- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Residents and community leaders in Dupont Circle said yesterday that they oppose opening adult-themed clubs in city-controlled property underneath the landmark traffic circle.

“It is an appalling idea to assume that you could have adult nightlife underneath a national park,” said Gil Hill, a resident and member of Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets and the Dupont Circle Conservancy. “We’ll do everything we can to prevent it. I think the community is absolutely opposed to it.”

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, said last week that he is considering a suggestion to allow clubs formerly located on the site of the new baseball stadium to move to the property, an abandoned trolley-car complex now known as Dupont Down Under.

Mr. Graham initially proposed legislation that would have allowed some of the clubs to transfer their liquor licenses and move to properties in the Northeast neighborhoods of Ward 5.

The City Council later passed a series of limitations on where the clubs can relocate to keep them from clustering together. Mr. Graham said Dupont Down Under could present an option for at least two of the clubs still looking to reopen.

He also said that the suggestion was only “the germ of an idea” and that he and council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, would not move forward without community input. The neighborhood is in Ward 2.

Residents said the plan would be difficult to execute because of the property’s layout and because it would be dangerous.

“I’m not sure this is the best space for any club setting,” said Mike Silverstein, a Dupont Circle advisory neighborhood commissioner. “The idea of having hundreds of people in an underground setting, where liquor is served and [with] very limited access in and out, brings up safety issues.”

Ed Grandis, a lawyer and executive director of the Dupont Circle Merchants and Professionals Association, said the community in the early 1990s opposed placing any sort of liquor license or nightclub in the underground space.

The popular shopping-dining-nightlife district already has such problems, he said. For example, the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board earlier this year suspended the liquor license of the restaurant Cloud after a stabbing on its dance floor.

Aboveground, Dupont Circle is national parkland and patrolled by U.S. Park Police. The Metropolitan Police Department would be responsible for underneath the circle.

MPD spokeswoman Traci Hughes said policing any underground establishment presents “unique security concerns,” but they are not unusual and would require more community collaboration.

The history of business ventures in Dupont Down Under are tainted by failure. In 1995, an underground food court opened, but by the next year, the District had terminated developer Geary Simon’s lease.

Since then, suggestions for the space have included a museum for homosexual issues, a police substation and reinstating the trolleys to service the Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan areas in Northwest.

“It just seems to me there are a whole lot of reasons against [putting the clubs in the space] and a whole lot of reasons to look somewhere that needs an economic shot in the arm and could benefit from this type of activity,” said Curtis Farrar, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in the area.

The question of who has the rights to the space also could be a problem. Bill Rice, a spokesman for the District’s Office of Property Management, said the city has jurisdiction over Dupont Down Under and can decide how to use the space.

But Paul London, a general partner of Kalorama Sports Management Associates — which had once contemplated opening a Washington Sports Club underground — said that his company was a subtenant of Mr. Simon’s and that the property’s lease transferred to Kalorama when the District evicted the developer.

Mr. London said that the District does not consider his lease valid and that he currently has no definitive plans for the site. But he said that if the District moves forward with any plan without his involvement, a legal challenge could ensue.

“If they did something to deprive me of my rights, I would take appropriate measures,” Mr. London said.

Mr. Rice said only that the District is “aware of and examining the issue of [Mr. London’s] role in Dupont Down Under.”

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