When Downtown Is Too Expensive For Galleries

Downtown was once a visual artistic hub in the District. In recent years, many galleries have been priced out of the neighborhood due to skyrocketing rents (sound familiar?). But D.C.’s zoning rules still require “arts uses” in the neighborhood. The result: a number of galleries have opened up in office buildings, which are not easily noticeable or accessible, and where building owners have input over the kinds of art displayed. It’s an odd situation that’s developed out of the city trying to prevent the displacement of the arts in increasingly pricey neighborhoods.

In the mid-’90s, the city implemented zoning to require arts, part of the plan for the Downtown Development District. “A lot of establishments are a result of the zoning,” Corbett says. “They’re just not galleries,” but also theaters.

But much changed after Verizon Center opened in 1997. Today, the neighborhood’s street life revolves around Verizon, something planners in the 1980s could not have anticipated.

Escalating rents forced many galleries out, notably such longtime commercial galleries as Zenith and Touchstone, which moved north, their spaces usually replaced by eateries.

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