Thursday, September 30, 2010

Groundwork Gets Underway at Convention Center Marriott

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Construction crews could begin preliminary groundwork as early as next week for the Convention Center's newest addition, the 1,175-room, 15-story Marriott Marquis, a project headed by Quadrangle Development and Capstone Development. The Washington Convention & Sports Authority (WCSA) announced earlier today that it will provide limited early access in order for developers to orchestrate initial site remediation work including: "removal of underground storage tanks, demolition of the Erhlich Building, erecting fences, placing signage around the site and readying the area for construction."

A more ceremonial and celebratory start to construction will soon follow, says Gregory A. O’Dell, Washington Convention and Sports Authority President. "The Authority and the District are finalizing the documentation and preparing to close on the bonds as we anticipate a groundbreaking within the next 30-45 days," he explains. Once construction begins, a build-out of 42 months is anticipated, placing the delivery date in the spring of 2014. While this is not the official groundbreaking, convention center authority spokeswoman Chinyere Hubbard confirms that this is indeed the beginning of construction and an indication of nothing but green lights going forward. There are "no further legal obstacles", says Hubbard, who notes that the WCCA board will officially approve the financing bonds tomorrow.

The soon to be active construction site is bounded by Massachusetts Avenue and L Streets, NW. Because of District height limitations, the massive hotel is burying much it's square footage beneath the earth, so the first order of business for contractors is to dig a giant hole and start building back up to ground level. Progress above ground might not be visible for almost a year after construction starts. Upon completion, the building will feature over 100,000 s.f. of meeting and ballroom space, 25,000 sf of retail, and 385 parking spaces. The plan also calls for a below grade tunnel (vehicle and pedestrian) connecting the hotel and Convention Center. The hotel will become only the third Marquis in the country. Developers and District officials hope the already impressive Convention Center will be a world-wide attraction now that an accompanying state-of-the-art, large-scale hotel is on the way.

Last year, Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the New Convention Center Hotel Amendments Act of 2009 that authorized Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and the issuance of bonds, to fund up to $206m in construction and operational costs. Private developers will pick up the remaining portion of the estimated $550 million total cost. With JBG's spat over the project and ensuing lawsuit now ended, today's announcement means the project is officially moving forward.

Washington DC real estate development news

Architects and Developers Roll Out Concepts for Southwest Waterfront

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Last night at the Arena Stage, as the developers from Madison Marquette and PN Hoffman, as well as lead planning architect Stan Eckstut of EE&K, presented their master plan for the redevelopment of the Southwest Waterfront, one thought really stuck: it's going to take a boatload of time, money, and effort to make these ideas reality. The vision was colorful, imaginative, and mostly astounding, with prospects of a world class waterfront with international port-cities like Genoa, Auckland, Baltimore, and Seattle as inspiration. If only they had a plan for how to pay for it or when to build it.

Unfortunately the idea men are real estate developers, not wizards, and it will take more than a PowerPoint presentation to transform the city's Southwest Waterfront. But with no definite time-line given or dedicated financing, developers seem to be turning to the increasingly common fallback of government-sponsored housing. Some of the basic tenets of their master plan were released: 840,000 s.f. of office space, 335,000 s.f. of ground floor retail, several entertainment and cultural features (maritime museum maybe?), three hotels totaling 600 keys, as well as over 500 residential units, fully half of them being set aside for low-income residents at 60% AMI or less - one of the District's lower end income caps for subsidized housing. The presenters also promised that 60% of the 27 acres would be public space, emphasizing their belief that creating buildings is not their primary focus, it's shaping spaces for a 4-season destination for commerce and recreation.
While the development details set for dry land were compelling, developers stressed that their vision really begins and ends with the water itself. Their plan sees the two major yacht clubs significantly expanded, almost doubling their holding capacity to four or five hundred slips. Their concept also stretches several large piers well out into the channel, each plank serving a different purpose. The "City Pier" will extend from 9th Street, welcoming larger cruising vessels with a bandstand of some kind, where the "mayor can welcome visitors" (Greetings, Mr. Putin, how was your boat trip to America?) and pedestrians can enjoy concerts and fireworks. Planners hoped a modern lighthouse-like tower would anchor this pier on land, but admitted developers had not figured out a way to pay for this yet (not to mention the rest of the project). Another pedestrian-heavy and recreational pier will split the waterfront in half, wedged between the two marinas, planners sketched the picture of a small sailing school, kayaks and boat rentals. On the far west side of the waterfront, a wider pier will feature a plethora of dinner boats, stretching the many future dining options out onto the water.
On land, "The Wharf" will be the main pedestrian-centric thoroughfare, taking the right of way from the few vehicles that venture down the water's edge. Wide bike lanes will run along the inner portion of the expansive sidewalks stretching from current Fish Market to M Street. And developers are hoping that by including a streetcar line down the middle of the street, the District will be compelled to get moving on their pledge to make public streetcar transit a reality. Maine Avenue will shoulder most of the vehicular traffic, with District officials having requested the closing of Water Street, and will feature bus drop offs and a 2,500-space below-grade parking garage. Other land-side features include the re-imagining of the fish market as a year-round "Market Square" featuring brew pubs, cafes, restaurants, and picnic areas. On the opposite side, a large open park at P Street will be vehicle-free and less dense, transitioning the development into the neighborhood.

Cicada-like hisses greeted Eckstut's mention of stretching some buildings to a height of 11-stories and 130-feet, but the architect defended such dimensions as allowing wider, more inviting sight lines and access points to the waterfront, massing density vertically in strategic locations to allow a more porous, open waterfront. A more agreeable talking point was his promise that those currently living on boats at Gangplank Marina would not be threatened and expelled by the new plans.

