Monday, December 06, 2010

Dreyfus Tees Up Center Leg Freeway


Building 3 city blocks on top of an active highway isn't easy. But developers at Louis Dreyfus think they have it just about figured out, and tonight they will make their pitch to the District of Columbia Zoning Commission that their designs to build 2.3 million s.f. in 6 buildings on top of I-395, a stretch known as the Center Leg Freeway, should be approved.

What began decades ago as a horribly misbegotten idea by the National Capitol Planning Commission (NCPC) to create an Inner Loop within the District, an idea that birthed the Southwest Express and tore down swaths of historic buildings, relegating southwest DC for decades to woeful cementitious architecture and federal dependency, may at last be partially healed. The urban planning of the 1940's and 1950's fortunately never realized its goal of extending another half mile north and west, but left a chasm known as the Center Leg that isolated a section of northwest. Dreyfus plans to cover that scar burrowed deep into the city, not only building a platform on which a neighborhood can reside, but doing so while keep the highway operational throughout construction.

Plans have been knocked around for years, but tonight will mark a milestone for its advancement. Dreyfus intends to roof the highway from E Street to Massachusetts, extending F and G Streets to a now-isolated Georgetown Law School. The most recent development plans developed over the past month up the number of buildings from 5 to 6, increase retail visibility, and contemplate additional residential density.

The local ANC gave unanimous approval to the revised concept after developers agreed to "a good faith effort" to raise ceiling heights of retail spaces in the hopes of attracting classier retail, replaced a canopy idea bridging two buildings (ala Tech World Plaza, shudder) with a new building, and agreed to factor in more than the 150 planned residences. "They've been very good at addressing all the issues we've brought up" said Rob Amos, a Commissioner with ANC 6C. "They've been an exemplary developer. We wish more developers were like this."

A Zoning Commission approval would greenlight the project for purchase of the air rights from the city, a deal that is expected to net the city $60m. Developers would then build a separate platform for each of the 3 new city blocks, 247,000 of new "ground," in sum, beginning work on the buildings as each platform is finished. The plan allots 3 buildings in the north block (up from 2), 2 in the center block, and 1 in the south block. Each of the office buildings will rise the usual 12 stories, and developers are contemplating where to put unspecified additional housing at the behest of the ANC, a move it hopes will keep the area from vacating at night. "We're looking forward to putting those 2 pieces back together again" said Amos of the Berlin-style east and west sides of the highway, but added that it would be 2012 at the earliest before the project begins construction.

Years of wrangling came together in 1966 when construction of the freeway got underway, culminating in $81m in spending, 7.5 miles of flourescent tube lighting, and the dislocation of enough neighborhoods to do a Beijing bureaucrat proud. The cosmetic surgery to remove the scar is expected to cost well above $400m and drag on for at least another 3 years. Connecticut's John Dinkeloo & Associates is designing the buildings, while New York's Skidmore, Owings & Merrill is serving as master planner.

Washington DC real estate development news

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is pretty darn amazing how stupid people were in the 60s.

Anonymous said...

While a lot of time and effort has and will continue to focus on the infrastructure, I have to say that no enough effort seems to have gone into the design. A suburban glass box has no place in the urban context.

Anonymous said...

It does look like SOM just phoned this one in, doesn't it?

jeff on Dec 6, 2010, 6:00:00 PM said...

Glass boxes are the new norm; blame the green movement certifications (max light). architecturally, kinda looks like we're going back to the 60's!
Is there a park in the area?

Anonymous said...

Glass-box buildings can be elegant, lively, and exciting. The glass-box building depicted in this rendering is none of the above. It is shockingly uninspiring, badly proportioned, and OH MY GOD what were they thinking with the cheesy, pedimented glass roof?? Roche/Dinkeloo hasn't done a really good building in more than 30 years (the firm's other recent projects in DC are total snoozefests). Louis Dreyfuss had to go to an out of town firm to get this dreck?

Anonymous said...

Question on the map. Is that Mass Ave on the left side? Is the whole map turned to the left (North is actually "west" on the map", West is actually "south" and so on). I don't see where F and G Sts are continued through to connect NW with Gtown Law.

Can someone clarify this map for me?

Anonymous said...

Don't blame the green certifications, imagine the energy it will cost to heat and cool this baby. Blame modernist architectural schools who turn out ditto head after ditto head.

si on Dec 7, 2010, 7:42:00 AM said...

That looks like the old rendering.

Critically Urban on Dec 7, 2010, 9:09:00 AM said...

These are the old renderings, people. Nothing has been released on this website that shows the 3 new buildings replacing the Techworld-style canopied and bridged buildings on the northern block.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the map is oriented with North on the left side - Georgetown Law is at the top. There is a small-ish park directly to the north, across Mass Ave from the site.

PS said...

My guess is that glass is a far less expensive material than masonry keeping costs for office developers low. The glass also has a shorter life span than masonry. Developers don't expect to own these buildings long term and they are happy to save money upfront for themselves and let someone else foot the bill for maintenance in the long run.

This isn't a rant against Louis Dreyfus in particular. Just the state of things. The developer of my condominium bought HVAC and elevator equipment from companies that use proprietary technology. This saved the developer money upfront but will nail the HOA on maintenance in the long run.

Anonymous said...

Whish this was more of a mixed use project. The residential piece is basically and after thought and is really to small keep the project from being a 9-5 office zone.

Anonymous said...

While it would be great if this were a paragon of urban design, I've got to say, even as a suburban office park, it's a heck of a lot better than what is there right now.

I imagine the high cost of decking over the highway means they really need high-rent tenants to make it feasible (condos might not do it, especially in this market).

Richard Layman on Dec 7, 2010, 3:35:00 PM said...

I do remember an architect wrt an H Street mentioning the fact that masonry costs $15/foot to lay, which is why most buildings try to avoid it.

Rob on Dec 8, 2010, 11:22:00 AM said...

Corrections to article:

1) I am not a Commissioner with the ANC, I am the Citizen Chairman of the ANC 6C Planning, Zoning, and Environment Committee.

2) Those are old renderings of the North Block buildings. There are now three separate buildings in the North block.

3) The ANC Committee approval did have the caveat asking for increased retail height and by the next week at the Full ANC meeting, Dreyfus had provided a variety of retail heights in response to our request.

Rob Amos
ANC 6C 6C Planning, Zoning, and Environment Committee Citizen Chair

Anonymous said...

It would be nice to see Dreyfuss to finish their project (currently a pile of bricks) adjacent to the Hopscotch Bridge before commencing on something more radical like the Center Leg Freeway. Especially when they have cited their inability to secure funding as the current hindrance.

Anonymous said...

Wish this was more of a mixed use project. The residential piece is basically an afterthought and is really to small keep the project from being a 9-5 office zone.

I am pretty certain the Walmart at 1st/H Street NW will prevent that from happening. It's such a wonderful, magnetic cultural mecca that everyone should enjoy at all hours and days of the week!

Anonymous said...

It is pretty %#$@ amazing how stupid folks were in the 60s....they should have cut a scar all the way to the beltway so that 395 provided another way to beat the gridlock since those hicks in VA refused an outer beltway back in the 80s. Could have dug across the crack dens and prostitutes creating a nicely defined nice vs. not so nice neighborhoods.

Anonymous said...

Your photo needs to be rotated 90 degrees!

 

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