In general, when someone moves in, somebody else has to move out. With Amazon announcing in November 2018 that half of its new headquarters are coming to Crystal City, an early outcome of that basic math may be the removal of Synetic Theater from what has been its home since 2010. Synetic’s lease for its theater space at 1800 S. Bell St. will end in August, and at some point Amazon will take up residence at that location.
“We are concerned that the major rebuilding that will take place all around us, plus likely [auxiliary] costs that will be associated with these changes will basically drive us out,” says Paata Tsikurishvili, the founder and director of Synetic Theater. “What happens to a small, innovative art organization when a global corporation moves to your address?”
The Crystal City BID hopes that it doesn’t come to that. The BID is working with Synetic, along with JBG Smith, which owns the 1800 S. Bell St. location, to find Synetic a new home still in Crystal City.
“We believe [Synetic] is a pillar of our community and our most signature cultural institution, and has been for years,” says Tracy Gabriel, the president and executive director of the Crystal City BID. “We’re very eager for them to stay and continue to thrive and captivate audiences here in Crystal City.”
That would just be one piece of a larger overall plan from the BID to not only become known as one of the East Coast hubs of Amazon, but as an arts and culture destination in its own right. They got the ball rolling on that late last year with the opening of a new art space called The Grounds.
Previously just a vacant parking lot, The Grounds hosted Impulse, an interactive art exhibit that featured a series of seesaws that emitted light and tones as people rode them, throughout December and early January, as well as a mural featuring the theme of “Let’s Play” that was created by the local arts group No Kings Collective. Gabriel says that the BID is looking to do other “arts programs in existing open spaces, vacant spaces or under-utilized spaces. Really, we’re looking to activate the public realm.”
The arts push is not just limited to the Crystal City BID, however. Startis Voutas and Georgia Papdopoulos, who own many of the buildings along 23rd Street in Crystal City, known as “restaurant row,” have been working for some time to create an arts district in the neighborhood. Through their Pappas Trust group, as previously reported by Northern Virginia Magazine, they have been working with Artspace, a nonprofit real estate developer that specifically focuses on creating artist residential communities or studios.
Artspace said that the Arlington area was a strong candidate for such a space, with Crystal City one of the four locations designated as a potential location. The next step of Artspace’s process is expected to begin this summer or fall to more effectively evaluate the proposed areas.
The film scene in Crystal City is also getting a boost with the construction of specialty theater chain Alamo Drafthouse Cinema coming to the planned Central District development.
All of these plans feed into Crystal City’s desire to foster culture throughout the area, explains Gabriel, calling the promotion of arts “a pillar of our strategic plan,” and something that would have happened with or without Amazon.
“Amazon really doesn’t change our future, what it does is it accelerates our ability to have the resources and the momentum to implement things sooner and hopefully in a more robust fashion,” she says.
But what of Synetic? Though eventually taking them out of what has been their performance space, Tsikurishvili sees the positive of Amazon’s arrival and is eager for his theater to remain in—or at some point return to—Crystal City. “We hope to be a unique source of nightlife entertainment for thousands of families of Amazon employees,” Tsikurishvili says. “It’s vital for the community of thousands of families where businesses, education and art thrive as modern society should.”