The details of the development are many, and are difficult to bundle into a comprehensive understand via prose, but blog Southwest Quadrant has a solid bullet-pointed rundown of the major features. The entire PUD will be submitted to the Zoning Commission later this fall, with many lively public hearings set for the spring. Phase I construction can't be expected until at least 2012, despite a recent groundbreaking, and construction could take upwards of eight years. And that's a best case scenario. The development team was awarded the project in January of 2008.

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Two Year Extension Given to Uline Arena Redevelopment Plans

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Like many developments around the city, Douglas Jemal's plans for the vacant Uline Arena and Ice House will remain stalled for the foreseeable future. But that won't stop real estate development fiends from fantasizing about the day Jemal's unique redevelopment vision for this historic NOMA property are finally realized. On Tuesday that day seemed pretty far away, as the BZA granted Jemal and his development team a two year extension of their plan approval and setback and parking variance relief approvals. In 2008, both the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) and Zoning approved the preliminary plans of Douglas Development, in partnership with the Wilkes Company, to
transform Uline Arena into a state of the art mixed-use complex featuring 290,000 square feet of commercial office space, 75,000 s.f. of ground-floor retail, and 225 residential units.

Bounded to the north by M Street NE, and situated on the northern half of the block between 2nd and 3rd Streets NE, the Uline Arena, also known as the Washington Coliseum, is best known as the first concert venue in the United States to host the Beatles. Over the years it featured sports teams like the Washington Lions (American Hockey League) and the Washington Capitals (American Basketball Association), as well as famous musical acts like Bob Dylan and the Temptations. Most recently the facility was used as a trash transfer station by Waste Management Inc. Originally constructed in 1941, HPRB placed the building on its National Register of Historic Places in 2006, preventing any future demolition plans.
GTM Architects have penned the design plans that see the historic coliseum restored, renovated, and expanded. Designers are excited about the historic preservation aspect of this project, describing the structure and its thin shell concrete vaulted roof as one the earliest examples of "structural innovations in modern industrial design in the United States." As part of the renovation, existing masonry facades will be improved and restored. A 2-story addition of glass and steel will be constructed above the Ice House, highlighting the industrial character of the structure.
A spacious, multi-level atrium will be constructed inside the domed Arena. Decisions on who or what will occupy the retail space are up in the air: big box retail, an entertainment center, a mix of small and local restaurants and cafes, it all remains on the table, according to developers. The streetscape will be improved with planters and transitioned into a new landscaped entry plaza at the northeast corner of the block. Developers intend on extensively incorporating sustainable design strategies so to warrant LEED certification upon completion.

Executive Paul Millstein of Douglas Develpoment says of the hold up: "We have a really cool design to bring this property back to life, but right now we're still searching for the construction money." It's a tough market for anyone to secure financing in, but especially so for a development team used to doing spec projects. With times still uncertain, no one is willing to finance
developments without prelease agreements, says Millstein. "Trust me," he explains, "this is not the place we hoped to be; we thought we'd be done by now." But he assures skeptics that they are remaining flexible on the future of the office and retail space, and "are plowing ahead, more bull-headed in our efforts than with any other property."

But Douglas Development promises not to sacrifice quality for speed. At the initial approval hearing he told the BZA that the building was going to have "cool tenants." "They're going to be innovative. They're going to be environmentally correct. They're going to be public transportation oriented. They're going to be neighborhood friendly," he elaborated. But what and who are these "cool tenants"? Greenpeace, who currently resides in another of Jemal's buildings, was initially mentioned as a possible tenant, but have decided to remain in their current location. And that's really too bad, because what's cooler than Greenpeace? Well, except for Paul McCartney playing a gig at the groundbreaking ceremony, just a thought. Hurry up Jemal, while he can still sing.

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News

Groundbreaking at 1150 Ripley Street

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Minor construction work has now begun at 1150 Ripley Street in Silver Spring, but developer Washington Property Company will wait until next Tuesday to officially celebrate the groundbreaking of their 16-story multi-family building. The 306,000 s.f. building will add 286 rental units, and is being heralded by developers as the "first major construction project within the Ripley District in almost 20 years." On October 5th, Washington Property Company President Charles K. Nulsen III will be joined by Montgomery County officials to put a ceremonial shovel in the ground and provide remarks on the bright future of the Ripley District, including specifics on several other "exciting development
plans" in the area.

The building design, a generous use of glass textured by streaking and crisscrossing lines of metal as well as tall brick columns, is courtesy of the Lessard Group. Sitting on 1.16 acres of land, the apartment building will offer the usual assortment of amenities: business center, conference rooms, rec rooms, and a fitness center. Stocked with the standard array of studios and one and two bedrooms, the structure will stand atop three and a half levels of below grade parking totaling over 300 spaces. The ground floor will feature 7,000 s.f. of service retail.

The Ripley District, a triangular parcel of land in downtown Silver Spring, is bounded by Bonifant Street, Georgia Avenue, and the CSX Railroad. Sitting adjacent to the MARC railway and Silver Spring Transit Center, this is the type of transit-oriented development that county officials are hoping to encourage. The county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs has offered $5 million in mezzanine financing, and hopes their visible cooperation and financial assistance will spur future smart growth in the area.

