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Theater, Bricklayers To Share New Building

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 29, 2004; Page C03

The Shakespeare Theatre has joined forces with the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers to develop a spacious building for its new theater.

The site at 620 F St. NW was selected a year ago by the Shakespeare for its addition of an 800-seat performance space. The partnership, announced by both parties yesterday, gives the union a new headquarters and visibility in a prime, expanding downtown location. And the deal means construction on the site can begin after a groundbreaking next Friday, keeping the project on its timetable for an opening in 2007.

Finding a partner was an economic necessity. "In order for our theater deal to work in downtown Washington where land prices are sky-high, we had to have a partner," said Landon Butler, chairman of the theater's board. The two groups will share 230,000 square feet in an 11-story building that will be owned by both parties. The theater, Butler said yesterday, had raised nearly $50 million of its $77.9 million goal. The union will pay about $61 million for its portion of the building, said Michael Sparrough, a union official.

The development is in the prime area of Penn Quarter and Gallery Place neighborhoods, which have become destinations because of MCI Center, the International Spy Museum, national specialty stores, a new movie complex, popular restaurants and the Shakespeare Theatre at its current location.

Shakespeare will occupy 110,000 square feet on the first five floors, a location that will be marked by a three-story glass bay that projects over the sidewalk and faces MCI Center.

The current theater seats 451. The new theater will be a second home for the company's nationally recognized productions, as well as jazz, dance, chamber music and film programs sponsored by other organizations.

The union will move into the upper six floors, which will have a separate entrance and an interior garden. The size and the timing were right, said Sparrough. "From our perspective we needed 115,000 to 130,000 square feet. And our lease on our current space expires December 31, 2006. Those were the ingredients," he said. The union has had its main offices in Washington since the 1920s.

The agreement spells out that members of the union are required to be part of the building crews, Sparrough said.

The city has also given the project a $20 million grant that will help defray the cost of tickets for students.

The union's portion of the building is expected to be complete in December 2006, and the Shakespeare's in 2007.

Shakespeare has been raising money for the multimillion-dollar expansion, which will be named for its main benefactor, the stereo magnate Sidney Harman. Harman donated $15 million for the construction. Officials at the theater said yesterday they had raised about $8 million last year for the building campaign. Nearing $50 million and finding a partner, said Butler, "is what it took to get the building started. This is 'just-in-time' fundraising."

Both sides say there is a synergy to having the words of Shakespeare and the deeds of the bricklayers, masons and terrazzo workers sharing the space. The union can claim its origins in the medieval guilds. And Shakespeare sent this praise in "Henry VI, Part 2": "He was an honest man, and a good bricklayer."

"Actually it is not something we would have ever dreamt up on our own, but now we are really proud," Sparrough said.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company