Tuesday, November 30, 2010

ICG's Luxury Georgetown Hotel Still Alive

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Expectedly there was a bit of a buzz in 2009 when ICG Properties announced its intentions of converting a 47-year old office building at 1050 31st Street NW into a "luxury" boutique hotel. But since Castleton Holdings Inc. first bought the property from the American Trial Lawyers Association in 2008 for $18.3 million, and shortly after revealed their 50/50 partnership with ICG, little progress has been reported. Prolonged inaction had some speculating that the deal to bring the U.S. only its second Cappella hotel had fallen through. But ICG Principal David Stern assures skeptics that, though behind schedule, developers are still pushing forward, and hope to wrap up and finalize financing within one or two months. "With the equity and debt aspects of deal squared away, " reports Stern, it appears a groundbreaking is not far off (relatively speaking).

Certainly good news, but stay seated, there remains much work to be done, before the physical labor can actually begin. "Once we close on financing," says Stern, "we still have to get a final project architect on record, and then go through six to nine months of planning." Current designs, provided by BBG-BBGM, are very much preliminary in nature. But the finer details will be hashed in early next year as the community relations, HPRB, and Zoning processes commence.

As currently proposed, the five-story hotel will feature 48 guestrooms and suites and an upscale restaurant and lounge overlooking the C&O Canal. Other highlights include an executive boardroom, a rooftop pool and bar, and exclusive spa. Remodeling of the exterior will be mostly cosmetic. “It won’t be a demolition," Stern reiterates, "The hotel renovation would be primarily interior renovation work.” With an expected construction time of approximately 12 months, developers hope to deliver the new hotel by the end of 2012.

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News

Monday, November 29, 2010

Del Ray Project Stalls

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A development darling of Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood is on hold, with the green office building on Mt. Vernon Avenue sidelined until market conditions improve. Del Ray Greens was designed to replace Anthony's Auto Center with a small retail and office building high on green credentials and capable of supporting a small vegetable farm, but the project's developer has asked the city to put a hold on its application, citing market conditions not yet justifying a start date.

Last May, would-be developer Julie Wadler anticipated that the project, more a passion than a business shift, would be underway this fall, integrating the community with design input, locally designed art projects for the facade, and public access to the rooftop garden. The city has not issued construction permits, and plans have been shelved for now.

The concept was to transform the property, which sat tantalizingly close to Wadler's Epiphany Productions, into refined, carbon-light office space worthy of a LEED Gold rating, phenolic panels (a recycled composite) and a "farmable, vegetated roof." Wadler purchased the property in 2005 for $1.2m and has spent the intervening time on its design and pushing it through the city.

"Part of the reason for building in the first place was to put something green there. If we're going to do it, we're going to do it right," said Wadler last May, who has now put nearly 6 years into the project.

Old Town-based Maginniss + Del Ninno designed the building, and Wadler held a competition for two mosaics that will adorn the building's entrance. A 9th grader from Alexandria and a 7th grader from Arlington won the contest for the 7' x 6' mosaics; their schools will be responsible for producing the final piece at the still indeterminate moment of production.

Alexandria, Virginia real estate development news

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mr. Callison Builds His Dream House

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By Beth Herman


Clearly architects, film buffs and maybe a few former Hollywood civilians, such as I, know the Cary Grant classic (see story title) by a similar name, where unwitting advertising executive Jim Blandings, wedged into a cramped NYC apartment with his family, takes leave of his home and his senses when purchasing a deeply plagued fixer upper in the hinterlands of post-war Connecticut.

For D.C. residential architect and furniture designer Michael Callison, the idea of renovating his own 1,000 s.f. two-bedroom 1922 Chevy Chase Arts and Crafts bungalow catalogue kit house, conceived in the style of the Sears catalogue houses of its day, may have seemed less of a challenge at the outset than Cary Grant’s, given Callison’s profession. However the 20-year-long road to renovation – a voyage from what the architect called “self-conscious design” all the way to an epiphanic result that would essentially let the house simply stretch and breathe –was purely unanticipated, the process kindling a brand new architect. In the end, the emergence of a four bedroom, four bath, 2,200 s.f. home that entirely preserved the original structure’s character was a journey, Callison said, that transformed the way he practices architecture.

Citing 20 years’ worth of sketches to augment his own bungalow, the renovation process is something Callison had explained to clients many hundreds of times, advising them to move in to a newly purchased house and live with the property to develop a master plan before making any changes. But where his own home was concerned, in addition to fabricating a master plan, the architect said it took two decades to work through preconceived notions he’d acquired training as an architect in the modernist tradition.

“The thinking (in that vein) is to express your ideas as an architect, regardless of what the house is,” he said, revealing that he and others grapple with the idea of “showing the neighborhood – the rest of the world – what a clever architect you are. I had to get to the point where I was really more sensitive to what the house was telling me,” he said of his very personal discovery. “The style of the house; the lines of the house -there’s that vital symbiosis between innovation and tradition.”

Stock in Band-Aids

Purchasing the home in 1987, Callison and wife Caitrine Curley-Callison, a professional potter and owner of D.C. women’s consignment store Secondi, immediately recognized that among many things, the property needed a rear addition, something then unaffordable to the young couple. “It was a small, one-story house with two bedrooms and one bath (plus a non-functioning semblance of a bathroom in the basement), a low-slung roof, as well as a rickety, disheveled sleeping porch on the back,” Callison explained. With little money to spare, the Callisons began what would become a two-decade long transformation by returning from work each night to chip away at the kitchen floor with a paint scraper, digging for mystery material beneath the decimated linoleum. When a pine floor ultimately emerged, the couple salvaged the best boards, hidden under the cabinets, and reused them for the kitchen remodel which Callison did with his own hands.

“I’m an architect and furniture designer, not a furniture maker,” he said of the kitchen cabinets he eventually crafted, noting it was a learning process in which he taught himself carpentry. “The kitchen took about a year to do and I used a little table saw in the back yard,” he said, also applying beadboard pine panels to the space, a theme eventually carried into attic space-turned-guest bedroom and the original bathroom.

