March 20, 2014

Capital Fringe seeks large, permanent arts space

D.C.’s Capital Fringe Festival is looking for a little more permanence.

Capital Fringe, which runs a summer theater festival with dozens of edgy performances every August, plans to spend up to $5 million to build the Fringe Art & Performance Space. The group is seeking a long-term lease of between 10,000 and 15,000 square feet in D.C. It expects to fund the endeavor through a capital campaign.

Bill Miller of Miller Walker Retail Real Estate, which is representing Capital Fringe, said the group hopes to land in either an up-and-coming or established neighborhood.

The new space will be a multifaceted venue that will include three black box theaters, a bar and cafe, an art gallery and a scene shop for set design and creation.

“It’s kind of like coming up with a one-stop shop,” said Fringe Executive DirectorJulianna Brienza. “It is about having theater space, but it’s also about having a place to congregate.”

Since 2008, Capital Fringe has been located at 607 New York Ave. NW, a 22,000-square-foot space that includes three black box theater spaces, offices and other spaces that support the group’s activities. But that site, along with most of the block, is slated to be redeveloped into a  435,000-square-foot Square 450 office and retail project from Douglas Development Corp., owned by Doug Jemal.

There are currently no plans for Capital Fringe to be part of that development, Brienza said. But the organization’s residence there for the past six years is a large part of why Fringe has been able to grow.

“The opportunity that Doug Jemal gave the Capital Fringe has been integral,” she said. “We do pay rent, but we wouldn’t be where we are today without the space we have had and the location we have had since 2008.”

Since moving into the New York Avenue space, the group’s annual budget has grown from $500,000 to $1.2 million. About 75 percent of that comes from revenue; the rest comes from donors.

“A lot of this is about moving out of the space, but it’s also that we are really trying to create a sustainable arts business in the District,” she said.

That business model includes a lot more than just theater performances. Live music, gallery showings, film screenings and discussions and monthly events ranging from comedy to live art are also part of the business plan. The black box theaters will be available to theater companies for rent for up to two years. After two years, there would be a one-year break to allow another company to have a chance to use the space.

“A lot of it is really thinking about how the business can make money,” Brienza said. “You can’t just say, ‘We’re going to do these three things.’ You have to do like 25 to 50 things so you have enough revenue.”

To help with the business piece, Capital Fringe in January brought on Peter Korbel, co-founder of the Fojol Bros. food trucks, as chief operating officer. Korbel has an MBA from George Washington University.

Bill Miller of Miller Walker Retail Real Estate, which is representing Capital Fringe, said the group hopes to land in either an up-and-coming or established neighborhood.

“They will be a destination, but we’re also looking for a neighborhood where when there are shows on, the foot traffic will result in better attendance,” Miller said. “At the same time, this is a real community builder, the kind of exciting space that can drive traffic into an area that wants more traffic in the evenings.”