Mayor Marion Barry announced yesterday that he has requested $1.7 million in the fiscal 1987 budget to start a new program for construction and renovation of arts facilities in downtown Washington.
Barry's announcement was made at a press conference at which a new study, "Downtown Stages: New Theatres for Washington, D.C.," was released.
The report -- compiled by the League of Washington Theatres, David M. Schwarz Architectural Services and the District of Columbia Office of Planning -- identifies 14 possible sites for small and midsized theaters and suggests tax credits and zoning incentives that the D.C. government can offer developers to promote their construction.
"I am committed to making the District of Columbia the cultural capital of the nation -- second to none," Barry told the gathering of representatives from the arts community and city developers. "We need to create a living downtown, not just a 9-to-5 situation, and the arts -- the fine arts and the performing arts -- is an essential critical element of a living downtown.
"I support the thrust of this report," Barry said, calling the 18-month study "a great example of public-private partnership. The majority of the members of the council and myself are united in this effort to create theater downtown, to make monies available to help out and to give the weight of the D.C. government in this effort."
Barry also announced he will establish a blue-ribbon committee for the promotion of the arts and economic development. It will be headed by Kwasi Holman, executive director of the Office of Business and Economic Development.
Holman said he will start soliciting names immediately for the committee, which he described as "a broad-based group that would represent artists, developers, community organizations and people interested in the arts who are willing to roll up their sleeves and make it work." He said the committee will be named within two months.
To insure that the committee will have additional information on which to base its recommendations, Barry said $50,000 in District funds and an $18,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration will be made available for studies of strategies used by other cities to promote the development of arts facilities "to make sure that we don't reinvent the wheel again."
Barry urged developers "to give firm consideration to theater space opportunities in developments (downtown) -- especially in the area east of the FBI Building."
Robert Gladstone, who represented Downtown Partnership at the press conference and who is head of the Quadrangle Development Corp., said, "As a representative of the private sector, I'm confident of our response."
Barry said the $1.7 million in capital development money is "not enough, but a good beginning . . . and I am committed to adding even more than that once we get started.
"We're putting our money where our mouths are," Barry added. "We're not just talking about theater, we're prepared to give up tax dollars and other kinds of things to make sure that this comes about."
Reaction from theater representatives at the press conference was generally positive.
"The fact that (Barry) is appointing a blue-ribbon committee is very significant," said Leslie Jacobson, president of the League of Washington Theatres and artistic director of Horizons Theatre. "Just having this kind of attention focused is very encouraging."
"I'm very pleased with the enthusiasm that (Barry) has for downtown theater ," said Howard Shalwitz, (artistic director of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre) and one of the authors of the study. "The key now is putting the leadership together," Shalwitz added. "Things have to move within the next two months."
Joy Zinoman, artistic and managing director of the Studio Theatre, whose lease on its current home expires in 2 1/2 years, called yesterday's developments "the most important, most exciting stuff that there could possibly be for my institution. The only question is whether I can trust it or not."
Barry also said he is looking at ways "of enhancing theater east of the Anacostia River. That part of our city must not be left out of the rich culture and art history of our city," he said.