Washington Business Journal by Karen Goff
A D.C. developer has a vision for Deanwood’s historic Strand Theater, one that includes housing, after more than a decade of plans that went nowhere.
The Warrenton Group has filed plans with D.C. Zoning to turn the long-vacant theater — built in 1918 as the District’s first movie theater for African-American patrons — into retail and community space while adding a six-story apartment building on the adjacent vacant lot at Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue NE and and Division Avenue NE.
The Strand is owned by the District government, which purchased it for $230,000 in 2006 after foreclosure. There were plans a decade ago to restore the theater as an entertainment venue, but that stalled during the Great Recession.
In 2012, there was a letter of intent with Family Dollar Store (also never happened). And in 2014, then-Mayor Vincent Gray made the Strand, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, part of the New Communities Initiative to replace public housing with mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhoods. The Strand is part of the Lincoln Heights/Richardson Dwellings plan.
But the place is still empty. Warren Williams, CEO of The Warrenton Group, said he has had his eyes on the property for more than a decade, but it is the commitment of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration that has convinced him the timing is right.
“Mayor Bowser has visited the site and told them, ‘I am not just going to bring a Dollar Store to Ward 7,’ ” Williams told me. “My main thing is we have got to get some critical mass in order to get this done.”
Williams said the Strand’s future needs to be retail and housing. He added he would love to get a destination tenant such as Busboys and Poets involved.
“The Howard Theatre isn’t making it,” he said of the T Street NW venue that is reportedly struggling. “And the Takoma Theater is about to go up for redevelopment. I would love to bring live entertainment to Ward 7. But this is about the community getting neighborhood-serving retail and community space."
Williams said the District will continue to own the site, with Warrenton executing a 99-year ground lease. The District will also offer gap financing for the roughly $27 million project, Williams said.
The developer plans to add 86 residential units, all for tenants making less than 60 percent of the area median income. The commercial portions will house 1,389 square feet of retail and 1,233 square feet of community space. PGN Architects is designing the project.
The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development has asked that Warrenton partner with the NHP Foundation, a nonprofit affordable housing developer. A DMPED spokesman said the request was due to the volume of projects Warrenton has in the works and not recent bankruptcy filings related to projects in which Williams was affiliated.
The Washington Business Journal reported in March that Williams' 7 Street LLC filed for bankruptcy protection for a Shaw site where it had planned to develop a restaurant at 1547 Seventh St. NW. Williams said that project was a “family project” that has nothing to do with The Warrenton Group. He also said the restaurant building is still expected to go forward.
Williams, who chairs no- D.C. Councilman Vincent Gray’s Ward 7 Economic Advisory Development Advisory Council, is behind several large projects, both planned and completed, east of the Anacostia River. Among them: Deanwood Hills and the 550-unit Kenilworth Courts overhaul.