Source Theatre's Last Act: Building To Be Arts Center

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 2, 2006

After six months of uncertainty about the Source Theatre Company, the Cultural Development Corporation, a private, nonprofit group, announced yesterday that it is buying the theater's building at 1835 14th St. NW and will make it an arts center.

The moribund, 33-year-old Source Theatre Company will cease to exist, but the building will be called the Source.

Bedrock Management, an entertainment and restaurant group, has agreed to withdraw its $2.8 million bid for the property. Bedrock planned to turn the building into a billiard room and restaurant, an idea that horrified many in the theater community.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, a key broker in the solution, said the arts won. The agreement means theater will continue to be a presence on the block, despite growing pressure from commercial interests in the increasingly fashionable U Street-Logan Circle corridor.

The building could reopen by next summer.

"We want to reactivate Source as a multi-user arts venue, humming seven days a week," said Anne Corbett, the executive director of the Cultural Development Corporation.

Founded in the late 1990s, the group is supported by local foundations, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and private contributors. The corporation runs Flashpoint, an arts incubator project in Gallery Place, and the Mather Studios condominiums at Ninth and G streets NW. It co-produces Art-O-Matic, a massive local art show.

"This decision was easy, really easy, compared to the circuitous route that brought us here," Graham said. Many of those involved in the fight, including Source founder Pat Murphy Sheehy and Source board Chairman Peggy O'Brien, gathered in a City Council room to give their imprimatur to the plan.

"Once we do this transaction, we will no longer exist, except as supporters," O'Brien said.

"The name Source will remain. It has a significant amount of brand equity. It is a great name; why change it?" Corbett said.

"I am feeling good about this," Sheehy said. She recalled that Source was founded in the '70s to help fledging artists and suggested the new format will continue that mission.

Marjorie Heiss, the general counsel for Bedrock, said her company had mixed feelings. "We are a little disappointed about losing the Source, but we are committed to the community's desire to keep a theater." Heiss said her company tried to come up with a configuration that would include cultural spaces and a restaurant, but "it wasn't a viable alternative."

Corbett said the programming might include a revival of the Washington Theatre Festival, which was for more than 20 years a proving ground for new work.

Source, which hasn't produced a full season since 2002, was saddled with enormous debts. It owes the city as much as $700,000 in unpaid rent. Graham said yesterday he is negotiating to forgive that. The prospective owners are working to pay off $600,000 that Source owed to the Internal Revenue Service, utility companies and private companies.

Corbett said the plan took shape in the past three weeks. Several arts supporters contributed $300,000 toward the $1.5 million needed for the purchase and renovation. The Cultural Development Corporation has lined up nearly $500,000 in pledges and secured an $850,000 line of credit for the project.

Repairs will include replacing the roof, redesigning the office and classroom space and refurbishing the 149-seat theater. Rent from the space is expected to provide a $200,000 annual operating budget.

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