Matt Valentini of the JBG Companies and Michael C. Swartz of David M. Schwarz Architects met with the Cardozo Shaw Neighborhood Association (CSNA) last night to present plans for their proposed 250-room hotel at the current site of the Rite Aid at 13th and U Streets, NW.
The team began their presentation describing the current Rite Aid-dominated single-story strip mall on site as a "suburban building type" that under-utilizes its prominent location. "The Metro being at the corner of 13th and U really makes this a focal point not only for the neighborhood by the historic district as a whole,” said Swartz. The architect’s stated goal in designing the hotel is to make something more “iconic and memorable,” who went on to identify numerous area precedents for the bayed brick design, including the Dunbar and Whitelaw Hotels.
Their current plans call for the building to top out a 10-stories, though they are alternatively exploring the possibility of limiting it to nine. A final determination on the building's height will be made once the development begins the approval process with local governing bodies such as the ANC 1B, the Historic Preservation Review Board and the Office of Planning.
At its’ current 90 foot height, the proposed hotel would require multiple variances in order to exceed the by-right height limit of 65 feet. Valentini countered criticisms that the hotel was a “colossus” by outlining the various benefits the project would offer: one hundred and fifty permanent jobs (sold!), a gallery showcasing the work of the local artists, future contributions to local community organizations, a public pool and spas, and guest vouchers to promote Metro use were among the items cited. “All those things are out there to be publicly consumed,” said Valentini.
According to the JBG representative, a project at the permitted 65 feet would not be economically feasible, especially considering that the developer must accommodate Rite Aid, which has leased the site until 2026. The hotel will retain the 25,000 square feet of retail presently available, though most of it will be devoted to the pharmacy. The remaining ground floor space will be allotted to glass-fronted retail and Valentini told the audience that JBG is “considering people on U Street today” as possible tenants.
Amenities planned for the hotel include the aforementioned gallery and pool, as well as a hotel restaurant, rooftop bar, meeting space and green roof – in keeping with the project’s pledged LEED silver certification. Furthermore, the development team stated that they had already amended their design to address a primary community concern: parking along already congested U Street. The current design features an all-valet two-story garage that will utilize mechanical stacking devices to far surpass the amount of spaces required by zoning.
JBG has yet to formally announce a flag for the hotel, but did say that they have reached out to hotelier Denihan Hospitality Group about the U Street project. “They do smaller boutique hotels, but we like their style and one of the things we’ve really talked about is this idea of a hotel club,” said Valentini. “Whereby, when we a build spa, when we have a pool, when we have a fitness center, that’ll be open to the public too.”
Following the meeting, CSNA President Bryan Martin Firvida told DCmud:
While JBG was able to speak to many of the questions and concerns raised during the meeting, there are a still a number that will need to be addressed as the plans move ahead...Even though we're only in the concept and planning stages today, this project has already made an impact on our neighborhood, and will continue to do so, during planning, construction, and most importantly, long after the front doors of the hotel open for business....The end goal of course, is to ensure that once complete, this project makes a positive impact on our already great U Street neighborhood.Though JBG has yet to formally submit their application to the Office of Planning, the development team projects that the PUD process will begin in “late spring/summer.” At present, construction is tentatively scheduled for 2011, followed by a 2014 completion. In the meantime, the CSNA has opened up a website devoted solely to JBG’s 14th Street Hotel project: http://ustreethotel.csnadc.org/