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The city selected a new operator for the troubled Lincoln Theatre back in April, and now, finally, we know who it is. I.M.P. Productions, the company that owns the 9:30 Club and books Merriweather Post Pavilion, will take over booking at the U Street NW venue beginning in September, the mayor’s office announced this afternoon.
The Lincoln, a historic music venue and former movie house, is owned by the city, which took direct control of the theater’s operations in 2012 following years of shaky finances and inconsistent booking by a nonprofit. While it’s been run by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, not much has gone on at the Lincoln, but the agency has been pursuing a for-profit operator for the venue since December.
I.M.P. has booked shows at the 1,225-seat theater before, including sold-out stands by Jeff Tweedy in 2010 and Jeff Mangum in 2012. I.M.P. chair Seth Hurwitz wasn’t available to talk this afternoon—-he’s on an airplane, he says in an email—-but says this in the press release:
Who doesn’t love places like this? You walk into it and gasp every time. To be able to make this more a part of people’s lives here again is an opportunity that is truly a privilege. There are so many kinds of shows that we are not able to do at 9:30 Club that we will now have a place for, including many that we had to take out of the city. Although we have been doing this for 33 years, we have added very few venues in our family roster. But this one we couldn’t pass up. The Lincoln is just too cool not to do.
With its selection of I.M.P., the city is following the model that appears to be working down the street from the Lincoln at the Howard Theatre: Take a beautiful theater (the Lincoln was restored in 1994, the Howard in 2012); find a successful, savvy operator (Blue Note in the case of the Howard), and get out of the way.
Still, while I.M.P. books an eclectic array of mostly touring acts, it faces the challenge of operating the Lincoln profitably while preserving the venue’s legacy as a jewel of Black Broadway—-a dual task that the arts commission said it would seek in an operator when it solicited proposals last year. Completed in 1922, the Lincoln hosted musicians like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald in its basement ballroom, and went through several incarnations as a music venue and movie theater before being renovated in the 1990s.
Here’s the full press release:
MAYOR VINCENT C. GRAY ANNOUNCES THE WINNING BID FOR THE HISTORIC LINCOLN THEATRE
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Mayor Vincent C. Gray is pleased to join with the Deputy Mayor For Planning and Economic Development (DMPED), DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH) and the Department of General Services (DGS) in announcing the selection of I.M.P., owners of the 9:30 Club, as the winning bid to become the new operator for the Historic Lincoln Theatre, beginning September 2013. The selection of the new operator highlights Mayor Gray’s commitment to a long-term sustainable business plan for the theatre, as well as the city’s efforts to revitalize one of the District of Columbia’s most important and historic cultural landmarks.
I.M.P. demonstrates a proven track record of successfully operating and managing cultural facilities throughout the Washington Metropolitan Area and represents a strong brand of excellence. I.M.P. possesses the experienced leadership necessary to build and sustain a consistent artistic identity for the Lincoln Theatre. Currently, I.M.P. operates the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland and produces concerts in various venues of all sizes throughout the region.
“I applaud the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the Department of General Services for moving this process forward,” said Mayor Gray. “I’m delighted that we can now move forward with I.M.P. and begin revitalizing this immense cultural asset.”
The process of selecting an operator began in January 2012 when Mayor Vincent C. Gray granted oversight of the Lincoln Theatre to the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH). The DCCAH’s primary role was to continue operating the theatre while developing a sustainable long-term business strategy for the theater. The District evaluated the Letters of Intent based upon the economic terms, vision and business model. A shortlist of Offerors was selected to submit detailed backup information as a second round of evaluations. From there, a selection panel of representatives from District government agencies, the local arts community, and Ward One convened to evaluate the short-listed candidates.
“This selection raises the bar for arts and entertainment in Washington,” said Judith Terra, Chair of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. “As we move toward becoming the cultural capital of the United States, our cultural assets that draw residents and visitors to our neighborhoods continue to define the greatness of our city.”
“The Historic Lincoln Theatre has been a cultural landmark in Washington for more than 90 years, and will continue to provide high quality artistic excellence for our residents and visitors,” said Lionell Thomas, Executive Director of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. “The new vision for the theater represents the growing diversity of our city.”
“The Department of General Services is very pleased with the outcome of this process that will bring this historic jewel back to life,” said Brian J. Hanlon, DGS Director. “This was a collaborative effort that resulted in selecting a very strong, long-term operator for the Lincoln Theatre.”
“It’s an honor and a thrill to be entrusted with bringing new life to such a wonderful old theatre,” said Seth Hurwitz, chairman of I.M.P. “Who doesn’t love places like this? You walk into it and gasp every time. To be able to make this more a part of people’s lives here again is an opportunity that is truly a privilege. There are so many kinds of shows that we are not able to do at 9:30 Club that we will now have a place for, including many that we had to take out of the city. Although we have been doing this for 33 years, we have added very few venues in our family roster. But this one we couldn’t pass up. The Lincoln is just too cool not to do.”
Photo by Flickr user Steve Snodgrass used under a creative commons license