Also where the original bathroom was concerned, Callison said the previous owners apparently had a proclivity for showering without a curtain, so all of the plaster had collapsed. Over time, structural and other practical aspects firmly in place, the couple decorated in part by incorporating a picture frieze around the space with a rail that supported old Polaroids from a personal collection.

Residential CPR

With other catalogue bungalows in the neighborhood consisting of rooms that were chopped and tiny, Callison said his home’s spatial sequence was quite favorable and in fact the living room traversed the entire width of the house. Similar to the large dining room, it had multiple windows creating a light-filled, casual environment something like a beach house. An unattractive but functioning fireplace in the living room was lowered and faced with marble mosaic tiles in the Arts and Crafts tradition. Wearing his somewhat more evolved carpenter’s hat at that point, the architect built cabinets on either side of the fireplace, along with a coat closets flanking windows and an electronic cabinet, wooden arch and window seat as well.

Constructing a great room and master bedroom suite – Callison hired general contractor Jorge Euceda-Rios for the major part of the renovation – and in deference to the Arts and Crafts style original that “had its own set of rules,” the architect decided that altering the roofline to build both spaces would not honor the classic bungalow. “My clients generally want a new kitchen that opens to a family space, and above that space they want the master suite,” he said, which wasn’t conceivable for his own home. Finding a way to “tuck it (the master suite) into the roof was the difficulty,” said Callison, with the suite ultimately built on the lower level, in place of the walkout basement, and with added floor-to-ceiling windows for a sense of openness and connectivity to the outside. Located beneath the new great room that was added when the rickety porch, which had blocked access to the yard, was demolished, the master suite became an oasis for the homeowners with a new 360-bottle wine cellar conceived on the same level.

“We telescoped the roof to do this,” Callison said. “In other words if you’d grabbed the edge of the old roof – just pulled it back towards the rear yard – that’s what we did to (accommodate) the addition.” And because the ceiling of the great room–which Callison calls the lodge room because it reflects the great lodges where he’s stayed as a fly fisherman–soared to about 15 feet as it absorbed some of the old attic space, turning what should be a warm, comfortable room into one that may overwhelm, Callison borrowed an idea from the dining room which utilizes molding around the perimeter at the ¾ level. The color above matches the ceiling, and the color below is darker, he said. “It’s a lot of interesting detail for almost no money–a way to take a large space and hold down the scale of the room, as well as connect it to the rest of the house.” Back in the dining room, the architect also retained the services of Barbara Billet of Billet Collins Decorative Painting Studios to paint a frieze that he created around the room. A flower design predicated on a Victorian stencil pattern, the frieze encircles the room with the exception of one special panel containing a passage about fishing, written by Caitrine’s father, an author. And in place of the Longleaf Pine flooring still in the original house, with an eye toward sustainability, Mountain Lumber Co. in Ruckersville, Va., specialists in reclaimed wood, used salvaged beams from an old Maryland barn for the great/lodge room floor.


Gilding the Defibrillator

“The house is a very simple, casual, unornamented bungalow, so over time my attempts on the inside were not to cross the line,” Callison reflected, adding that the objective, in addition to preserving the exterior character, was to find a way to breathe life into it with elements such as built-ins and friezes.

Professing that the project changed him a lot, Callison said every residential architect that comes out of school wants to do a Frank Gehry-style addition, but there are choices to be made. “The reality is that you can promote yourself by doing something everybody notices and sees as a signature design, or you can try and make the house a really good neighbor, working with the original structure, adding to the community by careful design.”


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Perseid Adventures at 14 & W

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On October 7th, Ward One Councilman Jim Graham relayed a message of good news to his listserv and Twitter followers from Bob Cohen of Perseus Realty, who had recently testified at a Council Hearing. Pressing Cohen on a start date for the YMCA redevelopment project at 14th and W, Graham quoted the developer as promising the the ability "to start construction before the end of the year.” The pledge to get the ball rolling on the 231-unit mixed-use development didn't garner much attention at the time, and citizens continue to wonder when to expect action.

Recently queried on the matter, Cohen would only answer that Perseus is unwilling to comment on the status of the project. He asserted that no official date has been set for a groundbreaking, but revealed that "[w]e'll be ready to announce something in the next couple weeks." Whatever could that something be? Developers Perseus, and their partners on the project Capmark Investments LP and FLGA Real Estate Group, had at one point anticipated a 2010 delivery date (the project "broke ground" in September 2008). But the market-plunge has booby-trapped the finance game, understandably complicating the developers' pursuit of funding, and Capmark declared bankruptcy in 2009, making the thought of a 2010 start date a pleasant surprise. Complicating the matter is the requirement to deliver a turn-key YMCA. But with lending spigots reopening for DC's multi-family market, and a passel of multi-family projects in the offing up and down 14th Street, Perseus and its backers appear to have found the heart to build now. The already thin District budget does not have any available funds to push the project along, and have previously granted a generous 20 years of tax abatement and $1 million in forgone sales taxes on construction materials for the project.

Helmuth, Obata, & Kassabaum and Dorsky Hodgson & Partners provided the design for what several online commenters have called an underwhelming facade. The residential portion will rise six largely glass-paneled, rather-vanilla-flavored floors above 12,200 s.f. of ground floor retail space and 170 below-grade parking spaces. Although somewhat plain, the building does show potential for elegance, if it can acquire some of the stone and metal detailing that give appealing character to industrial buildings like the Central Union Mission, the Studio Theater, and the stylish car-showroom turned upscale Italian restaurant Posto.

Developers have promised that eighteen units will be reserved for families earning less than 60% of the AMI. The centerpiece of the development is the the new Anthony Bowen YMCA, a 44,000 s.f. recreational and community facility to feature a "pool, state-of-the-art cardiovascular and resistance equipment, group exercise studios, and a child care area." But for now, local residents will have to build endurance at nearby gyms or stick to in-house push routines, as the YMCA doesn't look to be redone anytime soon.

