- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2014

Inside Northeast D.C.’s shuttered Love nightclub, the swanky marble floors are still intact, granite still tops the sprawling bars and mahogany paneling still conveys the ambience of one of the city’s most high-end hot spots.

But the four-level “megaclub” — a former warehouse with a capacity in the thousands — was on the auction block after closing in October. Despite the luxury nightspot’s storied history, the wide range of bidders interested in buying the building expressed one common theme: Its time as a club is over.

The end of Love marks the third megaclub in a year to hit the skids amid a wave of redevelopment in which the District’s once-blighted urban landscape that provided fertile ground for the DJ and dance scene has drastically changed.

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“There is a shifting tide in the D.C. nightlife arena,” said Skip Coburn, president of the D.C. Nightlife Association, noting that the popularity of larger-than-life nightclubs is waning with investors and owners.

“It used to be that an owner could lease a crappy building in a warehouse district at a reasonable rate and put a million into renovations to have a nice bar and nice decor,” Mr. Coburn said. “As development has eliminated all those crappy areas in town the problem is that everybody has doubled or tripled their leases when they’ve come up for renewal.”

The former Love nightclub building, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
The former Love nightclub building, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (Andrew ... more >

Rents in once-cheap warehouse districts are increasing. Condos, apartments and hotels are sprouting up next to long-established megaclubs — creating tension between the club operators and new residents who don’t want booming bass to be the soundtrack to their lives. The heyday of the megaclub seems to be nearing an end.

Encroaching development

Love is situated in a neighborhood on the cusp of transition.

At one end of the Okie Street block the club occupies, a homeless man recently erected a fortress of cardboard and wool blankets. The surrounding pavement stinks of urine. But on the other end of the block stands the art deco Hecht Co. warehouse slated for a renovation into luxury apartments, an organic supermarket and a fitness center.

The company rehabilitating the Hecht warehouse, Douglas Jemal’s Douglas Development Corp., bought Love for $5 million in a bankruptcy auction this month.

Asked about his interest in the nightclub, Mr. Jemal brusquely responded, “I’m developing in the neighborhood. That’s my interest.”

Founded in 2001 by D.C. “nightclub impresario” Marc Barnes as a venue called Dream, the club earned a storied place in the lore of D.C. nightlife. In 2003, Dream was the site of a Destiny’s Child concert that drew a crowd estimated at 15,000. In 2007, as Love, the club hosted Washington Wizards’ star Gilbert Arenas’ star-studded 25th birthday bash featuring rap mogul Sean Combs and performances by Busta Rhymes, Lil Wayne, T.I. and The Game.

But even without celebrities or star power, the club on weekend nights drew crowds in the thousands to an isolated building adjacent to a public school bus lot off New York Avenue.

Dean Smothers, who bought Love for $7.8 million from Mr. Barnes after he filed for bankruptcy in 2010, agrees the sun might have set on the megaclub phenomenon.

“The megaclubs are basically the dinosaurs in this day and age,” he said in between breaks at last week’s bankruptcy court hearing. “We can’t just put a Band-Aid on this open-heart surgery. Better use for that location would be a different use, more community-friendly.”

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