An apparent landlord-tenant dispute between Century and Associates, the owner of H Street Playhouse, and Adele Robey, the former owner who now leases the facility from Century and subleases it to two theater companies, has spilled onto the electronic pages of the Washington City Paper and has raised questions as to whether the companies can continue in the space past the expiration of Robey’s lease in February of 2013.
The City Paper article, written by Lydia DePillis and posted yesterday, quoted Robey as saying that she sold the property for $1.1 million to Century and Associates but she understood that the buyer would retain the facility as a performance space. However, she claimed that the company has now told her that they will retain the property as a performance space only if theater companies pay “market rent”, which Robey estimates at $20,000 per month. Robey says she now gets $6,000 from the theater companies, Theater Alliance and No Rules Theatre Company, to whom she subleases, “at which rate I lose $2,500 a month.”
Joel Kelty, one (with Ilan Scharfstein) of two principals of Century and Associates, claimed that “much of [the City Paper article] was inaccurate,” although he did confirm that Century Associates bought the property from Ms. Robey for $1.1 million. Kelty asserted that the rent Robey said Century and Associates now charged her was “not correct” but declined to specify any additional inaccuracies, asserting that “the public attention was harming the relationship between us and the tenant.” He also declined to say whether he would prefer for the building to continue as a theater after Ms. Robey’s lease expired.
Ms. Robey, however, told DCTS that “when I contacted [Kelty and Scharfstein] earlier in 2011 I was told that they were, in fact, probably not keeping it as a performing space unless we had some theater companies who could pay ‘market rent.’ This proposed rent is much higher than any of the companies I know would be able to pay. When I contacted the owners thereafter to see if the companies could at least finish out their seasons in the Playhouse (i.e., from when my lease ends in Feb 2013 through August 2013) they did not answer my emails.” Ms. Robey says she is searching for a new space in the same neighborhood. “Right now no idea is off the table.”
According to the City Paper article, Ms. Robey and her late husband, Bruce, purchased the facility in 2002 for $300,000. The property’s near-quadrupling in value over the ensuing seven years reflected the hard work the Robeys did on the property and the luster that such resident companies as Theater Alliance, Forum Theatre, African Continuum Theatre and No Rules brought to the facility, but it also reflected skyrocketing prices in the H Street corridor on the heels of an extensive City-led renewal project. If rental prices have now risen so high that no theater can afford to rent the H Street facility, the playhouse’s demise may be an unintended consequence of the City’s investment.
African Continuum Theatre now performs at Atlas Performing Arts Center a block away on H Street. Both No Rules’ Ann Kohn and Theater Alliance Artistic Director Colin Hovde confirmed that they have been informed of the facilities’ closing.