Update: If you haven't already noticed the reports from the comment thread below, the 14th and W redevelopment project was recently sold by a Perseus entity to Jefferson Apartment Group (JAG), an Akridge affiliate, for $7.5 million. JAG also brought the Rockpoint Fund to provide much-needed equity. Perseus will stay on as development partner, and construction is expected to start as early as December 1st.

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dominion Heights Development Anxious to Break Ground

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Earlier this year the Arlington County Board approved developers' request to attempt addition by subtraction at an infill redevelopment site in north Arlington. MacArthur Development LLC, in partnership with the Christopher Companies, will increase the number of residential units set for their "Dominion Heights" project from 49 to 66, while slightly shrinking the gross floor area of the residential, office, and retail programming from 79,037 s.f. to 77,858. With the building footprint remaining the same, the average unit size will shrink slightly. Developers successfully lobbied for permission to cram more units into the same amount of space with promises of LEED Gold certification. Well played.

"Community feedback was very positive," reports Christopher Companies Executive Vice President John Regan Jr., "Everyone just really wanted to get this thing started after five years of waiting." The County Board obliged, and now after several years of meddling with the development plan while lack of financing slowed up the project, developers are ready to move forward with a recent influx of capital. But just a little bit more sitting and waiting is in order, as the final site plans must be okay'd and building permits issued. Designated a “Special Revitalization District, ” the project site at 3565 Lee Highway will soon (relative term) feature four stories of residential space stacked atop 8,000 s.f. of ground floor retail which will likely feature a couple restaurants. Developers have also proposed a small office space for the building, as well as a two-story below-grade parking garage offering 130 spaces.

Designed by Devereaux & Associates, the brick building will be horizontally banded by precast light-colored stone and a detailed faux-wood, oversize cornice, as well as vertically accented by protruding, dark-green, aluminum bay windows. A minor setback of the top floor allows for penthouse residents to enjoy an outdoor deck; while a 5,000 s.f. landscaped terrace is also available for use by the entire building. Features like shower areas for bicycling retail workers and preferred parking for low-emission vehicles will help the building achieve their LEED Gold rating upon completion.

Developers are anxious to get their hands dirty as soon as possible, but don't expect the County to give the green light for a groundbreaking until April, says Regan. Construction will last 14-18 months.

Arlington, VA Real Estate Development News

Monday, November 22, 2010

NoBe Gateway: White Flint Blowin' Up

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After receiving positive feedback from the Montgomery County Development Review Committee, developers of "North Bethesda Gateway" in White Flint expect their Sketch Plan to go before the Planning Board sometime in January, marking the beginning of what will likely be a multi-year public approval process. While construction, or even detailed architectural renderings, are some time off, developer Hilary Goldfarb of ProMark Real Estate Services says even the first nibble of action is "very exciting." The project involves a unique partnership of three local property owners (Jack Fitzgerald, Lake Waverly, and JWW) who've joined forces in the planning process in order to maximize entitlements and enable the transfer zoning rights amongst their separate parcels. As the plans stands, roughly 11 acres of office buildings and surface parking lots will be redeveloped into nearly two million s.f. of retail, residential, and office space in compliance with the White Flint Sector Plan.

The Sketch Plan is a rather new requirement in the Montgomery County Planning process that further drags out the frustration of developers, but extends the tantalizing spectatorship of real estate development junkies. Goldfarb explained it as literally the "very first step in a several year process." Although the Sketch Plan only offers a basic understanding of the overall development concept, with many details likely to change, it also provides an interesting chance to witness a development project slowly transform from a zygotic aerial diagram (this one drawn by architects at WDG) to full-grown actuality (one hopes). Upon completion of the first two phases of North Bethesda Gateway, developers intend to deliver three office buildings, a hotel, extensive ground-floor neighborhood retail options, and a variety of rental and condominium housing opportunities situated in three distinct multifamily buildings. Developers seek to create a pedestrian friendly atmosphere with this redevelopment; by including several large public plazas in their plans, streetscape improvements, and extensive landscaping, the project will provide a walkable transition from the White Flint Metro to White Flint Mall.

Given that the development site is adjacent to the White Flint Mall, White Flint Plaza shopping center, and less than a quarter mile from the White Flint Metro, as well as bounded by Rockville Pike with the North Bethesda Marketplace just across to the West, developers believe they have the epitome of a transit-oriented urban infill project in the works. The development, though still in the embryonic stages, joins a wealth of activity in the area's development pipeline. JBG's North Bethesda Phase II, and Federal Realty's Mid Pike Plaza are in line on the train of development that Goldfarb insists will eventually make White Flint "the economic engine of Montgomery County." Chew on that Bethesda.

Montgomery County, MD Real Estate Development News

Stonebridge to Start Phase 2 in NoMa

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Real estate developer StonebridgeCarras and financier Walton Street Capital are betting on NoMa again, announcing they will start the next speculative phase of Constitution Square in May. Stonebridge is just now completing Two Constitution Square, which it also built without a tenant, a bet that paid off big when it sold the property in May for $305m to Northwestern Mutual, and now Sarah Krouse reports in the Washington Business Journal that the Bethesda-based developer will attempt an encore with another speculative phase. Principal Doug Firstenberg tells DCMud that next May his company will break ground simultaneously on a 200-unit apartment building and 345,000 s.f. of office space and, rounding out a good week, that Harris Teeter will open at Constitution Square on December 8th and that Equinox founder and chef Todd Grey will now open a sit down restaurant in the newly completed phase 1.

Firstenberg, who pre-leased 100% of Phase 1 to GSA and DOJ before trading the building, said Phase 2 will be "targeted to go after some of these large GSA bids that are out there." Stonebridge will again use SK&I Architects to design the residential space and HOK Architecture for the commercial portion. The residences are expected to be available by late 2012, the office space should be ready for the first tenants in early 2013. The third and final phase of the 7-acre site, still in conception, will add 470,000 s.f of office space.

