Future of Existing Signature Space Still Cloudy

(Wednesday, October 11, 2006 8:20 AM EDT)
While the redevelopment of Shirlington is moving forward, plans for the soon-to-be-vacated Signature Theatre building on nearby South Four Mile Run Drive remain up in the air.

With the county government's budget picture for next year unclear, due to the stagnant real estate market, there may not be an easily tapped revenue source to make improvements necessary to turn the building over to another theater company.

“We haven't really moved forward, because we're not sure how everything should be funded,” said Norma Kaplan, chief of the cultural affairs division of Arlington's Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources. “We're studying how to do this economically.”

The county government purchased the Signature building as part of an agreement that will see Signature move into the second level of the new Shirlington branch library building later this year.

But in order to prepare the older building - a former auto-detailing shop - for a future tenant, the county government will have to pay for significant upgrades. Desired improvements include a new roof, a sprinkler system, new wiring and handicap-accessible entrances.

Government officials hope the theater building will not have to be torn down and rebuilt. And, despite rumors in the arts community that the anticipated price tag for refurbishments has risen to $5 million, officials say that the cost more likely will be between $500,000 and $2 million.

The goal of government officials is to develop Shirlington into Arlington's arts and entertainment district, and a newly renovated theater building to be shared among different theater companies would be a key component.

“It goes further than supporting a theater,” said Kaplan. “It's about supporting an economic engine for the county.”

Government officials now have a little breathing room in their decision-making process. Washington Shakespeare Company, which had been rumored to be the leading contender for the space, will not need it until 2008. That group will remain at the Clark Street Playhouse in Crystal City, which had been slated for demolition as part of the North Tract recreation complex. That plan is on hold.

“My Fair Lady” is Signature Theater's last show at the Four Mile Run location, and will finish its run on Nov. 19. Performances at the new two-story Signature Theater complex in Shirlington Village will start January with “Into the Woods.”

The existing Signature Theatre building on South Four Mile Run Drive is now owned by the county government.
(Photo by Scott McCaffrey)

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