This post has been updated.
A tarnished jewel of U Street is getting another chance to shine. Mayor Vincent Gray announced on Thursday plans for I.M.P., the group that owns the 9:30 Club and operates Columbia's Merriweather Post Pavilion, to take over the historic Lincoln Theatre at 1215 U St. NW. Seth Hurwitz's group won approval from a panel of D.C. government agencies and arts groups after presenting their business strategy for the long-ailing theater, where the likes of Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday once performed.
Hurwitz, chairman of I.M.P. and co-owner of the 9:30 Club, will now control much of the U Street corridor's entertainment: In addition to the 9:30 Club and Lincoln Theatre, I.M.P is also partnered with the U Street Music Hall. According to Sarah Massey, publicist for the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, I.M.P. programming will begin in the fall. Massey wasn't able to disclose which other organizations placed bids for the venue.
"There a lot of acts who want to work with us, love the 9:30 Club, want to play downtown, but would understandably like to try something different. And I think our audience will appreciate the variety as well," said Hurwitz, who was reached via email while on a flight. "My thing is to fit the right venue with the right show, and this gives us one more tool in our box to do that...a tool we didn't have. I like to push boundaries...we will do that here, to everyone's delight I hope."
Hurwitz said that the venue would accommodate seated shows and comedy acts that had previously been booked at the 9:30 Club. He plans to staff the theater with employees from his other venues. The Lincoln's grand interior may also put it in competition for pop, folk and indie-rock shows that would otherwise go to a venue such as the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue. It will also compete geographically with the newly reopened Howard Theater, which books hip-hop, gospel, jazz and other genres.
“The new vision for the theater represents the growing diversity of our city,” said Lionell Thomas, executive director of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, in a press release.
Opened in 1922, the 1,200-seat Lincoln Theatre was the cultural center of "Black Broadway," and a venue where musicians shut out of the city's segregated concert halls would perform. Its decline began with the 1968 riots, and it spent many years boarded up for repairs. Ever since the theater's reopening in 1994, it has struggled to find consistent programming and income. Though it has served as the host for one-off comedy shows, the occasional concert, festivals like Filmfest DC and even the temporary home for displaced theaters like the Arena Stage, it is closed more often than it is open, and has been kept afloat by emergency funds from the city. It has most recently been under the guardianship of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.