Firstenberg says the restaurant, to open in March along with the hotel, will be "NoMa's first upscale, sit down restaurant," good news for residents at the Flats 130 where 60 of 440 units have leased since its opening October 1st, and where significant retail leases have already been signed. Stonebridge is expected to flip the office building once lease-up is complete. "We're not long term owners in the project" said Firstenberg.

Washington DC real estate development news

A Black Belt in Kitchen Design

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By Beth Herman

In the ever-evolving, big-ticket world of kitchen renovation, particularly in the toniest of D.C., northern Virginia and suburban Maryland neighborhoods where the average culinary redesign can cost $50,000 - $200,000, eviscerating the kitchen is not for the faint of heart. At the apogee of kitchen reinterpretation, former North Carolinian Beverly Glover-Wood of Bethesda-based Glover-Wood Interiors has spent the last decade transforming tired and/or inefficient kitchen spaces, emulating trends while simultaneously honoring timeless, traditional style (an admitted favorite).

“I love houses and hunkering down,” Glover-Wood said of her passion for residential design. “I love what dwellings give people: They’re a place of refuge. I love the solace a house gives you.” As for her deep-sea dive into kitchen design, Glover-Wood said at the outset of her design career in 2001, she’d envisioned doing everything residential work required – every room in the house, which is still the thrust of her business. However because clients continue to be centered on kitchens as seminal gathering places, creating spaces that reflect both the heart and hearth of the homeowner is often the direction of her work.

Pen to Panache

Leaning toward more classic design herself, Glover-Wood revealed that her father, an architect who retired only last year and is currently 88 years old, is every inch a contemporary architect and many of her kitchen (and other) designs are a confluence of different time periods. With an interior designer-mother and a sister also in the design world, Glover-Wood’s immersion into the industry was admittedly exciting and comprehensive (as a child she accompanied her father to some of his jobs), though unwitting.

“I didn’t go into design first and was actually an English lit major who worked as a writer and editor,” Glover-Wood revealed. “As a writer, you’re inner-focused because you’re creating in your brain. But as a designer, you’re always noting design out in the world: how buildings are designed; arrangements of furniture; color - which is wonderful. It’s a different kind of creativity.”

Applying her own creative stamp to kitchens, the designer has observed a shift in the last few years away from the “more is more” modus operandi back to thinking less is more. “Because our economy was booming, we were always going up, up, up and people were doing more and more grandiose things with their kitchens,” she recalled. “They had to have top-of-the-line everything: faucets; sinks; stoves – everything kept getting bigger.” She added that one can only have a kitchen that’s so big, because pretty soon it’s no longer a workable space.

Heat of the Moment

To that end, and with energy efficient appliances always paramount, many of her clients are moving away from the commercial stoves of the beginning of the decade into more practical appliances. Some of that may have to do with condo living in the District and retirees and empty nesters downsizing, she surmised. “Once you’ve had a 42-inch stove, with so many burners, and you’ve done all that (she added the mammoth stoves are harder to clean), you learn that you can do just as well with a 36- or 30-inch stove today. Viking and Wolf make more traditional products, with Dacor a little more contemporary, but all with special features perhaps not even available 10 years ago. “You can get a 30-inch GE glass top electric stove that has five burners and one that can handle a grill,” Glover-Wood said, also speaking to the age-old gas vs. electric debate. “I’ve always loved gas because it’s very quick,” she explained, “but the new electric cooktops are phenomenal in that they’re about as fast – or faster – and probably just as hot.” GE’s Advantium oven promotes what the manufacturer calls “speed cooking,” with features that include convection and microwave options.

Baby, It’s Cold Inside

Where refrigerators are concerned, Glover-Wood referenced a 19th Street D.C. row house redesign where a neglected basement became the centerpiece of an active family’s home life. “It was a perfectly good basement (structurally) that walked out into the back yard with a hot tub,” she said, where the family did much of its entertaining. The basement was accordingly gutted and made into a play space for the children, as well as into a little kitchen to complement the primary one upstairs. “I was able to get small but really good appliances,” the designer said, noting the ice maker and tiny Viking stove, as well as a Lieber refrigerator – very narrow, to acclimate to the small space. “I’m also seeing a lot of under-counter refrigerators,” Glover-Wood said. “Doing two refrigerators but putting them under the counter works well in a small space.”

Trend-wise, in full-size spaces many people are opting for “counter-depth” refrigerators as opposed to the older 31-or 32-inch models. Explaining that a counter-depth refrigerator has a trajectory of only 25 inches from the wall (the handle may contribute to an extra inch), and the counter itself is 24 inches, aesthetically it works better “…and you don’t have a chance to grow green things in the back because you’ve forgotten about them,” the designer said. Revealing that she likes the look of stainless steel juxtaposed against warmer wood elements in so many kitchens today, the designer said stainless steel is better on a large appliance anyway so people don’t have a big wood refrigerator. “It’s a clean, contemporary look in the middle of a traditional kitchen,” she explained.

Counter Culture

“Some people are actually coming back to Formica and Wilsonart for countertops and saying, ‘It’s not so bad; maybe we should go with that,’” Glover-Wood affirmed, citing a digression from expensive granite. “I do think granite is dying out. It’s not quite as popular as it used to be,” she said. Acknowledging that so many products are in use today, she noted people are still using marble though at one time the industry thought it might phase itself out because it’s a softer material. “The British have been using it for eons, and I see it creeping back into kitchens,” she said, adding that quartz products such as CaesarStone, Silestone and Zodiaq have also remained in vogue. “People do want new things, but they are a little more balanced about how they spend their money,” she said, adding that the trend in islands – even small ones that respect a smaller space – can serve to eclipse a long trip from the sink to the refrigerator and may therefore be a practical investment. “I put a small, 18-inch-deep island into a 12x14-foot kitchen (in a new house, an island is generally 4X7 feet), where we only had 3 feet to walk around on each side, but that’s all you need,” she said.

