Historic Lincoln Theatre's Future in Jeopardy

Thursday, Sep 29, 2011  |  Updated 9:08 PM EDT
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The historic Lincoln Theatre's future is in jeopardy as D.C. plans to withdraw $500,000 in funding.

Tom Sherwood

The historic Lincoln Theatre's future is in jeopardy as D.C. plans to withdraw $500,000 in funding.

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Board members overseeing Washington's historic Lincoln Theatre on U Street said it's uncertain how much longer the theater can stay open without support from the city.

For too many nights, the historic Lincoln Theatre on U Street NW sits empty, its beautiful interior a ghost of its storied past...

Now owned by the city, it's been a part of the U Street Corridor since it opened in 1922. It featured the nation's best African-American talents for decades before it closed after the 1968 riots. It reopened again in 1994 after a $10 million renovation.

At a last-minute press conference Thursday, members of the Lincoln Theatre board complained the city government has withdrawn funding for the theater -- about $500,000 a year -- and it doesn't have enough paid events to remain open beyond the next few weeks or months.

Board member Rick Lee, whose family has operated nearby Lees Flowers since 1945, said the theater has just $50,000 in cash on hand. But the theater's monthly operating costs are $60,000. The board is appealing to Mayor Vincent Gray to provide funding from the city's surplus tax revenue. The board is also asking donors to help the theater stay open.

Mayor Vincent Gray said he wants the nonprofit board to restructure itself to be more self-supporting, which angers some theater backers.

Longtime business leader Virginia Ali of Ben's Chili Bowl said the midsize 1,200-seat theater is a problem that requires fresh thinking.

“It is a facility that's too big to be small and too small to be big,” she said.

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