By Michelle Lancaster. You can follow her and let her know your news on Twitter @MichLancaster. Email her at michellel[AT]borderstan.com.
Take a walk along the 1200 block of U Street on any given evening and what you will note is not what you see, but what you don’t see — crowds of people coming and going from one of the neighborhood’s jewels, the Lincoln Theatre. The reason is simple: bookings for the historic venue are few and far between. So the rumors this week that that the Lincoln might be for sale to a private, for-profit company were not exactly shocking.
The background? A big chunk of taxpayer dollars. A mismanaged property in search of a more profitable future. Unclear signals about the city’s plans and how to make the investment a wise one. If you have been in DC for more than a year, you know this could describe a number of properties or situations. But we’re talking about the tangled story of whether or not the Lincoln Theatre has ever been for sale and even if not, should that option be on the table.
The Lincoln, at 1215 U Street NW, has already taken in $9 million in city dollars for renovations and exists largely on subsidies. The city says the original solicitation was for heating and ventilation work; Blues Alley owner Harry Schnipper says he was able to submit a bid to purchase the whole place. (The city officially took complete control of the Lincoln late last year from the non-profit body that ran it.)
Washington City Paper called around to all city offices and was told that it was not, never has been and likely will not be for sale. Given the historic nature of the property, perhaps that makes some sense. God forbid, for example, we lose another landmark to The Donald.
But now that the Theatre is looking for a new executive director and Mayor Gray has declared the funding system unsustainable, what else can the city do? If you have an owner with deep community ties and a respect for the history, does it ever make sense to sell?