Silver Spring, and specifically the Ripley District, will look to mimic Bethesda and Arlington by sporting horse blinders, ignoring the recession, and plowing ahead. Officials will steer new developments to be "organized around open spaces, surrounded by a mix of high-density office and apartment buildings, with bike trails and pedestrian routes connecting residents to the nearby Paul S. Sarbanes Transit Center and the Metropolitan Branch Trail to Union Station in downtown Washington, D.C." Home Properties' Ripley Street North mixed-use development will look to follow this blueprint and give County officials another reason to smile, but no word on impending construction has been given. The plan for the Shalom-Baranes-designed 200 ft. residential tower and accompanying 80 ft mixed-use building was approved in 2008.

S.E. Foster, a subsidiary of the Paradigm Companies, is heading up general contracting duties, and will deliver the first units in roughly eighteen months. Full delivery is expected in approximately two years.

Silver Spring, MD Real Estate Development News

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hello Cupcake II

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For cupcake fanatics in DC (apparently there are a lot of them), the knowledge that Dupont Circle's Hello Cupcake has been planning to expand to Barracks Row amidst the escalating cupcake frenzy is welcome news. But diversifying the catalog of cake and frosting combos is not the only thing that goes into a new location, as the new store will open with national expectations. While Penny Karas, founder and owner of Hello Cupcake, juggles the tasks of a small business owner, her husband Bill Bonstra and his colleagues at Bonstra Haresign Architects are working to make sure customers at Hello Cupcake's newest location (705 8th Street SE) will consume their sugary treats in a comfortable, colorful, and intelligently designed space.

The original
Bonstra and his team were responsible for the interior design of the first Hello Cupcake store that earned the National 2009 IES Capital Chapter Lighting Award of Merit and also won design awards in each of four categories of the AIA/DC Chapter Awards program. Bonstra said he wasn't exactly surprised, but still humbled and delighted: "We knew we had done something good, but to be recognized by your peers is fantastic." The interior space that Bonstra created on Dupont Circle seems like an upscale and modern take on an airy Candy Land dreamscape. The new space in Southeast will be a continuation of the same, says Bonstra. "The new store will be consistent with the brand that has been developed, and will play on some of the same design themes, but will also be unique, as every project and space is new and different." Bonstra will also adhere to the same LEED and Green Restaurant Association standards that governed many of the design decisions the first go around.

Hello Cupcake or Hello Kitty?
Like the Dupont Circle location, the Barracks Row cupcakery will feature lively signage, generous and inviting windows, and colorful sidewalk furniture. While the previous location was a retail space in the ground floor of a large office building, Hello Cupcake's newest venue replaces Capitol Hill Bikes in a three-story historic row-house, featuring residential units on top of the ground floor retail space. With all this, plus the addition of several planters and flower boxes, Bonstra believes his wife's new location will add "needed vibrancy" to the historic facade and the southern portion of Barracks Row. The new store has the luxury of a basement floor, which will allow Karas to jump-start the nationwide shipping operation she had included in her business plan from the beginning.

Hello Cupcake II interior rendering
Karas hopes that she can tap into some of the baseball fans that shuttle to Nationals' stadium from the nearby Barracks Row eateries. Baseball game traffic won't be back until next spring, but cupcake consumption on Barrack's row should happen before then as construction is set to finish before the first of the new year. Bonstra says that his team is in the process of securing all necessary building permits, and that some minor demolition has already begun. Energized by a few cupcake induced sugar highs, Prill Construction Group is moving speedily ahead as they oversee general contracting work.

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News

Green Public Housing Opens in Southeast

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The Community Preservation & Development Corporation (CPDC) will lead a grand opening ceremony today for Wheeler Terrace, a public housing project in southeast DC renovated to hit green new green levels. Once a crime-plagued and filthy tenement, the seven-building project reopens today with expectations to redefine public housing standards.

Wiencek + Associates redesigned the buildings to achieve both LEED and Enterprise Green Communities certification, the first DC public housing project to do so. The 116 affordable housing units at 1217 Valley Avenue, SE will feature clean-air systems, white reflective vinyl roofs, a green roof demonstration project, and heat supplied by a geothermal pump: 100 wells 350-450 feet deep, utilizing a glycol anti-freeze that brings up water at a constant 55 degrees.

Plans to redevelop the blighted project date back to 2006, when the residents of Wheeler Terrace exercised their right to purchase the land under the District’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA). The Wheeler Terrace Tenant Association then selected CPDC as developer shortly thereafter. Turner Construction lead the renovation efforts at the 133,000 square foot site. Tenants of the project were relocated during construction and are now being repatriated to the updated complex. Time will tell if the green label keeps the crime at bay.

The celebration will be held today at 10am.

Washington DC real estate development news

Monday, September 27, 2010

The House that Straddled Time

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By Beth Herman

It's either in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley or in your wildest dreams, depending on how much Ketel One you've had to drink the night before, but for a noted NYC expat/physician, this place is really home.

For Winchester, Va.-based Chuck Swartz and Beth Reader of Reader & Swartz Architects, creating a place to retire for a client whose lifetime interests included opera and what some might consider colliding collections of pop art, rare books, skeletal remains, insects, an imposing statue of bad-boy Greek character Actaeon and antique scientific oddities presented a design challenge largely unparalleled in their 20 years in practice together, but one the firm truly embraced. Ultimately receiving an AIA D.C. merit award in the historic resources category, the architects’ efforts to integrate 300 years of art, objects, books and furniture, including a 1959 Eames chair and Mies van der Rohe daybed, into slightly more than 3,000 s.f. of a late 19th century “street side farm house,” known as vernacular Victorian, resulted in a home that’s rich, tactile appeal rivaled its intellectual brio.

“When you see these things,” Swartz said of his client’s eclectic though erudite taste, “it’s not an ego collection for him. He actually reads these amazing books and knows all about them. And all of the objects – he knows who did them, who they were related to. He lives in the history of Western culture.”

