Dupont Underground May Go Temporary

A group has had exclusive rights to the space for more than a year, but hasn't nailed down financing or tenants

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Everything is ephemeral these days, so why not a cavernous ex-streetcar tunnel beneath Connecticut Avenue?

    The Dupont Underground, in fact, is one of those spaces that could use a boost of attention while it waits for a more permanent use. The Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground has had exclusive rights to the District-owned space for more than a year now, but hasn't nailed down either the financing to make the whole thing an arts institution or the tenants to commercialize it.

    In part, that's because of its decision to maintain control of the whole space.

    "Early on there was within the board an ongoing debate about how to meet the exclusive rights agreement's requirements," writes Braulio Agnese, the Coalition's volunteer managing director. 

    "One camp wanted to have a developer take the lead; although this would probably have made for much smoother sailing, it would also jeopardize what the ACDU hopes to accomplish: we would almost certainly not be able to match the persuasive powers of a developer's wallet and would thus get spent out of existence, likely, as the developer/partner sought more and more space."

    So they've decided to run the thing themselves.

    But the Coalition's agreement with the city is expiring soon, and they're nowhere near negotiating a bona fide lease. Now, they're thinking about negotiating something smaller: A short-term lease to activate the space with performances, exhibits, and other events.

    Even that, however, is controversial. "The ultimate goal is creating a world-class design/arts/cultural institution, but there is some fear that activating part of the space early could brand us as a pop-up, here-today-but-maybe-not-in-a-few-months kind of place, something that might interfere with our efforts to get major institutional support and funding."

    Ah yes, funding.

    The Coalition recently sent out a big fundraising appeal, but is really hoping for an infusion of public cash to get part of the way to the $30 million it needs to retrofit the space.

    "We'd like to convince the city that this is not just a run-of-the-mill project, that its potential long-term benefits to the city are worth their time, energy, and, yes, financial investment," Agnese says.

    In a time when at least five big projects are fighting over the city's dollars, with neighbors crying out for investment in land they can actually see? Hm, long odds. In the mean time, you may see some pop-ups -- if the city will even let them do that.

    Dupont Underground May Go Temporary was originally published by Washington City Paper on May 18, 2012.