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Finding a new way to use the Dupont Underground | News

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Finding a new way to use the Dupont Underground

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Thousands of people walk through D.C.'s DuPont Circle everyday. Some, likely are unaware of what's beneath their feet: 75,000 square feet of abandoned but usable space.

Now, The Arts Coalition of the DuPont Underground has its sights set on giving new life to the space.

Braulio Agnese with The Arts Coalition envisions: "Everything from pop up retail and restaurants to fashion shows, dance and theater events, concert performances."

The Arts Coalition is in the process of finalizing a five year lease with the city for rights to the DuPont Underground. They hope to begin transforming the space by the beginning of 2015.

Agnese said the long-term vision is a mix of the cultural and commercial. Agnese stressed that potential commercial tenants would have to fit the character of the space.

The underground area beneath one of the District's prime neighborhoods has a long and, at times, blundered history.

It was created as underground street car space in 1949 before being converted to a fallout shelter in the 1960s. While underground shops, playgrounds and markets, among other things, were proposed in the following years, the space remained empty until 1995 when a food court opened. By 1996 it was closed, never having gained traction.

Agnese hopes this effort to reinvent the space will be different.

"We've been very deliberate in trying to understand that you can't just throw anything down there and expect it to work," he said. "Failure would be very easy down there. It's a particular space, it's an unusual space."

D.C. resident Margeret Lyons has actually been down there, having toured the space a few years ago. She sees the potential and the challenges.

"It's a very big space. It seems like something that could be put to use if someone had a really good idea but it's very awkward and narrow," said Lyons, describing the narrow tunnels that streetcars used to pass through.

Agnese admitted the space could simply be cleaned up and plastered over, giving the underground a generic look. "But then it would look like any other building or basement space. Part of the reason that we love the space is the old infrastructure and kind of the raw industrial aspect of it is terrific," he said.

Thomas Lee just moved to D.C. from Atlanta. He said preserving the historical character of the space could help it succeed.

"It all depends on the historical value of it. In Atlanta, Underground Atlanta, basically used to be the top part of Atlanta until {Civil War General William Tecumseh} Sherman came through and burned it down. That's what's historic about it, people say, this used to be the street {level} until Sherman came through and burned it down," explained Lee.

While the DuPont Underground was never torched in the way Atlanta was in 1864, it has been burned before. Agnese and the Arts Coalition for the DuPont Underground hope they can help it rise from the ashes.