- Entertainment & Lifestyle,
- Real Estate & Development
- Restoration of the historic Howard Theatre is set to begin. (Photo: TBD Staff)
D.C.'s packed week of groundbreakings continues apace!
This morning, it was the Howard Theatre's turn, as city officials and developers gathered at 620 T Street NW to kick off phase one of the historic jazz institution's restoration.
Inside the Howard, the sheer amount of work that lays ahead for the Ellis Development Group and its partners was on display. A pile of junk taller than a person sits to one side of the theater's main floor. Dust and debris covers every surface. The remaining edges of the balcony appear to be hanging by sheer force of will alone. The sky is visible through the ceiling.
Outside the Howard, the strong personal connection CEO Chip Ellis has to this project was hard to ignore. Ellis choked back tears as he addressed the crowd.
"This has been a little emotional for me, because it's been a long fight," Ellis said. "We are going to make this happen, it's going to be a real reality."
He's not wrong about the length of time it took to get to today's event. The city first purchased the crumbling Howard in 1975, at the same time it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. And this is by no means the first "groundbreaking" to be held there since then.
But it looks like funding for the first phase of restoration work is now, at last, in place. Eagle Bank this week came through with a $5 million loan that, Ellis said, when combined with about $12 million in grants and tax breaks already pledged by the D.C. government, along with what the restoration group has managed to raise privately, means work will start right away. Still missing is a minimum of another $3.5 million for a planned addition to the rear of the structure. The total cost of the entire project is about $28 million.
Other noteworthy takeaways from today's event:
- Ellis has come to an expected agreement with Blue Note, owners of the Blue Note and B.B. King clubs in New York, to operate the Howard once it opens.
- One of the regular events planned for the restored theater will indeed be an amateur Talent Night, of the sort that were popular there in the 1930s.
- One of the ways Howard Theatre Restoration, Inc. hopes to raise additional funds is to sell sponsored bricks to donors. The details and costs for those brick sales are still forthcoming.
- The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities plans to erect a 20-foot tall stainless steel statue in front of the theater depicting Duke Ellington at his piano.