Upstairs, Downstairs

Originally four apartments, Reader & Swartz Architects, who also credit Lodge Construction, Inc.’s craftspeople and project manager Earl Burroughs, began by converting the structure into two spaces: lower and loft. The smaller, bottom living space of 939 s.f. went to the homeowner’s caretaker who maintains the precisely landscaped, vibrant grounds and gardens that further define the space. Primarily a renovation, the only addition to the premises was the inclusion of another library, in fact a third library, commonly referred to as the “secret” library due to its windowless location, which houses some of the homeowner’s estimated 4,000-book collection under unusually creative circumstances.

“In this case, the library is the room and the room is the library,” Swartz explained, noting the shelves go from floor-to-ceiling on all four chocolate brown walls in the 13x13x13-ft space. When the door - which is backed by more shelving - is closed, it disappears, and a highly mobile library ladder runs the entire perimeter of all four walls to access any and all books. A 1920s art deco Murano glass light fixture hangs from a coffered ceiling, and isn’t electrified, holding candles instead. The room is actually lit by a minimalist fixture above this one, which shines down on the glass. “We’re taking an old light fixture and thinking of it as an object rather than a source of light," Swartz said, which is exemplary of other repurposed entities throughout the home. “Everything is looked at for its properties and thought about a lot,” Swartz noted. “So if something is beautiful and (the homeowner) loved it, we figured out how to have it make sense in the building.”

In the garden library, which overlooks a rather formal Karesansui rock garden, black Corian bookshelves are traversed by tapered, vertical, floor-to-ceiling pieces of wood, almost like airplane wings, which add precision and scale to that room’s collection of books. The remaining library, called the main salon, is a large, pale green room with floor-to-ceiling glass, a barrel-vaulted ceiling and mirrors at each end. On one wall is a changeable wooden apparatus, thought of as kinetic or interactive sculpture. “The verticals are set, but all the horizontal pieces can be unscrewed very quickly, almost in IKEA fashion,” Swartz explained, adding the whole composition can be moved around to accommodate the client’s glassware, antique medical objects, sea shells and more. “He calls it his Wundercamera,” Swartz quipped.

The Butler with the Candlestick in the Kitchen

In tandem with the home’s robust personality and old/new functionality, the kitchen needed to have its own voice. The last thing the team desired was to default to a “subdivision-type” kitchen with little dignity. “We wanted the space to be the way a really old kitchen would be, where it’s a room with things that are worthy,” Swartz explained. In this respect, plastic laminate “caskets” were designed to hold base cabinets and wall cabinets so that everything looks like built-in furniture. While the cabinets themselves are modern, they’re made of red oak providing a grain that, at closer look, permeates their black veneer. Visible joists were covered with black milk paint, with a floor on top of them so that the wood is visible. White subway tile on the walls flanks concrete countertops, and glass blocks from an old building in Tulsa, Oklahoma, separate the kitchen from a bathroom but allow light to shine through (as well as down the staircase when the bathroom is in use). A high-design Italian light fixture from the 1950s punctuates the space, with nearly all of the home’s light fixtures - such as the main salon’s Vassilakis Takis colored lights on stalks display - offering some kind of pedigree, according to Swartz. “The kitchen actually has an old feel without any particular reference to time,” he affirmed.

Lie Back and Think of England

Recalling the homeowner’s English roots and dry sense of humor, Swartz said a problem arose when the mechanical system had to be placed outside, up high, in plain sight of the bedroom. A resulting abstract steel pyramid design, in a kind of homage to artist Sol LeWitt whose actual work can be found in other places inside and outside the building, was cut by computer to form what is affectionately called “mechanical lingerie” or the “secular steeple.” In short, it camouflages the mechanical hardware and reflects the rooftops of Great Britain. And where the loft itself utilizes floor-to-ceiling glass to appreciate the view of the gardens below, the fa├žade of the first floor caretaker’s unit - in a nod to history and for privacy - is clad in something resembling Victorian-era pressed metal, similar to what’s seen on ceilings in old stores or in restaurants.

The overall structure, which Swartz said is not a restoration but in sustainable terms a reuse of an old building, is compared, by the architect, to a chef who might find some less contemporary thought-of foods, such as venison or cornbread, and use them in a whole new way. “It doesn’t have a static view of either architecture or history,” Swartz said about the home. “It’s a serious building, done with an open-minded sense of humor. It’s not trying to be old or modern or opulent or minimalist or anything. It’s more of a celebration of life.”


DC's Highest Retail Site

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Tenleytown, averse to the larger developments in demand around the rest of DC, must get its much-needed retail in little bursts. Such is the case at 4619 41st Street, at Wisconsin Avenue, which happens to be the highest retail point in the city - elevation, that is. But just because it is located on the side of Fort Reno, don't expect grand views; the building will rise only 4 stories, nearly opposite the Metro station, with space for "1 or 2 restaurants," a small retail element in the basement, office space, and a small number of residences above.

Owner 4619 41st LLC has begun construction on the site, certainly better known for what it was than what it will be. The land abuts the landmarked Western Union tower, an art deco, 73-foot limestone tower designed as a microwave relay station to replace wired telegraphy, the first structure in the country built for that purpose. The construction site also was used briefly by American Tower for a 760-foot behemoth that would have dwarfed others nearby, but was heavily protested by neighbors who fought the concentration of radio towers on the visible site. The tower was about 50% completed when the city forced it to halt construction, the tower sat half-finished for several years before coming down in 2007.

