Passengers aboard Red Line trains headed east out of the New York Avenue Metro station have all seen it out the window: a concrete dome adorned with graffiti and banner advertisements.
It’s the Uline Arena, a building that was erected in 1941 as the Washington Coliseum and in 1964 played host to the first U.S. concert by the Beatles, shortly after the band’s famed performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
As residents nearby know, the Uline hasn’t contributed much to the neighborhood in recent years, other than as a parking lot. But at 1140 Third St. NE, it is located between Capitol Hill and one of the area’s most active development markets, the neighborhood North of Massachusetts Avenue (NoMa).
So, what’s going on with the Uline Arena?
With all the new offices and apartments nearby, movie theaters have expressed interest in the Uline, as we reported in the fall. But next month a more daring idea for the building will be considered: an entertainment center featuring a music museum and performing arts space.
On Feb. 10, as part of its design fellowship, the Washington office of the architecture firm HKS will convene about a dozen design students from mostly local colleges and universities to determine how best to develop the building into a for-profit music museum. HKS designer Chad Porter and project architect Shantee Jamison said they discussed the idea with Paul Milstein of Douglas Development Corp., which owns the building, and heard that company founder Douglas Jemal had a similar vision.
“We started to talk about it and then [Milstein] sort of stopped us in our tracks and told us this was Doug’s dream, to bring a music museum to the city,” Porter said.
Robin-Eve Jasper, president of the NoMa Business Improvement District, is also a big supporter. She would like to see the neighborhood grow its brand as a center of media, what with CNN, National Public Radio, SiriusXM and Roll Call planning or opening offices in the area.
“It’s a wonderful idea,” Jasper said. “It would make so much sense for NoMa and it would make so much sense for the site. So we were thrilled to hear that Douglas Development thought that was something that they wanted studied.”
Now for a reality check. Porter said HKS fellows will have to present economically feasible ideas for the Uline, but that will be tough. Even given Douglas Development’s experience with entertainment venues, such as the International Spy Museum in Penn Quarter, and the possibility of new retail in the Uline, a previous attempt at a music museum in D.C. failed and there isn’t currently anyone even pitching such an idea.
But a study of the Uline and its potential might generate some buzz. The HKS fellows will present their ideas Feb. 13. Here is what fellows from last year came up with for the Franklin School building, which, cynics will note, is still crumbling and vacant.
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