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The Issue: What should be done with the spooky, underground tunnels of Dupont Circle? The dismantled streetcar station has been empty since 1962—save for a failed 6-month stint as a food court in 1995—but now the Arts Coalition for Dupont Underground (ACDU) proposes to use the space to exhibit art. Specifically, the coalition plans to renovate the western side of the circle, which can accommodate up to 3,000 people, and work with local groups to fill the high-ceilinged caverns with rotating exhibitions. But the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) is sitting on the space—before releasing a request for proposals on the new lease, the office announced recently it wants to schedule community forums. So far, no forums. With proposals in the past ranging from a bicycle garage to a gay club, should DMPED be waiting for something better to come along?
Embrace Underground Art! Some argue that an art exhibition would fare better than retail, due to the fact that art doesn’t require constant foot traffic. ACDU representative Adam Griffiths told City Desk: “We see this project as a centralizing action for the local arts scene. I haven’t spoken with anyone who is completely against the idea of having an arts space down there.” Even those who think the tunnels should return to its original underground streetcar usage agree: One commenter on the blog Greater Greater Washington says, “Art space is a low-investment, high-return strategy that does not preclude transit use later on.”
Underground Fill-In-The-Blank! The chorus on the tunnels’ usage is far from unified, and DMPED may be waiting for more vocal community support. Some fear converting the space into an art gallery won’t necessarily make it more appealing: Roger, commenting on GGW writes, “The [95 opening] was a dungeon…claustrophobic and dark with little ventilation.” Todd says, “How about an underground parking facility/art gallery? I hate having to look for parking in that area. Park your car and check out some art at the same time.” Additionally, the abandoned tunnels are, unsurprisingly, in bad condition—ACDU has outlined a fundraising process to fund the renovations, but the total will still come to around $600,000.
Next Step: Griffiths says, “We are still waiting on DMPED to schedule the community forums. We would like them to do this soon and announce it publicly.” In the meantime, everything remains sealed off after police reportedly found a dead body there in the late 1990s.
Photo courtesy of Arts Coalition for Dupont Underground