Declaring that paint, for her, “is the be-all, end-all,” Glover-Wood said that if somebody just wants a new look, paint can entirely change the space. Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, she explained, painting 1980s townhouse kitchen cabinets, for example, will refresh and modernize that space without spending thousands of dollars.

“I think the thing today is that everybody really wants a workable kitchen,” she said. “As designers, even with everything that’s out there, it’s our job to keep it that way.”


Friday, November 19, 2010

Hilton Residential Addition Gets 2-Year Extension from HPRB

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After purchasing the iconic Hilton for $290 million in May of 2007, a pair of California dreamers (and developers), LA-based Lowe Enterprises Inc. and Beverly Hills-based Canyon-Johnson Urban Funds (CJUF), are still hoping to follow through on their intentions of adding an apartment tower to the 1,119-room hotel. Unfortunately the market has been rather uncooperative, to say the least, since their vision first started taking shape. With architectural drawings in hand, courtesy of Hany Hassan of Beyer Blinder Belle, developers earned the support of the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) in 2008. There has been little action since.

As Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Steve Calcott explained to the Review Board (HPRB) earlier this week, like so many others development, "this project has been put on hold due to the depreciation in real estate values, increasingly stringent lending requirements for residential projects, and general economic downturn." This time represented by Architectural Historian Andi Adams of Goulston Storrs, developers successfully acquired a two-year extension on their nearly expired HPRB consent as per Calcott's recommendation. It was a more somber success than their 2008 victory.

The extension is precautionary, as their approved plans and stated course of action are far from set in stone. Project developers recently submitted construction plans and a permit application, and reviewers determined that the plans are inadequately detailed and proposed alterations that would require further HPO vetting and HPRB final approval. VP of Construction Managment Mike Mansager at the Lowe's Washington Hilton confirmed that the project was on hold, and that details like number of units and architectural specifics remain up in the air. "This is entirely market-driven," he explained, "everything is in flux and subject to change." Dansinger did admit that a two year extension doesn't mean two years of inaction, as the project could get moving again quickly if the market continues to improve.

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Arts at 5th & I: Closer Than They Were

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Development partners Donohoe Companies and Holland Development of the highly anticipated high-end hotel, retail outlets, and jazz club crowned "The Arts" think they are close to wrapping up negotiations with DMPED over the disposition of the currently District-owned site at 5th and I Streets NW. The heart of the project is a 260-room ME Hotel from luxury Spanish hotelier, Melia that promises to "seduce the open mind with art, design, music, and cuisine" (according their website). Perhaps more exciting for the neighborhood is the included Boisdale Jazz Club – the first US location from the London-based chain of nightclubs. It literally packs the previously promised music, cuisine, and libations into one smooth package. Also providing cuisine will be Cappuccinos, a "unique urban style cafe." The mind-seducing design is courtesy of Shalom Baranes, while the art will hang in what will become the Zenith Gallery's new home. Ninety-six mixed income residents are also included in the development plans.

Memphis Holland of Holland Development says that she and her team are optimistic that financing will be wrapped up by mid-December. Talks concerning the release of the property from the District to developers are "still in process" according to Holland. She promised, however, that they are "closer then they were," and hopes to have a deal finalized by the end of the year. But even if the deal can't be wrapped up prior to Vincent Gray's inauguration as Mayor, Holland explained that "we've been in communication with Gray's transition team for some time, and they're on board." Such words point to slow but steady movement in the right direction, but certainly do not serve as a precursor to groundwork, as the Zoning process awaits, and architectural details must be ironed out through a succession of informal and formal meetings.

Correction: Jad Donohoe of the Donohoe Companies recently contacted DCMud to amend one of the above facts, saying "I’m the project manager on this effort, and we are not in talks with the Gray team." Memphis Holland confirms this misinformation and apologized for the error. It should be affirmed, however, that the current DMPED staff has been in communication for some time now with Gray's transition team members, briefing them on all major projects.

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Classically Styled Townhomes in Old Town Get a Modern Kick

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Sponsored Story

These days it seems every new proposed multifamily condominium in the metro area has some sort of green roof involved, but it's rare that one reads or hears about green-roofed townhomes. For architect and developer Sassan Gharai of SGA Companies, who recently finished a twin home project in Old Town, it seemed logical to offset the heat island effect with a little rooftop landscaping, no matter what size the building. The rooftop not only provides environmentally friendly greenery, but a superb deck that offers spectacular views of the Monument and the District's treasures lying just beyond the Potomac. Listing agent Alan Dalton of ADMC Realty Group says of the property, "This is an unusual amount of space for Old Town, with both modern finishes and classic charm of the historic neighborhood—and everything you could need at your fingertips. Another rare treat is the phenomenal 1,000-square foot master suite with fireplace, luxury bath and walk-in closet that is the size of most bedrooms!"

While many of Georgetown's luxurious old homes offer an explicit glimpse of economic tensions, as two, three million dollar brick mansions stand opposite decaying subsidized apartment complexes, Gharai's newly finished rowhouses offer a vision of a modern, sustainable, mixed-income community. Just down the street development group EYA are spearheading the long overdue redevelopment of the rundown James Bland Additions, currently operated by Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA). The five full blocks of redevelopment will be named Old Town Commons, adding 245 market-rate and 134 affordable homes to the neighborhood. This more attractive and harmonious juxtaposition of diverse and distinct socioeconomic groups is mirrored in the design of Gharai's building, as the the simple aesthetic is reflected onto two halves of the home, one half utilizing brick, and the other employing side paneling.

