- Associated Press - Saturday, May 24, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - Inside Northeast Washington’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 “mega-club” - 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 mega-club in a year to hit the skids amid a wave of redevelopment in which the District of Columbia’s once-blighted urban landscape that provided fertile ground for the DJ and dance scene has drastically changed.

“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,” 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.”

Rents in once-cheap warehouse districts are increasing. Condos, apartments and hotels are sprouting up next to long-established mega-clubs - 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 mega-club seems to be nearing an end.

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, Jemal brusquely responded, “I’m developing in the neighborhood. That’s my interest.”

Founded in 2001 by District “nightclub impresario” Marc Barnes as a venue called Dream, the club earned a storied place in the lore of District 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 Barnes after he filed for bankruptcy in 2010, agrees the sun might have set on the mega-club phenomenon.

“The mega-clubs are basically the dinosaurs in this day and age,” he said in between breaks at the 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.”

Smothers said his trouble with the club spiraled out of control in October, when the District of Columbia Office of Tax and Revenue shut down the club on the same night Howard University homecoming festivities were planned. The city says the club owed almost $300,000 in back taxes. Smothers estimates he could have made $500,000 that weekend had he been allowed to stay open. Unable to reopen the club, he filed for bankruptcy in December.

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