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The Enterprise, the new jazz club and theater that’s now occupying the old Professional Pharmacy at 2917 Georgia Ave. NW, held its grand opening Tuesday. The new establishment’s open house ran from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; a mayoral ribbon cutting was scheduled for noon. At 7 p.m.the performances began: The Pin Points Theater company staged The Meeting, with an opening act that featured neo-soul vocalist Ayanna Gregory (Dick’s daughter) fronting a jazz band.
Keeping the music going after that, however, is going to be a little tricky. For now, The Enterprise was only granted a one-day Certificate of Occupancy.
Because changes that were neither licensed nor inspected were made to the building before The Enterprise occupied it, the city’s Department of Regulatory Affairs issued a stop-work order on the property. That means The Enterprise is unable, for now, to acquire a permanent Certificate of Occupancy or a permanent liquor license.
But The Enterprise’s owners don’t just have a grievance with the city, they say. They’ve got a grievance with some District politicians—who were tenants in the building before the club was. “Several city officials have occupied 2917 Georgia Avenue NW and failed to comply with city regulations for proper permits and inspections,” said co-owner and proprietor Charletta Lewis in a statement today. “The owner of the property illegally made significant alterations and repairs [for which] DCRA now holds The Enterprise responsible because they are now the leaseholders.”
Specifically, Lewis is upset with Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, whose campaign organization occupied the building during the 2006 election cycle. She says the campaign renovated the building without acquiring permits or submitting to DCRA-mandated inspections. (Graham says he’s got nothing to do with any problems The Enterprise is encountering.) Although other D.C. Council campaigns have since occupied the premises, including those of Vincent Orange in 2010 and Jacque Patterson last spring, it is The Enterprise that bears the consequences of the unlawful construction, Lewis says.
Helder Gil, a spokseman for DCRA, explains the process: “When new leaseholders apply for a work permit, and the city comes out and sees previous, unpermitted work on that property, they’ll issue a stop-work order, until the owner of the building takes care of all outstanding issues with the building.” Gil stresses that the responsibility is entirely that of the property owner—-who is listed as Michael Ressom—-not the current leaseholder; still, he understands why Lewis might feel scapegoated, since it’s the Enterprise, not Ressom, that is unable to proceed with business. Lewis applied for a construction permit on July 28; it was issued only Monday, with Lewis claiming a loss of $40,000 of her investment in the meantime. Yesterday afternoon during the open house, the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration denied her one-day liquor license because she hadn’t received her temporary certificate of occupancy in time.
Lewis says the property owner bears the brunt of guilt and responsibility in this case. (Ressom did not return calls seeking comment.) Her beef with Graham, she says, is that he was able to occupy the building for as long as he needed without being stopped for the unpermitted and uninspected construction there. “The rules are there for a reason, and somebody disregarding them just makes it easier for the next person to do it,” she says. “But it was easy for him to go and get his certificate of occupancy: He’s a political official.”
Meantime, “I’m just going to keep operating anyway, whether my permit expires or not,” says Lewis. “They were allowed to do it. I’m just playing by the same rules they did.”