City's Grant of $200,000 a 'Good Band-Aid,' Official Says

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 12, 2007

The District government gave the Lincoln Theatre $200,000 yesterday, enough to keep its doors open temporarily but less than half of what a theater official said is needed to maintain operations all year.

Rick Lee, president of the U Street Theatre Foundation, called the grant a "good band-aid" that would help keep the theater afloat for another three months. "But if we're going to get through the year, we will need the full $500,000," he added.

This week, Lincoln officials said the U Street stage was almost broke and would close within weeks without a substantial cash infusion.

After spending the past few days assessing the theater's finances, Neil O. Albert, deputy mayor for economic development, said that the city would provide the funding and that he plans to meet with Lincoln officials next week to develop a long-term financial strategy for the theater.

"There's a dire situation there. A real need, and we're addressing that need," Albert said. "The Lincoln is a historic landmark, and the mayor is committed to finding a solution."

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), whose district includes the theater, praised the grant but said more funds are needed to help stop the Lincoln's financial hemorrhaging.

"This is very good news, but we have to do better," Graham said.

The Lincoln, which is owned by the District, has struggled to remain profitable and has barely broken even over the years. Lincoln officials had counted on $500,000 from the District government, which Graham and Lee said the previous administration agreed to last spring. Albert and Graham said there was no written record of the agreement.

Graham said he plans to introduce a line item in the city's budget for an annual $500,000 contribution to the theater. "This government has given millions of dollars to theaters we don't own such as the Corcoran, Arena Stage and The Studio. We own the Lincoln. It's a very important city asset."

Opened in 1922, the Lincoln is one of the oldest buildings along the recently gentrified U Street corridor. The theater has been a showcase for African American performers, and during the 1940s it helped U Street garner the name "Black Broadway," when such celebrated performers as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Cab Calloway played the 1,200-seat-stage.

Since then, the Lincoln has been a leading performance space for black performers and shows as well as host to various jazz concerts, dance performances and an annual gay and lesbian film festival.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company