On Wednesday, Beztak Companies and DC-based Friedman Capital presented plans for their conversion of the First Church of Christ Scientist, in the center of Adams Morgan, into a 150-room "boutique hotel." The concept submitted involves the construction of a hotel within and behind the church at 1770 Euclid Street, NW. Under plans submitted to the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), the century-old church will be designated as a landmark site, undergo major restoration, and connect to a larger, seventy to ninety foot structure that will replace the current City Paper building.
The 180,000 s.f. boutique hotel at the intersection of Euclid Street and Columbia Road, NW, will be partnering with Ian Schrager, the developer responsible for New York's Studio 54 and Gramercy Park Hotel, and credited by some with creating the "boutique hotel" genre.
Not aiming for your average conventioneer, the developer plans to convert the main sanctuary into a grand ballroom with a 500-guest capacity, and the mezzanine section for an elevated bar overlooking the ballroom. The two areas will be separated by a glass curtain that can be alternatively transparent or reflective. Designed by New York-based Handel Architects, the project, in keeping with the boutique theme, will host large, up-scale, "exclusive" events. Your average guest will not get to climb the front steps - those will be reserved for special galas and events, thank you very much.
"One of the most important aspects of the sanctuary space is volume and preserving the structure of the space," said Brian Friedman of Friedman Capital.
Connecting the church to the new structure has presented a logistical challenge in preserving its historic integrity. At the behest of HPRB, the developers will expand two existing windows in the church's former nursery to act as a connector, minimizing damage to the facade. HPRB also recommended increasing the space between the buildings, currently planned around twenty feet. No doubt the developer is mindful of the fate of Il Palazzo, the old Italian Embassy nearly next door, which had been sanctioned by DC Zoning for conversion into a condominium, but was later 'landmarked' by HPRB, effectively shutting down the project after sales had already begun.
Until recently, the site had been marked for a 69-unit condominium, initially to be developed First Management Group of Chevy Chase, but later revised their plans in favor of a hotel. "I want to note that we tried very hard to come up with a type of business that could go in there to preserve a church that is 100 years old. We needed a business where, 100 years later, you could still see that church. A hotel was the only thing we could come up with to make that happen. We started with condos but we think this development brings better progress," Friedman said.
He added that the project would offer 4,000 s.f. of community space for meetings and events. "We are very proud that there will be community space, to give you an idea, the penthouse or condo units are half the size of the community space," he said, referring to the ten condo units destined for the penthouse level.
But while developers project an urbanizing, avant-garde creation that will invigorate the neighborhood, neighborhood organizations are predictably wary, especially about the height - this being DC. "I think that in the spirit and concept of project we are fully behind it. I think that some commissioners are hesitant to put full support behind until we see full elevation and full plans," said Bryan Weaver of ANC 1C
Peter Lyden of the Reed-Cooke Neighborhood Association was less credulous. "We've not seen any definitive drawings with height, density, or views, so we really haven't had any solid detail to make a decision. We do have comments that were received...one from long time resident reads, 'In my view, this height simply goes beyond heights of the neighborhood...the height should fit the character, not change it.' We welcome the idea, but it has to fit the zoning of the area," Lyden said. To which the developer replies that the building will be hidden behind the church and will not overtake it. To alleviate traffic on Champlain Street, the developer plans to follow the example of the Georgetown Ritz and incorporate the parking driveway into the site.
Friedman and his team will submit a PUD and return to the HPRB in October; until then, the board recommended moving the pool, which will be surrounded by the hotel and next to a spa and bar, rather than on the roof, to muffle the noise of festive guests that might disturb the late-night hordes on 18th Street. The developer wanted the pool on the roof but neighbors were concerned about noise; the board recommended moving the pool up a few stories in order to put rooms under it. The board also recommended studying the building at the street level to "avoid an overly commercial look for an addition to a masonry church building in what is a largely residential area of the city." In fact the building would be the lone hotel in the Adams Morgan and Mt. Pleasant neighborhoods.
This will be first foray into hotel production and several other single and multi-family projects across the country. The new church-hotel does not yet have a name or an established construction timeline.