Putting People Back Into “The People’s Theatre”

Several years ago Malik and Chip Ellis of the Ellis Development Group formally announced that they planned to assemble a team to redevelop the long vacant, historic Howard Theatre. Located in the LeDroit Park neighborhood at the corner of 7th and T NW and carrying tremendous cultural and historic significance, the Howard, also known as the “People’s Theatre”, hadn’t operated since the late 1960s. Though attempts had been made over the years to restore the Theatre, the timing never proved right. (Pictured: Howard Theatre in the early 1900s)

So why now? With the combination of a significant City funding commitment, the resurgence of surrounding neighborhoods, the planned construction of Broadcast One on the same block and investments in infrastructure, the timing is proving to be right. Today progress continues on the restoration. Currently in the final stages of predevelopment, the development team is finalizing construction documents, permitting and financing.

LISC was an early supporter of this effort, providing a $1 million predevelopment loan to the nonprofit organization Howard Theatre Restoration Inc. , the entity that is managing the restoration.

LISC’s investment will not only help put the Theatre back into productive use, but will help bring life and vitality back to the LeDroit Park neighborhood.

The restored Theatre will be a flexible venue and will serve food and drinks. It will be able to accommodate music festivals, balls, galas and gospel brunches on Sundays. For Malik Ellis the key word is flexible. “Our vision for a flexible venue will allow the Howard to entertain audiences for the next 100 years. There is nothing like it in the area,” he explains. The closest comparisons he can make are to The House of Blues in New Orleans or BB Kings in Times Square. (Pictured above: The Howard Theatre Today)

According to Ellis, they have enjoyed a huge groundswell of support. “Everyone wants to see this theatre restored,” he says. After so many false starts over the years, and with the very challenging development environment – some people remain naturally skeptical. But we are in close contact with the community, keeping them educated and informed of what we are doing.”

The current economic environment has made what was already an ambitious project, even more challenging. According to Ellis, “fundraising is more of a challenge, people are more selective where they contribute – but because there is such a strong case to be 10 made for this project, we believe we can meet our goals.” To date, they have raised about $1 million as part of their $15 million capital campaign. He also notes that this environment has caused his team to think more creatively about how they piece together the financing. (Pictured right: The Howard Theatre Future Rendering)

Despite the economic slowdown, Malik Ellis, a fourth generation Washingtonian, and the rest of the development team are committed to bringing the theatre back to its original state. Says Ellis, “This is the people’s theatre and will once again be the go to place for new, progressive and innovative music.”