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From The Ground Up

Drama Before Curtain Call at Theater

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 4, 2004; Page E01

Walking through the Tivoli Theater six years ago, D.C. developer Joe Horning looked at the rotted floorboards, broken windows and leaky roof and envisioned a renovated landmark at 14th and Park Road NW, bustling with shoppers and residents.

He saw it as a chance to transform Columbia Heights, but some community groups were skeptical of his vision. They filed a lawsuit, demanding expensive changes to his proposal. Developers told him to pull out and cut his losses. He said that after a few years, he began to wonder what he had gotten himself into.

At top, a new Giant Food will connect to the theater. Above, visitors look at a site on Monroe Street, just behind the Tivoli, where duplex condos are planned. (Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

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Amazingly, Horning said, it all came together. He eventually was able to get funds from the District to pay for many of the changes that the preservation and neighborhood groups wanted. He got the groups to compromise on other issues.

In December, Horning, 72, is to unveil the results of the $40 million renovation: almost 200,000 square feet of offices, stores, restaurants and condominiums. There will also be a theater, although far smaller than the original 2,500-seat Italian Renaissance-style Tivoli.

"We're not just dealing with laundry mats or dry cleaners here," Horning said, as he walked through the lobby on a recent afternoon. "The interest [in leasing] has been extraordinary. They're recognizing [development] can be done here."

"We're becoming the catalyst in this area," Horning said. "We are the first one out of the box. People will see it."

The project covers an entire block. Its most prominent feature is the renovated theater, with its honey-colored stucco walls, terra cotta roof and huge arched windows. Attached to the theater, on the Park Road side, is a 60,000-square-foot Giant Food store, which is scheduled to open next summer. (Another Giant store, at 3460 14th St. NW, is to close after the Tivoli Giant opens.) Horning plans to put restaurants and retail stores in the first floor of the theater, on the side facing 14th Street. The offices will be above the restaurants and stores. A 270-seat theater will occupy the center of the building. The duplex condos will be behind the theater on Monroe Street.

Horning said he has not signed a lease on any space but has gotten significant interest. Two nonprofit groups and an insurance company have signed letters of intent -- meaning they are negotiating final details -- for three-fourths of the 32,000 square feet of office space. The space, which runs around the edge of the building, is renting for about $30 a square foot. In comparison, office space on K Street can range from $32 to $50 per square foot.

Retailers have signed letters of intent for about half of the 24,000 square feet of retail space, which will go for $30 to $50 a square foot. The rest of the space has "serious interest" from retailers, said David J. Roodberg, president of Horning Brothers.

Forty condominium units are under construction and are to open in a year. Eight of the condos are to be set aside as subsidized units. The other 32 are to sell for $400,000 to $600,000. There are 1,300 people on a waiting list for the condos, Roodberg said.

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