and “Dan.” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee and members of the D.C. Council joined drag queen contestants and hundreds of spectators for the event.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Movies

New music documentary is ‘Velvet’ perfection

A piece of pure cinema that exemplifies its genre while transcending it

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The Velvet Underground (Photo courtesy of Apple TV)

When it comes to great music documentaries – the ones that stick with you after you watch and make you want to come back to them again and again – there is one ingredient that stands out as a common thread: immediacy.

From D.A. Pennebaker’s fly-on-the-wall chronicle of young Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of the UK in “Don’t Look Back,” to Martin Scorcese’s joyful document of The Band’s final concert performance in “The Last Waltz,” to Jonathan Demme’s thrilling cinematic rendering of the Talking Heads in performance at the peak of their creative genius in “Stop Making Sense,” all of these now-revered films have endured – indeed, even grown – in popularity over the years because they captured the talent, the personality, and the power of their subjects on celluloid and preserved it for the ages, allowing generations of audiences, fans and soon-to-be-fans alike, to feel as if they were there.

But none, perhaps, have ever done it quite so viscerally as Todd Haynes’ “The Velvet Underground.” This is a remarkable feat when you consider that the films listed above, as well as most of the other highly regarded “rockumentaries” of the past, were all concert films, showing the performers at their center in the full bloom of their musical gifts, and Haynes’ film is not that. It’s something else, something singular, a piece of pure cinema that exemplifies its genre while transcending it entirely.

The basic outline of the band’s story is well known, now. Coalesced in the early ‘60s New York art scene around a pair of charismatic geniuses (John Cale and Lou Reed), the Velvet Underground was swept into the orbit and under the wing of Andy Warhol, who turned them into the house band at his famous “Factory,” added to their mix an exotic European chanteuse named Nico, and launched their record career by producing their first album – and designing an instantly iconic cover for it featuring a banana, to boot. They were, for a while, the darlings of the New York underground set, birthing a handful of additional albums across the latter years of the decade; but their sound, which was experimental, rough, and a far cry from the flower-power sound being embraced within the status quo of Middle American music fans, did not catch on. That, combined with the volatility of the relationships at its core, ensured an ignoble and unsung dissolution for the band; though its two front men went on to forge expansive solo careers on their own, the Velvets themselves remained a kind of blip, an ephemeral presence in the history of rock – and the history of New York – remembered by anyone who wasn’t actually on the scene as nothing more than a buzzy band they never actually heard with a catchy name and a familiar album cover.

As one of the voice-over interviewees in Haynes’ movie points out, however, the counterculture wasn’t actually the counterculture – it was the culture. The rest of the world just didn’t know it yet. Decades later the Velvet Underground is credited with, among other things, providing early inspiration for what would become the punk rock movement, to say nothing of influencing the aesthetic palate of (surely without exaggeration) thousands of musicians who would go on to make great music themselves – often sounding nothing like the Velvets, but somehow cut from the same raw, edgy, white-hot honest cloth, nonetheless. Yet in their moment, they were doomed before they had even begun to become a sideshow attraction, hurling performative realness in the face of a curious-but-disinterested glitterati crowd that was already embodying the superficial fakeness that would be so aptly monikered, both as an ethos and a watchword, as “Plastics” by Buck Henry and Mike Nichols in “The Graduate” barely a year after their first album was pressed.

Frankly, it’s the kind of story that makes for a perfect rock ‘n roll legend, and the kind of legend that deserves to be explored in a film that befits its almost mythic, archetypal underpinnings. There’s nobody more qualified to deliver that film than Todd Haynes.

Haynes, of course, is a pioneer of the ‘90s “New Queer Cinema,” whose body of work has maintained a consistent yet multi-faceted focus on key themes that include outsider-ism, dysfunctional socialization, and the fluid nature of sexuality and gender. Each and any of these interests would be enough to make him a perfect fit as the person to tell the story of the Velvet Underground, but what gives him the ability to make it a masterpiece is his ongoing fascination with music and nostalgia. Beginning with his controversial debut short “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story,” the musical landscape of his formative years has been inseparable from his milieu, and films such as his glam-rock fantasia “Velvet Goldmine” or his post-modernist Dylan biopic “I’m Not There” have dotted his career like cornerstones. Likewise, his painstaking recreation of the past in period pieces like “Far From Heaven,” “Carol,” or “Wonderstruck” has proven his ability not just to capture the look and feel of a bygone era, but to transport audiences right back into it.

In “The Velvet Underground,” it’s more like he transports the era to the audience. His comprehensive chronicle is not just the story of the band or its members, but the story of the time and place that allowed them to exist, in which a generation waking up from the toxic artificiality of their parents’ “American Dream” took creative control of the future through an unprecedented explosion of art and culture. Art was a by-any-means-necessary endeavor that now demanded a fluency across various forms of media, and a blending together of any and every thing that worked to get the message across. And yes, sometimes the media itself was the message, but even within that depressingly superficial reality was room for an infinite layering of style and substance that could take your breath away.

That description of the era in which the Velvet Underground thrived, in which Andy Warhol turned the shallow into the profound (whether he knew it or not), in which music and film and photography and poetry and painting and every other form of expression blended together in a heady and world-changing whirlwind, is also the perfect description of Haynes’ film. Yes, there are famous veterans of the age sharing their memories and their insights, yes there is copious archival footage (including the godsend of Warhol’s filmed portraits of the legendary faces in his orbit), yes we get to hear about Lou Reed’s struggle with his sexual identity – and it’s refreshing that Haynes makes no effort to categorize or finalize that aspect of the rock legend’s persona, but merely lets it be a fact. But even though “The Velvet Underground” checks off all the boxes to be a documentary, it’s something much more. Thanks to Haynes’ seamless blend of visuals, words, history, and – always and above all – music, it’s a total sensory experience, which deserves to be seen in a theater whether you subscribe to Apple TV or not. It puts you right in the middle of a world that still casts a huge shadow on our culture today.

And it’s unforgettable.

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Photos

PHOTOS: Best Of LGBTQ DC party

Blade’s 20th annual awards celebrated at Hook Hall

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Cake performs at the Best of LGBTQ D.C. Awards Party on Oct. 21. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Blade presented the 20th annual Best of LGBTQ D.C. Awards at a party at Hook Hall on Thursday, Oct. 21. To view this year’s winners, click here.

Event sponsored by Absolut, DC Brau and Washington Regional Transplant Community.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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