At its Dreamscape Gala on Saturday night, CityDance officially announced that the group will help turn the former Grimke elementary school, at 1923 Vermont Ave. NW, into a new U Street cultural hub, with CityDance, the African American Civil War Museum, Step Afrika! and Imagination Stage as the main tenants.
Alexe Nowakowski, CityDance’s executive director, brought a trio of dancers dressed in matching red bolero jackets and parachute pants to the stage to demonstrate the need for new dance studios. The young women began dancing through CityDance after-school programs at their elementary schools but found it difficult to continue dancing once they advanced to middle school.
“They have big dreams, and their dreams inspired us to dream big,” Nowakowski said.
CityDance, which is based at Strathmore but offers classes in Tenleytown and at six city schools, began looking for an urban space of its own two years ago. When the group learned that the city was seeking proposals for the Grimke building, CityDance invited Step Afrika!, a city-based professional dance troupe, and Imagination Stage, a Bethesda children’s theater, to share the space. The group also courted developers who might be interested in building housing units to create a mixed-use complex.
All proposals for the properties had to incorporate the African American Civil War Museum, an easy alliance for CityDance, which is temporarily holding Saturday classes for 47 middle school students in the museum’s Vermont Avenue space. In December, the project was awarded to CityDance and its development team: Roadside Development and Sorg Architects. Less than a month later, however, new D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) flagged Grimke as one of five 11th-hour development contracts approved by her predecessor, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), that she wanted her staff to review.
A proposal for the former Franklin School, on K Street NW, was pulled back. But as the Washington City Paper reported last month, the Grimke project will go through, with 13 out of 42 housing units being designated “affordable.”
The target opening date for the Grimke school space is 2017, Nowakowski said. The finished project will include 13,000 square feet for the museum, as well as office space, classrooms, dance studios and a black-box theater to be used by CityDance, Step Afrika! and Imagination Stage. No dollar figure for the project is available, a representative of Roadside Development said. CityDance plans to launch a capital campaign this summer and has already received a $500,000 grant from the Barbara Epstein Foundation to support the expansion.
An earlier version of this story gave the wrong number of square feet for the project. This story has been corrected.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.