Although each home is accompanied by a spacious backyard and two parking spaces, other modes of a transit are readily available. Each home has two parking spaces, and is located just four blocks west of the Braddock Road Metro. Residents can enjoy the outdoors in their spacious backyards or head four blocks east to the Potomac River for a walk, run, or bike ride on the beautiful Mount Vernon Trail. There's plenty of space indoor to explore as well, as each home swells to a whopping 4,000 s.f., making sure there's enough room for the five bedrooms, five-and-a-half baths, lower level au-pair suite or home office with kitchen and separate entrance, elegant, state-of-the-art kitchen, and living and dining rooms. If all this sounds like a great place to call home, make your next address 712 Wythe Street for $1,249,000. Having labored some five years through the trying zoning approval process in Alexandria, Gharai says he is looking forward to finally finding two happy families to enjoy the comforts of his creativity.

Old Town Alexandria, VA Real Estate Development News

Forest City's Parcel D: The Yards Gets Moving

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Last month Forest City presented their updated plans for a mixed-use development at the Yards to the local ANC, gratefully receiving a vote of approval. The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) also voiced their support for the project earlier this year. And now the proposal, which sees rental apartments stacked atop ground floor retail, goes before the Zoning Commission next month in hopes of earning final approval. Dubbed "Parcel D," the project is one of the first phases of new construction at The Yards, a Southeast waterfront redevelopment site that will eventually feature 2,800 residential units, 1.8 million s.f. of new office space, and 400,000 s.f. of retail shops and dining places. Forest City already delivered the promised 5.5 acre, riverfront Yards Park early this summer. An expansive, vacant parking lot currently occupies the development site at the southeast corner of 4th and M St.

Under their current Parcel D plans, two towers totaling 225 apartments (20% of which will be offered as affordable housing at 50% of AMI) will rise 102 feet in the air, extending from a single differentiated base structure that will house the 50,000 s.f. grocery store (rumored to be Harris Teeter) a 30,000 s.f. health club, and a few smaller "neighborhood-serving" retail spaces. Developers are in final negotiations with several tenants, and will make announcements as soon as leases are executed, for now renderings reveal them simply as "grocery" and "health club." Below grade parking will serve the retail uses, while a third floor parking deck sandwiched between the grocery store and apartment towers will provide spaces for residents.

Project Manager Alex Nyhan of Forest City told ANC6D that he and his team were optimistic that the predicted LEED Silver certification could be upgraded to an ambitious Gold rating by the project's end. Shalom Baranes is responsible for the building design, which has evolved significantly over the last three years as architects and developers responded to the suggestions of the HPRB, the NCPC, and the surrounding community. While plans are firming up, there is still plenty of work to be done. Senior Vice President of Development Ramsey Meiser at Forest City explains that even if all goes swimmingly next month at the zoning hearing, architectural plans will still need to be finalized, and building permits must be secured, likely a six to ninth month process. "I'm hoping to have construction under way by the middle part of next year," Meiser says. Once a groundbreaking happens, excavation and subsequent construction is expected to last 20-24 months.

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rosslyn Mixed Income Apartments Redeveloped "Using Density Not Dollars"

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In their quest to redevelop Key Boulevard apartments, AHC Inc. has adopted a slightly augmented proposal and a brand new motto: "Using density, not dollars." That is the team's credo for tackling the challenge of nearly doubling the number of affordable housing units on the 1.24 acre site while staying within limited density allowed by the County's Zoning guidelines. But with available space near public transit in Arlington quickly drying up, AHC is relishing the chance to secure affordable, transit-oriented apartments near one of the busiest Metro stations in the D.C. region.

Although traditionally the goal of AHC Inc is to pack as much affordable housing into a development as possible, with this project half of the proposed 160-170 units reserved as affordable housing. But developing a mixed income community makes the project more financially sustainable, and most-importantly, negates the need for County subsidies, a selling-point in the approval process. Indeed, compromise is the name of the game, and in cooperation with the surrounding neighborhoods, developers have reduced the bulky mass and originally proposed height of eight-stories, to a slimmer, more manageable, and community-requested six floors. But support for the building's size and density is far from overwhelming, so developers will continue to appeal for more widespread community input and support, as they feel theirs is a worthy cause.

Built in the 1940s, the aging affordable apartment community is a reminder of inequality and inefficiency amidst the ever-expanding hustle and bustle of the business-centric Rosslyn. Not far from where two of the regions soon-to-be-tallest buildings recently broke ground, aging heating systems, inefficient windows and appliances, no central air conditioning, and handicap accessibility issues make the 41-unit building at 1545 Key Boulevard a candidate ripe for a radical makeover.

To put their new motto to the test, AHC is proposing to transfer development rights from an affordable apartment community they finished renovating in 2007. Because the project adhered closely to the historic character of the Gates of Ballston aesthetic, with its low-rise garden-style design, the project remained under developed, leaving excess development rights available for transfer and reuse. This technique is rather common, reports AHC, but transferring rights from one neighborhood to another (Ballston to Rosslyn) is "an innovative approach to maximizing affordable opportunities in the transit corridor." Although it's uncommon to transfer development rights from projects separated by some two miles, developers believe the opportunity to create transit-oriented, energy-efficient, affordable housing justifies the unique strategy.

Preliminary architectural schematics for the 70 ft. tall building are being offered by WDG Architecture. Developers have purposefully offered limited detail in their renderings; in order to remain adaptable and responsive to the always evolving back and forth of the community involvement process; Joseph P. Weatherly, Senior Project Manager at AHC explained his team had refrained from "engaging WDG to put too many specific ideas on paper until we feel like we have more comprehensive support from the entire community." However, designers have included planning for a rooftop terrace and green roof. The proposal also includes underground parking, a community center, neighboring park, and a landscaped courtyard. The community center would serve as a base for various resident programming, including after-school programs for children. AHC continues to work diligently alongside Bush Construction Corp., their general contractor and development partner. But with community dialog still ongoing, and the County Site Plan approval process still to come, developers don't expect construction to commence until at least January of 2012, and the expected delivery date arriving some twenty four months later.

