The Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground, which seeks to develop the old trolley tunnels into arts space, is the only eligible bidder and will likely soon begin lease negotiations, representatives from the coalition announced last night. Besides including arts space, they hope to include a restaurant and winery.
The coalition will seek a 50- or 100-year lease on the space from DC. To afford the ongoing costs, they plan to use some of the space for arts events and some for the restaurant and winery or other “concessions.” A winery would use the underground space to actually make wine as well as serve it.
The first phase of the project would cost $10 million to build, including 20,000 square feet for arts and 20,000 for the businesses. The full space is 100,000 square feet. No money will come from the DC government as part of the deal.
Besides the concession revenue, they hope to rent out the space to other large arts organizations, like the Phillips, Corcoran, and Katzen Center, who sometimes need larger spaces than they have. They are also talking with the Corcoran about giving some space to artists as long-term studio space, similar to the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria.
There was one other bid, to operate a winery, from the group that owns Buffalo Billiards and other pool halls. According to architect Julian Hunt, DMPED extended the bidding deadline at the last minute so the winery group could submit a bid. However, Hunt their bid was ultimately found not to qualify. The Arts Coalition has reached out to that group to see if they would still like to run their business as one of the concessions.
There are two tunnels, one on either side of Connecticut Avenue, each with four stairways. The team expects to turn some into elevators including a freight elevator. Others may become openings for mechanical equipment like HVAC.
Some neighborhood leaders have asked about the possibility of returning the space to trolley use if one day DC builds a streetcar on Connecticut Avenue. Streetcars are unlikely to come to Dupont soon since it’s already well served by transit, doesn’t need economic development, and reopening the tunnels at the ends would require ripping out the existing medians. Still, it would seem to make sense to structure the deal so that DC could get the space back sooner, perhaps with some payment, if circumstances changed and DC determined it to be worthwhile.