The DC Center, the District’s LGBT community center, was dealt a blow in its search for a permanent home after its proposal to rent a storefront space in the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center, located at 2000 14th St. NW, was rejected by the Department of General Services, which manages buildings operated and leased by District government.
David Mariner, executive director of The DC Center, made the announcement via an email sent late Wednesday, June 20, to supporters of the center, writing, ”It is with a heavy heart I tell you that our application for this space was not approved by the District of Columbia.”
”We did an exceptional job in our proposal, both in documenting the community good our community center offers and in demonstrating our long-term financial health,” Mariner wrote. ”We also put together a strong financial offer. In the end, however, the space went to the highest bidder.”
Mariner told supporters it was his understanding that a restaurant will move into the space. He later told Metro Weekly that he believes that this may be a restaurant with a liquor license.
In its proposal, The DC Center offered to pay a starting base rent of $4,000 per month, with an annual increase of 2.7 percent, for a 15-year lease. The proposal also included an offer of $30,000 to make renovations to the space.
“For us, that was a really great location and a great space,” Mariner told Metro Weekly, pointing out that the space is centrally located, and not far from The DC Center’s current space at 1318 U St. NW, for which there is no long-term lease. “But there are always other possibilities, other spaces. People who come to the center have told us that they’re open to us moving to other parts of the city, as long as we’re close to a Metro. So we’re keeping all our options open.”
In his email, Mariner expressed concern that the “community good” section of The DC Center’s proposal did not weigh more heavily into the decision-making process, pointing out that there are already a number of restaurants scheduled to open in the 14th Street and U Street corridors.
“I do not believe the difference between 13 new restaurants and 14 new restaurants in our neighborhood will have a profound impact on the lives of D.C. residents,” he wrote. “I do believe, however, that having a permanent home for our local LGBT community center for the next 15 years would have made a tremendous difference in the lives of District residents.”
Mariner thanked the center’s relocation committee for their work on the proposal, several community organizations and neighborhood associations who supported a move to the Reeves Center, and the more than 500 people who signed a supporting petition. Mariner also thanked members of the City Council who wrote letters of support for the proposal. Ten such letters were included in the proposal, submitted April 26. Councilmembers writing in support were then-Chairman Kwame Brown (D); current Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large); current Chair Pro Tem Michael Brown (I-At Large); and Councilmembers David Catania (I-At Large), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Vincent Orange (D-At Large).
Mariner also said he believed that Councilmember Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) had written a letter of support, but that it was not received in time to be included in the proposal. Mariner said that support from the Council was nearly unanimous, with only Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) not writing in support. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who is considered an LGBT ally, had not yet been elected to the council when the center submitted its proposal to DGS.
Darrell Pressley, press secretary at DGS, confirmed that the entity allotted the Reeves Center space is a restaurant, with lease terms now being negotiated.
Pressley said that DGS considers specific criteria when reviewing applications such as the one for space in the Reeves Center. A solicitation committee looks at the proposals and scores them, he said.
According to Pressley, the solicitation committee then makes a recommendation to the director of DGS, who makes the final decision, leaving the city to then enter lease negotiations.
Pressley said that, according to the criteria established by the committee, the restaurant scored higher than The DC Center, but he declined to give any information about the specifics of the proposals.
[Editor’s Note: This story was updated Tuesday, June 26, adding details of the The DC Center’s application and comment from DGS press secretary Darrell Pressley.]