Engineers for the site call the project one of the more technically difficult sites to work on, with the tiny site adjoining the Western Union tower and Dancing Crab, both of which have to be dug below and underpinned, caisson footings from the removed radio tower have to be excavated, and a Metro tunnel underneath that WMATA doesn't really want punctured.

The engineering firm seems up to the task. KCE Structural Engineers has been part of $42 billion worth of construction projects, having engineered Washington Harbor, Federal Triangle, the John Wilson building addition, Bethesda Metro Center, the PTO building in Alexandria, and Arena Stage. KCE Principal Allyn Kilsheimer has a more personal connection with the construction site, having grown up in the neighborhood and having been part of the engineering team that readapted the Western Union tower as a junior engineer at Beall & Lemay in the early '60's. Kilsheimer went on to found KCE in 1968, engineering buildings throughout DC and beyond. With such eminence in the engineering world, Kilsheimer was called to the World Trade Center site on September 11, 2001, but, barely en route, got the call that he was needed at the Pentagon and had to turn around. Kilsheimer went on to lead the Phoenix Project team, which rebuilt the Pentagon under budget and ahead of schedule.

"This is a very, very complicated building" said Kilsheimer. "We're now doing the underpinning of the Crab Shack and tower, the foundation should be laid in 3-4 months." Georgetown based Grupo7, which has worked with the Ed Peete company on numerous interior designs and restaurant build-outs, is providing architectural design. With Tenley's Babes and Safeway going nowhere, the new restaurants will add some flavor at the top of DC.



Washington DC real estate development news

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Adams Morgan's Champlain Street Slated for a Residential Uprising

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Just east of the main night life drag - 18th Street in Adams Morgan - in Reed-Cook is Champlain Street, pegged as a prime area for residential development, despite the street's struggle to overcome a crime-ridden reputation thanks to a dead end that brought cops staked out in squad cars over the past few years. Now, three projects, that will bring a combined 90 residential units to the street, look to be making moves in the next one-to-six months, the first of which will be one that was sidelined in 2009, D.B. Lee Development's boutique "Eden" condo.

Bill Bonstra designed it several years ago, the market softened, but that area of the city has seen alot of interest, like the Brass Knob project. This is our 4th project (Viya, BK, Erie) also Jubilee around the corner. "Eden - hence the name - is really about the outdoors, sustainability, and is actually designed to take advantage of the maximum sun angles of the property." "Most outdoor space for as many of the units as possible." combo of masonry and "metal panels that slice through the building almost like a knife." Fits into the neighborhood context by maintaining the street wall. 18 units, very spacious. 4 story, woodframe on podium, parking along the back. "is really expressive of its name."

The condominium designed by Bonstra | Haresign will replace two 3-story brick rowhouses at 2358 and 2360 Champlain St; permits to level these and make way for the second coming of "the promised land" are pending. A building permit, approved two years ago, was reinstated at the end of August and an assistant with D.B. Lee confirmed that the project aims to be underway soon, with financing secured this summer.

Since 2009, the number of condo units to be tucked into the Eden has doubled, as verified by a Champlain Street neighbor,"I believe the developer is adjusting to market conditions and reducing the square footage and increasing the number of units [from 9] to 18."

The Eden will be built directly across the street from D.B. Lee's last boutique (11-unit) condo project The Erie at 2351 Champlain, completed in 2009. The Erie property is saddled up to an infill site at 2337 that was purchased in July and will be turned into a 40-unit, PGN Architects-designed condo by Federal Capital Partners and Altus Realty Partners. Construction is in the design phase and is expected to be underway in late spring/early summer of 2012.

On the other side of FCP's property, still an apple's throw away from the Eden, is the 1950s-era auto dealership and plating shop at 2329/2335 approved as a 31-unit residential project currently listed for sale with CBRE. The broker asserts there has been promising interest of late.

At the top of Champlain, only 200' north of the Eden and the Erie, developers continue to wrangle with the design for the reinvention of the 100-year-old First Church of Christ Scientist at 1700 Euclid Street NW. With a substantial footprint, the project will also extend down Champlain and overtake the headquarters of the Washington City Paper. The plan is to create a 227-room luxury hotel by the boutique-hotel mastermind Ian Schrager, with ongoing community debate over the potential effect it could have on Adams Morgan, and wide eyes regarding the $46 million tax break from the District.

It remains to be seen whether new residential in the middle of Champlain will significantly impact the street, and if the luxury-hotel-created ritz at Euclid Street will trickle all the way down Champlain to the historically rough end at Kalorama Road, recently improved with a new, flashy mural.

Washington D.C. real estate development news

Friday, September 24, 2010

Falkland Chase To Begin Review Process

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Home Properties is set to unveil their Falkland Chase redevelopment plans later this fall. The proposed development site is 9.7 acres of land at the northeast corner of 16th Street and East-West Highway in Silver Spring. The recently revised plans call for the currently standing 180 garden apartments to be demolished in order to make way for an urban infill, multi-building complex totaling some 1,250 rental apartments upon completion. The developers had first proposed stacking over 1,000 units into a single high rise, but smartened up when they realized such a large building would not go over well with the surrounding community. Last week the Montgomery County Planning Board approved a 60 day extension of the Project Plan Review phase, meaning developers will now present their plans to the Board on October 13th. In the works since 2006, just last year the developers caved to pressure from local preservationists and designated two parcels of the Falkland Chase Apartments complex as historic. But that hasn't stopped the developers from moving forward with their massive redevelopment of the northern portion of the property.

