Developer Has the Past in Mind for Shaw

Developer Chip Ellis holds a drawing of Broadcast Center One, to be built on Seventh between S and T streets.
Developer Chip Ellis holds a drawing of Broadcast Center One, to be built on Seventh between S and T streets. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 22, 2006

Developer Chip Ellis shows off a grassy vacant lot in the District's Shaw neighborhood where passersby will be able to watch broadcasts through the window of Radio One's new studios. He walks by the shuttered Howard Theater, where he'd like to see a restaurant with a stage for live acts, and the vacant Wonder Bread factory, which he thinks would make great studios for artists and music video producers.

"We want to make this a real entertainment hub," Ellis said. Others have long held such a vision of revitalization for a neighborhood that was once a thriving center of black culture and commerce. Now, Ellis and his well-financed backers think they can make it happen.

They plan to build a $100 million, mixed-use project next to the Shaw-Howard University Metro stop along Seventh Street NW between S and T streets. It would include a 100,000-square-foot office building for Radio One Inc., which plans to move its headquarters from Lanham. Just as the plaza at Rockefeller Center in New York lures visitors with a view of NBC's "Today" show, Ellis wants his development built around a plaza with a window on Radio One's shows.

The project, called Broadcast Center One, is also to include 23,000 square feet of shops and restaurants and 182 condominiums that will range in price from $400,000 to the mid-$500,000s, Ellis said. Construction is planned to begin by year-end and be completed in early 2009.

Ellis is chief executive of Ellis Development Group, which is also building lofts at 14th and T streets NW and townhouses in Southeast. His partners on the Broadcast Center project include Four Points LLC, a spinoff of McLean-based developer West Group; District-based developer Jarvis Co.; mortgage giant Fannie Mae; and the quasi-governmental National Capital Revitalization Corp., which owns the land.

Around the corner from the Radio One site on T Street, Ellis hopes to win a bid from the District to bring the Howard Theater back to life. Opened in 1910, it was one of the first full-size theaters for black entertainers. In the 1930s, entertainers such as Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald performed there. But it closed after the riots in 1968 and attempts to reopen it in the late 1970s and 1980s failed.

Ellis wants to put in a restaurant and a stage for live acts, and he is talking with the Washington Jazz Arts Institute about running day-time classes there.

Ellis said he is trying to buy the closed Wonder Bread factory behind the theater on S Street NW from developer Douglas Jemal so he can turn it into studios for artists and film and music video producers.

Ellis pointed to a boarded-up yellow building that was once a pool hall where Ellington is said to have performed in his early years. More recently the spot was Cafe Mawonaj, until an electrical fire last year. One of its owners had complained that Ellis's project was forcing him out. Now Ellis envisions turning the building into a diner, a bookstore or a coffee shop with a restaurant.

"The history of Shaw is a long one of African Americans locating here," Ellis said. "We're trying to revitalize this neighborhood and make it a destination. We really want to bring it back."

He said Radio One, which targets black listeners, and the Howard Theater would help the area maintain its African American connections as it redevelops. "We're bringing over 100 people to the block with Radio One's presence, and I'd say probably 80 percent of them are black," he said. "And there's a lot of culture that's going to be maintained with the Howard Theater."

Ellis said he envisions nurses and doctors from nearby Howard University Hospital, graduate students and young professionals buying the condominiums. "We think there's a lot of base there already in the community to fill that space," Ellis said.

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