Arlington, VA Real Estate Development News

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Evolution of Cavemen and Castaways

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By Beth Herman


In prehistoric times,it was a means to keep warm and char that woolly mammoth (please pass the salt), and in the 2000 film “Cast Away,” Tom Hanks unabashedly called himself a god on the night he created it. But in the dense, exploding, urban atmosphere of today, a roaring fire isn’t the answer.

For Reston, Va.-based LeMay Erickson Willcox Architects, purveyors of safety design and creators of more than 50 fire and rescue facilities over three decades, the structures they build in response to the demand for fire and rescue services in expanding metropolitan areas are the real answers, and maybe in more ways than one.

The Spark

Back in 2006, when the City of Alexandria sought a redevelopment plan to revitalize Potomac Yard, a former rail yard sited in the city’s north end which for more than 100 years served as the area’s primary freight yard and extended all the way into Arlington County, the idea of mixing rescue with residents was completely unprecedented according to firm principal Paul Erickson.

“We’re not aware of any other building in the U.S. that combines an apartment structure with a fire station,” Erickson said of the prototype mixed-use design for The Station at Potomac Yard No. 9. “We believe there are one or two overseas: one in London and there might be one in South Africa, but we’re not aware of any here.”

Very much a collaborative effort where the collegiality on the project was “infectious,” Erickson was quick to emphasize, the 170,000 s.f. structure, which includes two below grade parking floors and was earmarked as both low-income and affordable housing, is the painstaking result of the efforts of legions of civil engineers, traffic consultants, historic and design review entities, fire and housing office officials, sound consultants, sustainability inspectors, a “forward thinking” general contractor–Whiting-Turner Contracting Company–and two architecture firms. “It was the best team spirit of any project I’ve been involved in since the beginning,” Erickson affirmed. “One of the distinguishing characteristics of this one was everybody sort of catching a vision of something that was unique and had never been done.” What’s more, because the City was exploring how best to manage a master redevelopment plan for the area, it wanted to make sure that if things were built, they could be protected, Erickson said, referencing the 22,500 s.f. fire station component.

Vibrations Under Fire

According to LeMay Erickson Willcox senior associate Lynn Reda, director of the firm’s public safety studio, most of the projected noise concerns had more to do with the operation of the fire station and the vibration between it and the 64 residential units above than the fear of whining sirens. “They’re not supposed to turn their sirens on until they are off the property,” Reda said, adding they are naturally traveling away from the building. To that end, acoustic technology experts Polysonics Corporation was retained, resulting in the design of a special sound-abating slab between the fire station’s ceiling and the residences above. “We were certainly concerned about vibration,” Reda said, noting that the parking garage and fire station consist largely of poured concrete while the units above are wood frame structures: the change in materials mitigating sound. Because of the station’s four pendulous 14x14-ft. bay apparatus doors (plus one more for HAZMAT trailers) that open and close several times in a 24-hour period, instead of traditional overhead doors with ceiling-mount motors that would impact the units above, the architects used “side-parting” doors. Additionally, the 1,2 and 3-bedroom residences above are arranged in a U-shape around the apparatus bays, which further attenuates sound from beneath.

Fire Walls (and roofs and floors)

Where sustainability is concerned, two different green ratings systems were applied, one to the fire station to achieve LEED Silver, with the residences submitting to EarthCraft certification. According to Reda and Erickson, EarthCraft, which is residential in nature, dispatches inspectors during construction to examine the thermal envelope and is more focused on energy conservation including appliances, for example, that have Energy Star ratings. For the building’s LEED credentials, Reda said 100 percent of the parking is below grade, considered exemplary performance from the heat island effect. The sloped red metal roof has a high SRI (solar reflective index), as does a concealed mechanical well behind it. Arriscraft block– visible at the base of the building and which provides the appearance of a heavily-rusticated stone base but is essentially veneer–is regional. Cement block, which comprises the station’s interior walls, has an inherent recycled content and wood used in doors and cabinetry is FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)-certified. Occupancy sensors for lighting and occupant-controlled thermal elements are present, as is radiant heat in the floors of 15 bunk rooms. “One of the reasons we did that is because they are located above the cold, two-level parking garage and sleeping rooms need to be warm in winter,” Reda affirmed. A small municipal park sited in front along with perimeter plantings, irrigated by rainwater from garage-based cisterns that collect roof water, qualifies for green space.

Where There’s Smoke

For Erickson, whose grandfather was a firefighter (though he never knew him) in St. Paul, Minnesota, and for Reda, whose reputation for “living the job” comes from her constant immersion in firefighter training exercises and overnights at stations on out of town projects, fire and rescue station work is proverbially in their blood.

“I’ve cut open roofs, extinguished car fires, done search and rescue through smoke-filled houses,” Reda said (much in the way an actor may research a role). Because firefighters have their own culture, and characteristics of their culture may vary significantly from city to city, state to state, region to region, Erickson and Reda said it is important to understand how one city for which they are designing a facility might do things as opposed to people and factors that influenced the last project. “It’s important to be able to ask the questions that will help you design that building and not change them (the firefighters) culturally into something they don’t want to be,” Reda said.

Additionally, safety facility design has metamorphosed from the smaller, sparse, utilitarian structures of 20 and 30 years ago into the framework that needs to support escalating urban areas, as well as a changing firefighter demographic. “Back in 1979, there really weren’t any women in fire and rescue emergency services and that’s changed a lot,” Erickson reflected. “At Potomac Yard, you’ll see gender-neutral spaces that include private bunk rooms with individual restrooms consisting of a lavatory, shower and water closet.” According to Erickson, this allows for flexibility of shift and demographics. “It’s a pretty elegant solution to staffing and gender issues,” he said. With fitness paramount to employee health and morale, the architects said relatively sophisticated gym spaces with high enough ceilings to accommodate state-of-the-art equipment are encouraged in their designs, and not simply the dumb bells-in-the-basement stock of older stations.