Master-planning was done by Shalom Baranes Architects. Four separate buildings (two of which rise 12 or 13 stories), connected by pedestrian pathways, will surround pockets of green space and landscaped courtyards featuring a swimming pool, pond, and water fountain. Nelson Byrd Woltz shouldered the landscape design work. Over 150 units will be designated as moderately priced, serving those making 50-65% AMI, while at least another 59 will be reserved as workforce housing. Also divided amongst the four buildings is the proposed 70,000 s.f. of retail space, with the 20,000 s.f. anchor space set to become a major grocery store. Although nothing is official, Home Properties expects to wrap up negotiations to bring Harris Teeter to the development shortly. The other retail venues will likely feature a mix of restaurants, dry cleaners, and convenience stores. A four story (half below grade, half above) 1,600-space garage will satisfy the parking needs of future residents and shoppers.

Sustainability will be a major factor given the project's proximity to the fragile Rock Creek watershed. Developers have committed to earning at least a LEED Silver Certification, and have promised to recycle as much of the construction waste as humanly possible. Several green roofs, rain gardens, and infiltration beds and cisterns will assist in collecting and processing storm runoff.

The review process is bound to shed light on some public criticism, as at least a few neighbors will be upset with the scope of the project. Developers are pushing to the ceiling on all the zoning specifications, proposing the maximum 3.0 FAR, 166 units per acre, and 143 feet in building height.

Detailed architectural renderings have not been released, although designers describe their material palate as consisting of the usual brick masonry, metal, cast stone and glass. The contemporary facades will also feature a variety of balconies, bays and exterior spaces.

Silver Spring, MD Real Estate Development News

Mather Studios Condominiums

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Mather Studios
916 G St., NW, Washington DC

Mather Studios was the first downtown conversion of an office building into housing in the history of the District of Columbia, according to its architects at Cunningham | Quill. The Mather Building, located in the Downtown Historic District, was built as an office building in 1917 by Alonzo Mather, then converted to academic use by the University of the District of Columbia in 1967, and abandoned in 1989 until its revival in 2001 as a condo residence. The gothic revival terra cotta facade was restored to its original condition, with large interior units sectioned off that have appropriately minimalist features like concrete floors, exposed ducts, industrially sized windows, and a new rooftop penthouse added. A front desk and bike lock room provide amenities, but there is very limited parking in the building, not much of a problem with parking garages around. The building conversion into a mixed-income project provides 12 affordable housing spaces for artists on the 2nd and 3rd floors, as well as 38 market-rate condominiums. The District began the conversion process when it selected the Cultural Development Corporation, PN Hoffman, and Gilford Corp. to redevelop the dilapidated office building. Gilford also served as the general contractor. The project required an exception to the District of Columbia Height Act.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Clarendon Center Retail and Office Space Going Fast

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By now, everyone inside the D.C. real estate blogosphere knows Trader Joe's is tantalizingly close to being named the major retail anchor at Saul Centers' Clarendon Center development. While it's not official, TJ's is expected to occupy the Center's 10,000 s.f. space as long as the County Board accommodates the grocery giant's request for 76 reserved customer parking spaces in the currently unrestricted, public garage. Developer Saul Centers filed the site plan amendment application on Friday of last week, and if all goes smoothly a hearing would likely happen on November 13th for the new Clarendon Center, with apartments now being readied for December 1st occupancy. County Officials wouldn't commit to granting approval to the exact amount of spaces being requested, but were confident, given the desirability of a tenant like Trader Joe's, that all involved parties will be able to work out an agreement. One doesn't have to gaze too far down the Wilson-Clarendon corridor from the potential TJ spot to recognize the traffic that popular grocery chains generate: horn-blowing SUV's queued around the block in hopes of a spot in the nearby Whole Foods parking lot is a regular rush hour sight.

The mixed-use development consists of three buildings and takes up two whole blocks: two office buildings, and one residential. As local blogs like Arlington Now continue to roll out the news about new tenants, developers have confirmed that the buildings are sealed off, contractors are finishing up interior detailing, and everything will be ready for occupancy before the end of the year. The residential building, situated on the South Block, consists of 12 stories of totaling 244 rental units. The two office buildings will total some 170,000 s.f. divided between the six-story building on the North Block and the nine-story building to the south. Tea Party activists will soon be fed and bred to political perfection on one of the floors, as the Leadership Center ("Training Conservative Leaders") has reserved space in the new complex. The local investment firm Winston Partners has also reserved one of the eight floors in the southern building, leaving six stories available. And Airline Reporting Corporation has leased four of the six available floors in Clarendon Center North.

The 42,000 s.f. of retail space is also drying up. Counting Trader Joe's, half of the 16 spots are spoken for. Several restaurants including the BGR Burger Joint, Dupont's Circa Cafe, Pete's New Haven Apizza, Tangy Sweet Garden/Red Velvet Cupcakery, and Burapa Thai & Sushi Restaurant will join a local bank and a dry cleaners. It won't be long before more restaurants will sign up, as the crowded patios along Clarendon Blvd. attest to that fact that even on weekdays there is no shortage of hungry, moneyed young people in Arlington.

Torti Gallas designed the buildings, while Clark Construction has brought their plans to life.

Arlington, VA Real Estate Development News

Preservationists In Alexandria Play the Race Card

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Drawing the line between honest historic preservation and nagging nostalgia is a difficult task. But sometimes the more difficult task is pulling back the layers of hyperbole to find the truths hidden behind the stereotype of bad, cigar-sucking developer squashing hopes of poor, kindhearted preservationists. In October of 2009 the Alexandria City Council upheld (with a 6-1 vote) the previous Board of Architectural Review (BAR) decision to allow demolition of the crumbling American Legion building at 224 North Fayette Street in the Parker-Gray neighborhood. But in an effort to avoid demolition, owner and developer Bill Cromley offered to delay his residential redevelopment plans for sixth months, hoping a preservationist would take the property off his hands at the city's assessed value. Nothing came to fruition. However, a bid of a different kind eventually did come, as self-proclaimed preservationist Boyd Walker recruited a group of 25 mostly elderly and African American Parker-Gray property owners to sign an appeal petition against the proposed razing.

