Possible Sale Puts Jackson Art Center, Neighbors on Edge

The District government offered a three-year lease and may sell the building thereafter.

A proposed three-year lease extension for an historic Georgetown property put the current tenant, the Jackson Art Center, and nearby neighbors on notice: the District government is considering selling the R Street property.

The lease offered recently by the D.C. Department of General Services (DGS), means the Jackson Art Center (JAC) can remain at its current R Street location next to the Hurt Home until at least the summer of 2016. But after that time the future use of the building is uncertain.

"DGS has mentioned that they intend to hold a disposition of the building in 3 years," said Simma Liebman, the president of the JAC.

The JAC was in the process of negotiating a five-year lease extension with the DGS when the conversations came to a halt. The agency received an inquiry from someone interested in purchasing the property.

Kenneth Diggs, a spokesperson for DGS, told Patch that an interested party did approach his agency about the historic Georgetown building. However, he said there are "no existing negotiations happening at this time."

According to Liebman, on Sept. 19, DGS told the JAC that it decided not to sell the building right now and offered the arts center a three-year extension, instead of the five years previously proposed.

"It is our sense that the city wants to hold a disposition of the building in three years, which is why they are reducing our extension," she said. But the JAC would prefer a longer lease. 

"Jackson has been an arts building since the mid 1980's and has proved to be a valuable resource for the community," she said. "We know the neighborhood supports what we do."

When news of a possible sale got around to nearby neighbors, several began making phone calls on behalf of the center.

Tony Conway contacted Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans office to learn if there was a possible buyer and what, if any, input the JAC and neighbors might be able to have on the sales process. He was worried the sale of the property would be managed, or mismanaged, like the Hurt Home disposition was several years ago.

During the Hurt Home disposition, many in the community felt that the process was not made public enough and that the sale happened too quickly, according to Conway.

"Having been through what we did at the Hurt Home we wanted to basically … be kept informed in advance," he said.

Though Conway was relieved to hear that a new lease would be offered, he, like Liebman, wants a longer lease.

The nearby neighborhood cannot sustain additional residential development, he feels. Conway said the artists have been good neighbors and the Jackson building is being put to good use, unlike the Hurt Home, which was empty for several years before its disposition.

Liebman echoed this sentiment.

"We enhance the community and make little impact on the neighborhood in terms of parking, density and noise. We will be appearing before the ANC on Monday, Oct. 1 to request official support that this fully utilized community resource should not be pushed out in favor of a private condominium project."

The Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commission has the Jackson Art Center as an item on its agenda for the Oct. 1 meeting. Community members who would like to provide input on the lease or possible sale may contact their commissioner in advance of the meeting or attend next Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Georgetown Visitation.


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