Arts aid business climate in D.C.

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Two performance theaters are scheduled to open within months in downtown Washington as real estate developers find once again that the arts are good for business.

The theaters are benefiting from the Arts Overlay District, which the D.C. Council approved in 1991 as a magnet for arts amenities. Developers get breaks on zoning restrictions, and arts groups can get property- and sales-tax abatements.

In the latest example of how the zoning and tax breaks built Washington’s theater district, the Shakespeare Theater plans to celebrate the opening Oct. 1 of its new $89 million playhouse at 610 F St. NW, across from Verizon Center.

The 451 seats at the Shakespeare Theater’s current location at 450 Seventh St. NW were not enough, the company’s board decided. The new building will add 775 seats in a 68,000-square-foot theater covering 5½ floors. Another 5½ floors on top of the theater will be used for office space by a union and its tenants.

The company rents its current theater but will own the new one at Sidney Harman Hall, thanks in part to a $20 million grant from the District.

The D.C. Office of Planning and Economic Development says the tax revenue it forfeits for arts groups is not much of a loss at all.

Each dollar invested in supporting the arts returns to the local economy through spending of more visitors, more business activity and reuse of older buildings, according to a recent study by the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington.

The new Shakespeare Theater is expected to return $375 million to the local economy over 10 years, Mr. Goldsborough said.

The Overlay District concentrates theaters along E Street from Sixth Street to 14th Street in Northwest. Art galleries and entertainment-related stores are clustered along Seventh Street from Pennsylvania Avenue to H Street.

Arts activities that qualify for tax breaks include galleries, theaters, dance halls, arts schools, entertainment-related retail, and television and radio broadcast studios.

Washington Stage Guild officials said developer Boston Properties asked the theater group to relocate into its new building at 505 Ninth St. NW.

For the past five years, the company was located at 1901 14th St. NW.

“The developers were looking for arts groups instead of the arts groups looking for developers,” said John MacDonald, the Stage Guild’s artistic director.

Property Lines runs on Thursdays. Call Tom Ramstack at 202/636-3180 or e-mail tramstack@washingtontimes.com.

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