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Former cinema site goes on the market

By Brady Holt...Current Staff Writer...

The former Georgetown Theatre at Wisconsin Avenue and O Street is on the market for $4.5 million, according to the property's co-owner, and the National Jewel Center must vacate the space next week after more than 20 years there.

Angie Heon Nys, a member of the Heon family that has owned 1351 Wisconsin Ave. since 1949, said in an interview with The Current that she's already fielded multiple inquiries about the property.

“It's a great space; it's one of the largest plots of land for sale in Georgetown,” Nys said. She posted a “For Sale” sign in the window of the two-story building -- home of the landmark “Georgetown” sign -- last week.

Various prospective buyers so far have said they would be interested in putting in a restaurant, residential on top of retail, or a movie theater, Nys said.

Tom Birch, a Georgetown advisory neighborhood commissioner whose single-member district includes the property, named a movie theater as something he'd like to see in the space. He also mentioned a “food hall” modeled after Baltimore's Lexington Market -- with various vendors selling fresh and prepared foods -- and a commercial art gallery.

“I mention those because they're a little bit different from what's in Georgetown now,” Birch said, adding that he wouldn't be surprised to see a major retailer seize the opportunity of a large Wisconsin Avenue storefront.

Nys said it's still too early to guess what will happen to the property. She said she would prefer to see its next use remain consistent with that section of Georgetown, “but it would really come down to the terms of the purchase and who the buyer was.”

Whoever the buyer, said Birch, the sale of the property could spark an aesthetic boost to the aging property. “Besides bringing something new and interesting into that space, it's also an opportunity to do some sprucing up of the exterior of the building,” he said.

Although some online comments have speculated that the artful 1940s facade of the Dumbarton Theater was still in place beneath the building's 1950s Formstone, Nys shot down that possibility. That facade was wood over bare brick, and it was removed even before the building came into her family in 1949. “When we bought it, it was just a brick structure,” she said.

Upon buying the vacant Dumbarton Theater property, the Heon family continued to show movies there for years, operating it as the Georgetown Theatre. For at least the last two decades, the family has rented it to the National Jewel Center. Jewel Center owners couldn't be reached for comment, but Nys confirmed a report in the Prince of Petworth blog that the business would be out by Aug. 31.

The Heon family had previously listed the property for sale in 2009 for an undisclosed price, but Nys said her family took it off the market fairly quickly. She wouldn't say what was behind the decision to sell or the back-and-forth decisions, except “family reasons.”

In the 2009 listing, the family contracted with Marcus & Millichap broker Joshua Feldman, who was simultaneously listing the Heon-owned building at 3150 M St., home of the former Nathans Restaurant. “Josh thinks his two assets will also be snapped up by an out of town buyer,” the firm wrote on its website at the time. “Trophy retail in DC, especially Georgetown, almost never comes to market, he says, but when it does it attracts investors from New York, Chicago and Miami.”

The Heon family ultimately leased the 3150 M space to Serendipity 3 restaurant instead of selling it, said Nys. As a longtime real estate agent herself, Nys said she is personally handling the 1351 Wisconsin sale instead of relying on a broker now that she lives in the D.C. area.

Nys successfully sold another Heon family holding -- the Philadelphia Cheesesteak Factory building at 34th and M streets -- for $2.7 million last fall, she added.

This article appears in the Aug. 24 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.