Supporters of the Lincoln Theatre are fighting to keep the historic building open as budget cuts threaten a significant portion of its revenue.
A board member of the U Street Foundation, which oversees the theater, faults Mayor Vincent Gray for the possible shutdown, but both board members and city officials say communication has been difficult.
“How can he stand by and let a historic African-American institution fall apart and/ or fall into the hands of insensitive individuals?” Rick Lee, who sits on the foundation’s board, asked.
The theater on U Street Northwest has received grant money totaling $250,000 from D.C. for the last 10 years. Another $500,000 were planned for next year. But Mayor Vincent Gray said Wednesday the city couldn't “pour money” in to the theater, adding that its business model was “not sustainable.”
The board says it needs $500,000 from the District by Monday to keep the Lincoln open.
“Shame on the District for knocking the theatre instead of helping it,” said Lee.
The annual budget for Lincoln is about $1.2 million, but donations for the non-profit are down. The former movie house does not produce its own events, instead renting out space to performers. Productions booked through December have been told their shows will still go on.
“I know how hard these folks work, late hours, for my production for the past six years. I don't think there's anything being wasted,” Daniel Singh of the Dakshina Dance Company said.
Board members called for a meeting, and Gray's spokesperson says he welcomes the opportunity for a conversation. Gray left the door open to a possible intervention Thursday.
“We've got significant fiscal challenges in the city and we've been very supportive of the Lincoln Theatre in the past,” Gray said. He said the city’s economic development team is evaluating the situation. The city council is debating how to spend $89 million in surplus tax revenue.
"This was important part of black broadway right here. We don't want this theater going dark,” said Councilmember Jim Graham. Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday, Nat King Cole all performed on the Lincoln’s stage.
President Roosevelt had birthday parties at the in an old hall on U Street in Northwest D.C. "All of the history is somehow dying. You have these places here that you can still relive those times,” said Laura Jones.
“It would be a shame as we approach the 90th birthday of this institution that it not be operating,” said Cynthia Robbins, another foundation board member.
In the meantime, the theater is encouraging donations from the public at LovetheLincoln.com.