Although all but two of the 25 signatories (including Walker) failed to show up and voice their concerns at the Council hearing, the group went ahead with the protest and hired the formidable local law firm Williams & Connolly to file a discrimination suit against the City Council, putting an indefinite hold on Cromley's plan to develop the property into a contemporary condominium. "Elevating architectural significance above cultural and historic significance inevitably has a disproportionate impact on buildings in historically black neighborhoods, while affording ample protections to historic structures in predominately white neighborhoods," reads the lawsuit. The building served as a childcare center assisting African American women who left their children daily to go to work, replacing the men that had gone overseas to fight in WWII. Later the building became the only American Legion post in Alexandria to serve black veterans as they returned from war, and throughout the '50's and '60's served as backdrop to community life in the predominantly black neighborhood. Later, the building became well known as a place of public drunkenness, fighting, and drug activity, until its liquor license was revoked in 1992. More recently it's remained empty, uncared for, and rotting from the inside out. It's hard to deny the building's history, but then again history is naturally embedded in everything, everywhere.

How does one decide when history is significant enough to favor preservation in the face of progress? Cromley argues that even if it is agreed that the building is historically significant (which he doesn't), there remains the question of feasibility, of practicality, of plain and simple economics. Opponents to demolition have communicated no viable plans for restoration or preservation, and the status quo would be demolition by default. Cromley remains convinced that the money it would take to stabilize and restore the old American Legion post would be impossible to reclaim in the marketplace. But he remains open to someone stepping in and proving his estimates incorrect. In order to make renovation and re-use of an old property financially worthwhile it has to have at least one of three factors working in its favor, explains Cromley: "location, size, and/or something special or quirky about the building. This building has none of these."

Cromley, only interested in the purchased land, originally offered to give the building to the city of Alexandria for free, and even offered to pay for it to be moved some fifty feet to the neighboring parkland as well as foot the bill of a new foundation. The city declined the offer. Cromley also contacted the Director Lonnie Bunch at the Smithsonian whom he knew to be in pursuit of storied artifacts for his newly planned Museum of African American History and Culture. But Smithsonian curators deemed the building unfit to convey their particular message, as they were hoping to illuminate the contrasts of "separate but equal." Historians revealed that the former nursery building in question was at the time built identically for both white and black communities.

Cromley, who has worked extensively on several successful historical restoration and adaptive reuse projects, such as the historic renovation of an old warehouse into Virginia's first LEED-certified condos on Queen Street, and formerly served as chairman of the Alexandria Board of Architectural Review, contends that "if this were the local Robinson Library, the Alexandria Black History Museum," a place built in response to one of the first Civil Rights sit-ins during which several young black men peacefully demanded library cards at the Alexandria Library, "I'd be adamantly opposed to whomever was trying to tear it down." But Cromley believes the opposition to his development is simply a cynical stalling effort, less a move for historical preservation and more an attempt at self preservation - a self-serving attempt by Boyd Walker to garner attention and publicity as a preservationist. If this was really about preserving African American history, Cromley insists, a legitimate institution would have stepped up to the plate and offered to preserve this property. "I've been open and trying my best to facilitate that solution," he says, "but the proof is in the pudding, no one has stepped forward."

In 2007 the BAR levied the highest fine in its tenure against Boyd Walker, docking him $25,000 for tearing down the historic canopy of the Old Town ice house at 200 Commerce Street without permission or proper permits. Tom Hulfish, then Chairman of the BAR, chastised Walker's actions, saying, “Boyd knows the process better than most people and yet he simply ignored it. This entire episode has been an embarrassment to the historic preservation statutes." This isn't the first time Walker gotten behind efforts to stop development. Walker, this time with broader community support, helped end a larger, more expensive commercial retail redevelopment on several blocks of King Street a few years ago, squeezing the developer out of his plans with promises of protest. But Cromley insists it won't work with him. He admits the lawsuit could tie his plans up for many, many years, but isn't too stressed. "I bought the property for very little," he says, "and the market can't get much worse, so it's bound to be worth a lot more in ten years."

The trial is set for November, but the waiting game has only just begun, with the plaintiffs invoking the Equal Protection clause of the 14th amendment. "They were clever to add that civil rights claim because that opens the case up to an appeal in the federal courts...," Cromley concedes, "...this thing could drag on for a decade." In the meantime Cromley will focus his efforts on his most recent project, a pure restoration of an 1851 Greek Revival residence in the heart of Old Town, located at 227 South Fairfax. A stately home was built the decade prior to the Civil War, and the structure was quickly expanded, eventually encapsulating a pre-existing shack, serving as a rare example of a residence in which the slave quarters were actually included within the confines of the house.

Old Town Alexandria, Virginia Real Estate Development News

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mt. Rainier - A Whole New Town

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Call it Mt. Rainier 4g. The small Maryland hamlet on the Washington D.C. border is reflecting on being a great place to live - which it most certainly is(!) - with its cute little bungalows, cultural diversity, a small-town feel, proximity to downtown DC and, by golly, a historic little town center that even once had a streetcar line. But while the rest of the DC area has been consecrated with mixed-use projects, trendy lofts and retail development, approximately none of that occurs in Mt. Rainier, and the town needs a reinvention. Enter the urban planners.

