All it takes is imagination, collaboration and determination.
Washington’s iconic Howard Theatre reopened earlier this month after much anticipation — thanks to extraordinary efforts by the District government, arts activists, neighborhood leaders and local businesses to restore what once was the city’s premier stage for black entertainers. The reopening of the Howard Theatre — previously home to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye and the Supremes — will not only revive our community’s disappearing past, but appeal to D.C.’s diversity, where music of many genres and performers of all backgrounds can thrive.
Howard Theatre is an emblem of what is possible.
At a time when apathy dominates much of the civic scene, when activism is associated with acting out, not acting together, the relaunch of the Howard Theatre is a magnificent reflection of America’s “can do” spirit.
In a city rich with cultural institutions, many of them needing the same restoration as was conferred on the Howard, businesses, preservationists, civic leaders and ordinary citizens should pledge to come together time and again to memorialize the unique architectural and artistic legacy we have inherited.
For so long, the building was a decaying superstructure; a shell with dusty memories of Washington’s faded musical and artistic glory. But like the Apollo, the Uptown, Cedar Lee and many other storied halls, Howard Theatre has been restored to the people of Washington.
Less than a year ago, Howard Theatre Restoration Inc., along with Ellis Development Group, a District-based real estate developer focused on emerging neighborhoods, made a broad appeal for funding to get the rebuilding started. EagleBank provided two loans that were critical to Howard Theatre’s rebirth.
Howard Theatre’s reopening is also a tribute to a number of city entities that shared the vision. Multiple federal and state programs contributed funding sources. D.C.’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development awarded an $8 million grant and another $4 million in D.C. Tax Increment Financing funds. This marked the first time that a TIF bond was used in conjunction with federal New Markets Tax Credits and federal and state Historic Tax Credits. A Community Development Enterprise backed by Urban Atlantic’s CDE, Mid-City Community CDE, orchestrated the New Markets Tax Credits investments.
Additional grants came from the Philip Graham Fund, Howard University, the National Park Service’s Save Our American Treasures Program and numerous contributions from generous donors across the region.
The financing structure that evolved was as much art as what will be performed on the stage. The project organizational chart is as impressive as any sheet of music.
It is heartwarming to see that the multifaceted cooperation that led to this new dawn in the Washington performing arts scene is also being recognized and appreciated. I congratulate all the organizations and people who were instrumental in the orchestration of this revival.
For all those who were involved in this unique effort, the Howard Theatre’s reopening is not so much a miracle but a message of continuity and cooperation in this challenging millennial age.
Ronald D. Paul is chairman and chief executive of Bethesda-based EagleBank.