The Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commission last Tuesday evening unanimously approved a motion to support the university’s proposed performing arts center.

The plan that went before the ANC called for the creation of a 330-seat proscenium stage theater and a 100-seat experimental black box theater, University Architect Alan Brangman said. The larger facility, to be named after sponsor MBNA Corporation, will include curtains, stage lighting and sound. It will be “as nice as any theater in D.C.,” Brangman said.

The building is to be situated between the Ryan Administration building and Harbin Hall, with a brick and glass facade and an architectural style planned not to dominate that of Ryan’s. The new facility will be available to student-run theater groups, academic theater courses and community groups, Brangman explained.

The ANC’s approval appears to be a significant move forward in town-gown relations. In 2001, the Board of Zoning Adjustment blocked the university’s 10-year plan and imposed new conditions. Not long ago, “freshmen would [arrive and] get the message the community hates students,” recalled ANC Commissioner Len Levine.

“Over the past few years, collectively, we have rejected the past, where litigation, angry newspaper editorials and heated meetings typified this relationship,” ANC Commissioner Justin Wagner (COL ’03) said. He pointed to the recent increase in dialogue and shared events as particularly helpful. “This project is an example of how quickly we can get things done when students, residents and the university all work with each other.”

“This committee has worked very hard to get to where we are, and the university has been there along side us,” Levine said. He cited the Office of Student Affairs, with its increased policing, mandatory meetings for students living off campus and community outreach efforts as the driving force behind this change.

ANC support is one step in the approval process for any building on campus, Vice President for Communications Julie Green Bataille explained. The proposal will now go before the D.C. Zoning Commission in a hearing set for Dec. 5. “It was a significant move to get our hearing date,” Brangman said. If there is no community opposition, he said he expects immediate approval. Construction is set to commence in the spring of 2003, and Brangman predicted it would be completed for the fall of 2004.

Campus arts organizations were hopeful that the future performing arts center would alleviate space and resource constraints that currently plague student performing arts groups. Some, however, were more cautiously optimistic.

“While the new space is a huge advancement . it may be harmful, rather than helpful, to the student theater groups,” Associate Producer of Nomadic Theatre Rebecca Ende (COL ’03) said. She worried that shows produced by the Department of Art, Music and Theater would inhibit access to the space by student groups. “We will have to collaborate with the department in order to use their space, potentially threatening the autonomy of student theater,” she said.

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