“And from a firefighting perspective, equipment such as ambulances, engine and ladder trucks – they’ve gotten bigger and bigger and bigger,” Reda said, noting sometimes the older facilities cannot be retrofitted to accommodate them and stations must be built larger. What’s more, she cited a greater understanding of the impact of firefighting on gear itself (it costs $1,000 to suit-up a professional), and the trend in building climate-and light-controlled storage rooms to manage gear’s off-gas toxins following a fire.

On Fire Now!

Alluding to the firm’s website, Erickson said despite so many requirements there is no uniform design response for fire stations. “You’ll see some very contemporary designs, as well as those that try to take on historic characteristics and blend into an historic neighborhood,” he explained, noting that because of Rust Orling Architecture’s (the second firm involved) high standing for work within an historical context in Alexandria, fulfilling the requisites of the design review board, planning commission, town council and neighbors to develop the character of the building’s exterior was supremely achieved. The result, Erickson said, is a “Richardsonian-Romanesque kind of architecture, but done in a Virginia brick that blends the image of a civic building with the particulars of Old Town Alexandria.” In fact, among the multitude of awards the building has received is a 2007 U.S. Council of Mayors’ Award and a 2010 Craftsmanship Award.

With a project in Durham, New Hampshire and two projects in development in the District that will apply similar mixed-use principals, one where an 1895 horse-drawn pumper on Georgia Avenue will yield to affordable housing and improved emergency response with one proverbial stroke, Erickson indicated word is getting around. And with creativity extending to financing, in Alexandria some of the cost of the $23 million project was defrayed by funding sources and options that included the developer, Potomac Yard Development, contributing just over $14 million for both the fire station and residential components, plus donating the land, and by using Virginia Development Housing Authority (VDHA) tax credits.

“I think what this all really demonstrates is that you can think outside of the box,” Erickson said.

An H Street Spring

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H Street's gritty, scrappy texture is giving way. In its place, the northeast corridor's devotees will soon find supermarkets, condos, smart retail, upscale apartment buildings, and trolleys clanging by pricey latte vendors. Long predicted, the year 2011 looks ready to bear out prognostications of a gentrification and resurgence that had seemed, until now, like a mirage, always ahead, always retreating. With last week's announcement that Giant officials had signed an agreement to anchor the northeast corner of 3rd and H, kickstarting Steuart Investment Co's long dormant development and blessing H Street with its first full-sized supermarket, the strip has become one of the hottest sites for development plans.

The Steuart project will add 215 apartments above the Giant, along with additional retail space. Around it, development booms. The District just announced a 16-unit residential project by Wall Development at 12th and H that should kick off next year, and at the eastern end Clark broke ground on a 257-unit apartment complex in October, as did an Aldi supermarket destined for the starburst intersection next year. And the biggest project by far will be Rappaport's 400-unit residence that will fill H Street from 8th to 10th Streets, while Dreyfus' plans for Capitol Place, a 300-unit residence opposite the future Giant, are loaded and ready for the right moment. And the trolleys, of course, are on the way.

Things could have been so different. Just two years ago a New York team went bankrupt betting on H Street and lost their 432-unit building at auction. The Giant will sit on the former BP site, a plot that was intended to house an interstate truck-servicing megaplex. Akridge's dreams to connect H Street with downtown by burying the rail yard at Union Station haven't progressed, and the most consequential projects have not yet broken ground, so the volte-face is not guaranteed, but its looking like its going to be a big year for H Street.

Washington DC real estate development news

Friday, November 12, 2010

Florida Ave Jungle to Make Way for Condos

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The overgrown lots at 1421-1423 Flordia Avenue NW have changed hands several times over the last few years, but finally rest in the palms of a developer intent on moving forward with construction. Originally attracting the interest of Kady Group some time ago, the properties were acquired by Bogdan Builders in 2007 for $550,000, and now the paperwork is all but signed in a deal that sees the vacant lots into the arms of Sassan Gharai, founder of SGA Companies. In September, Gharai presented his plans for a six-story, 16-unit condominium to the Meridian Hill Neighborhood Association, and last month Chris Colross of SGA Architects presented his firm's plans to the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). The Board adhered to assigned reviewer and preservation specialist Eldra D. Walker's recommendation to "approve the proposal in concept, delegating final approval to staff."

Rising 60 feet, the masonry clad apartment building will stack ten 2-bedroom/2-bath units and 4 studios atop an eight-space ground-floor garage. The roof of the garage will support a first-floor terrace garden, and each unit will feature either a full or Juliet balcony. While the proposed setback penthouses and an 8-to 12-foot elevator overrun are not counted toward a building’s height and do not require a zoning variance, the project still must go before the BZA, as the parking garage will require the frequently unpopular curb cut on Florida Avenue, resulting in the loss of one parking space (gasp).

Fitting snuggly into the rapidly transformed Greater U Street Historic District, SGA offers their staple - a traditionally inspired design sampling materials found throughout the storied neighborhood: brick, 2/2 windows, stone accents, and metal panels. "The building’s front, side and rear elevations will be fully articulated with ordered fenestration, brick pilasters with stone caps, and horizontal bands of stone," explains Eldra D. Walker, while "large recessed brick panels and a modern embattlement will crown the new structure." Despite the building's height, Walker found the architectural aesthetic to be "understated, calm, and residential in character."

Gharai seems to have his hands full designing and developing as of late, with news that his long-delayed Ecco Park is "back on track." Since Gharai delivered the Butterfield House in 2008 in the market has seen better days, to say the least, but some developers apparently smell a recovery. Quoted recently in the Takoma Park Newsletter, Gharai explained the significance of his decision to kick the 235 Carroll Street NW project back in gear: “I think what it shows is the market’s finally coming around because the banks are willing to lend again.” His optimism must also be the inspiration behind his plans to acquire and develop the lush Meridian Hill property, and hopefully a sign of more good news and development activity to come.


Washington D.C. Real Estate Development Blog
 

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