Posted by Mark Jenkins
The future of the Avalon Theater, D.C.'s only nonchain cinema, got a little more secure earlier this month. The Avalon Theater Project, the nonprofit group that rescued the Chevy Chase moviehouse in 2002 and reopened it in 2003, has bought its building from local developer Douglas Jemal for $3.5 million.
Jemal had only recently purchased the 1923 building, which he had leased with an option to buy from John Kyle, who owned the theater when Cineplex Odeon abandoned it in 2001. Bill Oberdorfer, executive director of the Avalon Theater Project, says he doesn't know when Jemal bought the structure, which also holds a Ben & Jerry's outlet. But the maverick real-estate magnate, who put an estimated $300,000 to $400,000 into theater renovations, was still leasing from Kyle when the Avalon reopened three years ago.
There are two advantages to owning, Oberdorfer explains. “Basically, the mortgage is less than the rent,” he says. “The other element…is that we filed for an exception from property taxes, which you can do in the District as a nonprofit owner, but not as a nonprofit lessor.”
Although ownership doesn't directly give the nonprofit more flexibility to operate, Oberdorfer says it does “just in the sense that it's less expensive for us. What it allows us to do is free up more funds for programming and the like. More staff to do more things than we were doing before.”
The Avalon shows independent, foreign, and offbeat Hollywood films on its two screens and also hosts special events and regular repertory series, including “indieWIRE Undiscovered Gems” and “Asian Cinevisions.” Oberdorfer says the project's organizers are considering additional ventures, including some sort of film education program for children. “But that's very much in the idea stage,” Oberdorfer notes. “We have do a feasibility thing on it to figure out basically what the community would like to have.” After all, the Avalon is now a neighborhood theater in every sense of the term.