The Washington Project for the Arts, in geographical limbo since its Seventh Street headquarters was sold last December, has been given marching orders by the building's new owners. But WPA isn't moving, says Executive Director Jock Reynolds.
"We're going to mount a full-blown citizens' lobby to bring as much support to the fore as we can," Reynolds said yesterday. "We're going to exhaust every possible legal avenue before we move."
Reynolds said the artist-run gallery, which has exhibited artists' works at 404 Seventh St. NW since 1981, has been negotiating for three months to extend its lease beyond June.
But he said the law firm of Fleit, Jacobson, Cohn and Price, which has a contract to buy the building for a reported $2.1 million, broke off discussions last Monday.
"We've offered to increase our current rent more than 600 percent," said Reynolds. "They've flatly refused."
"It wasn't a question of price," said Harvey B. Jacobson Jr., senior partner with the downtown law firm. Talks broke down, he said, because of "some very clear-cut nonmonetary issues relating to the development of the project . . . There were a number of models -- if you want to use that word -- of development that were discussed with WPA, which were reviewed and explored. And there was no one specific" model agreed upon.
Reynolds charged that the law firm is "not interested in keeping the arts in here. They're turning the building into law offices and retail street-level operations in order to maximize their development potential."
Jacobson disputed the charge. The firm has no outstanding plans for the building, he said, because "we had hoped to work out a negotiation with WPA . . . and spent a lot of time trying to do that." The firm, he said, is looking at "other options."
Though the building is located within the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp. (PADC), WPA's imminent eviction "is a matter between the people who bought the building and the people in the building," said James Rich, development director of PADC. "In general our policies support the use of art along Seventh Street. We would hope the parties would work it out."
"We've been offering encouragement to WPA board members indicating our support," said Kwasi Holman, executive director of the District's Office of Business and Development. "We were hoping the law firm would continue to negotiate with WPA. But essentially this is a negotiation between private parties."
The termination of negotiations "flies in the face of the wishes of the city government and PADC," said Reynolds. "What this will do is take off the face of Seventh Street . . .
"Five, six years ago this building had been boarded up and hadn't been used for years and years. WPA and the other smaller tenants completely renovated it. There was a tremendous amount of sweat equity, materials and labor spent."