Most Washington DC denizens go to Mt. Rainier about as often as they go to NASCAR or the Woodrow Wilson museum, but the town is only a good jog away from the Metro (red line, at that), on Rhode Island Avenue where it exits the District, and has the visual hallmarks of a once self-sustained community. But its apogee was in the '40's, when a rail line still connected it to DC, population was rising, and local retail boomed. But the automobile superceded the small town, and in 1958 the town began its decline, dropping from 11,000 to 7361 at its nadir. Conditions remain bleak: population is static, the working town center storefronts were torn down, leaving gaps in the once contiguous retail now filled by parking lots. One in 5 buildings in the commercial district are unoccupied. Average household income is $49,000 (to the District's $86,000), only one in four homes are owner occupied, and the median home price is $246,000 to DC's $358,000. And no one seems to go there.

That, planners (cautiously) assert, is about to change. In 1994, the county founded the Gateway Community Development Corporation, which dwindled, despite the boom, but is now being dusted off and reinvented. Seeking "economic revitalization" that the plan promised, on June 4, 2009, the Prince George's County District Council began the process of creating the Mt. Rainier mixed-use Town Center (with the ungainly M-U-TC acronym) to create a first class commercial district on the axis of Rhode Island Avenue and 34th Street. With the hope of a potential MARC station and trolley line in its future, planners see destination retail, thriving commerce, better architecture and statuary, and a streetscape that tilts design more toward pedestrians and visual appeal than prostration to the automobile. In short, a boulevard suitable for strolling, relaxing, eating and shopping.

Despite the fact that Mt. Rainier "boasts one of the largest and most vibrant artist communities in the Washington Metropolitan area," the problems are dire, but largely a function of design. As its own report notes, sidewalks are "extremely narrow" and not wheelchair - bike - stroller accessible, land is "underutilized," curbs have deteriorated, retail space is occupied as office space or less stable local proprietors like overabundant beauty salons. Perhaps most humiliatingly, cars passing through Mt. Rainier "tend to speed up rather than slow down."

But a lemons-to-lemonade approach could transform outdated buildings into showcased features, extending building fronts up to the municipal line, adding curb extensions and alternate paving at crosswalks on Rhode Island, turning a pre-war gas station into a cafe, with sycamore-lined bike lanes claimed from unnecessarily wide parking lanes. The new MARC station would be added on the existing rail line 4 blocks south of Rhode Island Avenue, and PG County would link to the District's streetcar line, already planned (in later phases) to run the length of Rhode Island Avenue.

To develop its updated, strollable urbanity, the county turned to Cunningham | Quill as the prime consultant to direct, inspire and build a consensus among Mt. Rainierians about what to achieve and how to accomplish it. The DC based architecture and design firm and hired others to collaberate, with R. McGhee & Associates on historic preservation as well as economic consultants, market analysts and transportation experts to help inform the process. "This is very collaberative, a plan that could become a model for other revitalization areas throughout the region" said Lee Quill, principal of the architecture firm. At the very least it was speedy; CQ was brought on in July 2009, and went through the entire consultative process with an "extensive community engagement process," followed by design, coming up with a plan it submitted to MNCPPC in April 2010. The plan was distributed to the public in July and is now in the public comment period. Quill says the plan is a significant improvement over the '94 plan, and more likely to succeed, since the '94 plan "did not have a vision component, only guidelines to help the community in shaping future desired development."

Despite the "very aggressive" schedule, Quill is guardedly optimistic. "As the economy comes back, those communities that have take the time to develop a vision, or level of development, walkability and sustainability...it provides a better assurance that development will move forward." Robert Duffy, Planning Supervisor at Prince George's County Planning Department, is optimistic that planners have gotten it right, but not ready to predict immediate results. "Its an incremental process that can take a number of years, but the plan is based on sound opportunities given the current economic climate." Duffy stresses that whatever the outcome, the updated plans can only be a good thing. "The plan attempts to adjust guidelines to reflect current conditions...No matter what, we still need to revise strategies and plans. Its difficult to say 'how soon,' but some goals can be very short term."

As for the inevitable question about financing, county officials hope that as interested parties see the wisdom of the plan and opportunity for growth, funding will happen. PG's Duffy says that "the plan makes a number of recommendations for redevelopment, and for capital improvements, which can be paid for through future development activity, or by a developer, or through various requests through WMATA and state of Maryland...Each project could have a different blend of financing." In other words, no dedicated funding exists, but the goal is fund-worthy. But success of the project will undoubtedly be tied to mass transit, and neither the trolley line, which is dependent upon DC's own back shelf development, nor the MARC station addition, appears to have anything like a hopeful timeline. Says Duffy, "there's been discussion with MARC, but given the state budget its important that businesses and residences work with and advocate for this to take place, and the trolley too. They are long term, they are very expensive, but rail transit is truly the great benefit here."

Quill says the plans are worth waiting for, noting that AIA Maryland gave it an award for urban design and planning. The plan will break the town center into Rhode Island Avenue ("the boulevard"), upper 34th ("Main Street"), and the civic center at the traffic circle. "We developed a vision collectively with the community and worked with committees on specific issues. We put together guidelines to help facilitate everything from window painting to signage, to converting the bus turnaround to a true civic green, and are working with WMATA. The city purchased the Eastern Star building in effort to make this a true civic core." Quill, who also planned part of Potomac Yards, stresses that with the community being an integral part of a design that aims for a true town center, the plan has a high chance of success. "The reinforcement and definition of the public realm, that's probably the real strength of this that can come back to everyone in the city. That's part of the strength of the plan. And now there's a clarity of vision of how to get there." Developers take note. And bring money.
 

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