House Of Blues Seeks a D.C. Home

Kevin Federline performs at House of Blues in Los Angeles, above. The chain of concert venues was bought earlier this year by Live Nation, a Clear Channel spinoff.
Kevin Federline performs at House of Blues in Los Angeles, above. The chain of concert venues was bought earlier this year by Live Nation, a Clear Channel spinoff. (By Danny Moloshok -- Associated Press)
By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 30, 2006

The owners of the House of Blues, a popular chain of concert venues, are negotiating with the District to build a $120 million complex near the new Washington Convention Center that would include a live-entertainment hall, a hotel, retail stores and restaurants.

The project would be an anchor in the city's revitalization efforts for an area just east of Mount Vernon Square. But the proposal has also sparked a debate among concert promoters about whether the Washington region could support the national chain without squeezing out homegrown clubs.

The House of Blues, with 10 concert halls nationwide and four more in the works, is part of a sprawling live-music empire assembled by radio giant Clear Channel Communications, which is now the world's largest producer of live concerts and the second-largest venue management company.

The Los Angeles firm signed a nonbinding agreement five months ago to develop the complex at Fifth and I streets NW, according to Kevin Warner, vice president of investments and acquisitions at the National Capital Revitalization Corp.

"We see this as an opportunity to create a destination location," said Warner, who has led negotiations on the project for the quasi-governmental group, whose board includes members appointed by the mayor and the president. "This would not only be a tourist destination but also a business destination, as you think about its proximity to the convention center, Capitol Hill and the Verizon Center."

Warner said the agreement between the House of Blues and the NCRC, which owns the property and would be the lead developer on the project, is similar to a letter of intent. He said he expects a formal contract to be signed within months.

Some local music clubs have likened the arrival of the House of Blues to an invasion by a big-box national chain store that would crush local businesses.

"We will lose half of our business, at least," said Seth Hurwitz, owner of the 9:30 club and IMP Productions, a concert promoter. "It's like a chain of hot dog restaurants opening next to Ben's Chili Bowl," a landmark Washington eating establishment.

He and other concert promoters say House of Blues, which typically operates venues with capacities between 1,000 and 2,300 people, could lure performers with more money, edging out independently run venues that can't offer similar pay. The chain has even deeper pockets since being acquired this year by Live Nation, they say.

"There are a finite number of artists that you can draw for this size of venue," said Michael Jaworek, promoter for the Birchmere, a club in Alexandria. "If another venue comes along the same size, there will be head-on-head competition. It's a case of Darwinism at that point."

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) has expressed concern to the NCRC that the project would hurt local businesses like the 1,000-capacity 9:30 club, which is in his ward.

"The 9:30 club is a very successful, locally grown business, and now we are actively soliciting competition for them in a way that would be very detrimental," Graham said. "I think we need to practice better judgment, and I don't think this is the purpose of the NCRC."

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