WIT and CulturalDC offer conflicting accounts on how WIT lost its lease at Source Theatre

Washington Improv Theater and the owner of Source give different accounts of who understood what when.

On Monday, March 14 — as reported by DCMTA — WIT Executive Director Mark Chalfant made public that CulturalDC would not be renewing WIT’s lease at Source when it expires on August 31. Chalfant shared the news on WIT’s website, in an email to WIT supporters, and in a news release received by DC Theater Arts. On WIT’s website, Chalfant states: “Last week I was informed that WIT’s lease at Source wouldn’t be renewed and that August would be our last month in the space. This was entirely unexpected.” 

In emails sent to DCMTA this week, CulturalDC, the arts nonprofit that owns the Source Theatre, disputed Washington Improv Theaters assertion that CulturalDC surprised WIT, its tenant of 20 years, by suddenly announcing that it would not renew WIT’s lease at the Source Theatre.

DCMTA graphic.

CulturalDC’s Executive Director Kristi Maiselman calls WIT’s account an “aggressive mischaracterization.” When asked by DCMTA when WIT was notified that their lease would not be renewed, Maiselman replied that “they have known about it for years.” In an email sent to DCMTA on Monday, Maiselman says, “WIT had the option to renew and did not exercise the extension option per the terms of their lease nine months ago.” 

Maiselman is referring to the extension clause of the lease between WIT and CulturalDC. DCMTA obtained a screenshot of this clause signed by both Maiselman (landlord) and Chalfant (tenant) in December 2020. The clause stipulates that the tenant must confirm their intent to renew in writing, sent by certified mail, no less than nine months prior to the end of the lease term. Both WIT and CulturalDC confirm that WIT did not submit a written extension request nine months prior to the end of their current lease. 

However, Chalfant tells DCMTA, “We are not disputing the fact that we did not execute the extension clause. We are clarifying that we did not do so because by fall 2021 Kristi Maiselman had already stated that three-year extensions would not be possible, but that a one-year extension for all resident organizations was on the horizon. That was the understanding we were all given and which was reinforced verbally on multiple occasions.” 

Chalfant also tells DCMTA that as recently as three weeks ago, CulturalDC had scheduled a March 1 planning meeting so that Source’s three resident organizations — WIT, IN Series, and Constellation Theatre Company — could meet to coordinate 2022–2023 programming dates in Source’s black box theater. CulturalDC canceled that meeting the day before it was to take place. Two days later, on March 2, Maiselman emailed Chalfant a lease-termination notice with the following message that Chalfant shared with DCMTA: 

I’m sorry to deliver this news since this is not what we had been discussing with residents. As you know, our board has been actively engaged in the planning of the redevelopment of Source. Over the past several weeks, some things have quickly shifted as it relates to those plans and our renovation timeline. The board has been meeting this week to discuss this, which is why I postponed the season planning meetings as I was not confident we could still offer a renewal to all residents. The board has decided that at this time, with the way that our construction timeline and season planning intersected, it is not in the best interest of CulturalDC to renew WIT’s lease. I am aware of the impact this could have on your organization and hope that we can use our real estate connections to help you in your search for new space if needed.

Chalfant says this is the first he had heard of CulturalDC’s intent to terminate WIT’s lease. Maiselman tells DCMTA that this email and the lease termination that accompanied it were a “routine expiration notification” sent “for their records.”

Chalfant and Maiselman both confirm that CulturalDC has been helping WIT look for a permanent residence. Prior to COVID, CulturalDC helped WIT apply for a permanent space at the Waterfront Station II building in Southwest DC. That deal fell through when COVID changed WIT’s financial situation. 

WIT is CulturalDC’s longest-standing tenant. The organization has rented space at CulturalDC’s Source Theatre since CulturalDC purchased the building in 2008. Prior to that, WIT rented space at Flashpoint, a building that CulturalDC previously owned and sold in 2016.

Chalfant emphasizes that he does not want to speak badly of CulturalDC. “Legally they have done nothing wrong. We were just surprised by how they communicated it. They told us we were going to have another year and then in the course of two days changed their minds. We are their longest tenant and they treated us pretty badly.” 

WIT regularly performs in Source’s 150-seat black box theater and uses space on the building’s second floor for classes, events, and administrative offices. WIT is now looking for new spaces for both its classes and performances.

Both IN Series and Constellation Theatre Company confirmed to DCMTA this week that they will remain in residence at Source and that their leases have been extended for one additional year after the August 2022 deadline. 

Regarding the future use of the space that WIT will vacate, CulturalDC tells DCMTA that it “will repurpose the space as art studios and mixed-use programming space for its community-geared nonprofit initiatives.” Most immediately, CulturalDC says, “the space will be repurposed into art studio space for CulturalDC’s Capital Artist Resident program, which annually provides an artist of color with 1-3 months of benefits including family-friendly housing; studio or rehearsal space; childcare coordination; stipend; and an exhibition in the Mobile Art Gallery.”

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