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The Warehouse considers itself a home for Washington’s artists. When Metro Cafe on 14th Street closed its doors in 2002, Warehouse created a space for live music. When Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge in Dupont Circle folded in 2004, the Warehouse opened a screening room. And just yesterday, when artist J.T. Kirkland thought he was going to have to cancel Supple, a show featuring 11 visual artists, due to conflicts with the owners of The Space at 903 N St. NW, the Warehouse offered him two galleries for his show. “This will be more than enough to hang Supple and I am excited about the opportunity,” Kirkland wrote in an e-mail release.
“A lot of it is being connected to the Washington art scene and finding out what the need is,” says co-owner Paul Ruppert. But like so many of the artists it has hosted over the years, the Warehouse itself might soon be hunting for a home.
In an e-mail distributed to “friends and supporters” yesterday, Ruppert and his mother Molly, who co-owns the 7th Street arts complex, wrote:
Bad news in the mail last month – Warehouse property taxes for next year are increasing over 500%.
Needless to say, this is a huge blow to our precarious business model.
What does this mean for the Warehouse? We’re not sure.
– We have begun the appeal process.
– We are committed to maintaining our current operations through the Fringe Festival in July.
– It is possible that we will be able to operate into the fall and beyond.
– We are considering a move of all or part of the Warehouse to another location.
According to Ruppert, the property tax hike has to with “a number of high-priced sales in the neighborhood,” which is wedged between Gallery Place and Shaw. He says “the taxes are just part of all the pressures we face.” For a while now, mother and son have been wondering whether the Mount Vernon Square location, nestled in the shadow of the “shiny” Convention Center, is the best place for the arts complex, which includes two black box theaters, a gallery devoted to presenting emerging artists, a music venue, a screening room, and a cafe. The neighborhood may not be “ideal for the edgy art we specialize in,” Ruppert says, adding that “all options are open.”
One option is to relocate the complex, Ruppert says, either as a whole or in pieces, and rent out the space on 7th Street. For example, it might make more sense for the Warehouse’s music venue to move to 14th or U streets, which already host a vibrant live music scene, he says. Or they might leave the area altogether. “The sale of the building is a real possibility,” Ruppert says.
But leaving the stretch of 7th Street would be a significant shift for the family, who has owned the property since the 1880s. Ruppert Hardware operated there until 1987, Ruppert says, when Metro construction and competition diminished foot traffic in the area and slashed profits. In 1992, the mother-son duo opened Rupperts Restaurant. In 1994, they started hosting art shows. Plays premiered in a small black box theater 11 years ago, and the cafe opened four years ago. And yet, despite all the artsy activity, or perhaps because of it, Ruppert says, the Warehouse loses money every year. For that reason, he says, the tax increase isn’t “a sudden blow. It’s been this gradual challenge since we started the Warehouse,” adding that the taxes might just be a “tipping point to move on to whatever is next.”