- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

HOUSTON (AP) - In the 1940s and ‘50s, the De Luxe Theater stood at the heart of the Fifth Ward, a thriving African-American community that produced Barbara Jordan, the congresswoman, and George Foreman, the boxer.

The Rev. Harvey Clemons can see past what is now the De Luxe’s gutted façade to the movie theater where he had his first kiss. Little wonder he still associates the De Luxe with excitement, and possibility.

Clemons, founder of the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corp., stood proudly among officials this week to announce the theater’s $5.5 million renovation as home to Texas Southern University’s drama department and linchpin in a broader redevelopment of what has become a crime-ridden neighborhood three miles northeast of downtown.

“It’s not a matter of persevering. It’s a matter of living,” Clemons said.

The theater’s reopening will help rejuvenate the Fifth Ward, said Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Davis, who represents the area on the City Council. Other upcoming projects include a branch library, 100 single-family homes funded through federal Hurricane Ike relief and 60 units of affordable housing.

“We’re getting Fifth Ward ready for the next century,” Davis told the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1jNVUa7 ).

The De Luxe will contain a traditional proscenium theater with 125 seats. The marquee and Moderne-style façade will be restored. A former furniture store next door will be transformed into classrooms and 3,500 square feet of retail space.

The redevelopment group hopes to attract a coffee shop and other businesses that would serve students and theater users, chief executive Kathy Payton said.

TSU’s drama department will use the De Luxe to teach students how to operate a theater, said Danille Taylor, dean of the school’s college of liberal arts and behavioral sciences. The university will not only present plays, but also concerts, films and workshops.

The university will send students into the Fifth Ward as volunteers, said Sunny Ohia, the school’s provost. The theater at 3300 Lyons is a five-mile drive, on U.S. 59, from TSU’s campus.

“As a university, we have to be engaged in the community around us,” Ohia said. “We will not let you down.”

Federal money from community redevelopment block grants will provide $5.25 million toward the project, said Neal Rackleff, the city’s director of housing and community development. The remaining $250,000 will come from the city’s Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone 18, part of a program that earmarks tax revenue for neighborhood improvements.

The redevelopment group acquired the building in 1998 and sold it to the city in 2009. Attempts to find a tenant failed until the university agreed to move in. TSU and the redevelopment groups’ leases will total $610,725 and $179,000, respectively, for five years’ rent. Both tenants will be able to offset their costs by offering the facility to community groups.

Without the partnerships from the school and redevelopment group, the renovation wouldn’t be happening, Houston Mayor Annise Parker said.

“This is about preserving Houston’s history. But for us to invest in our money, we have to be confident it will be a catalyst for other things,” she said.

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