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.)