Charles "Sandy" Wilkes founded The Wilkes Company over three decades ago and began investing in the NoMa - North of Massachusetts Ave - neighborhood shortly thereafter, acquiring property as early as 1985, when Reagan was in office, Mandela wasn't free, and Back to the Future was the highest grossing film in the U.S.
That investment may soon pay dividends, as Wilkes plots a course to finally develop the block of property at 3rd and M Streets, NE, in Noma's long underdeveloped eastern branch. While signs of construction have been evident at the site for several months, Wilkes is holding back on development until the moment is right.
That moment may well depend on Douglas Development and its development of Uline Arena; restoration of the historic 60-year-old Uline/Washington Coliseum, according to Douglas, depends on finding a marquee tenant, which they are actively seeking.
Despite other neighborhood projects in the Northeast area rolling forward - Valor Development's 49-unit condo at 3rd and L, slated to begin in spring of 2012; the AvalonBay's 215-unit apartment project at 3rd and I; and Guy Steuart's Giant project at 3rd and H - Wilkes seems to be keeping an eye on what may be the city's most unique entertainment venue just across the street.
In addition to the combined Uline and Ice House project by Douglas and 300 M St NE, there are two other substantial planned projects on the boards for East NoMa proper: Union Place II, a 500-unit apartment with 30,000 s.f. of retail by The Cohen Companies, now in the design phase and looking to break ground in first quarter 2012, according to TCC's executive vice president, Eric Siegel; and the long-way-off Burnham Place project, a massive, billion-dollar build by Akridge.
300 M Street has long been idle and is being used for parking in the interim; the reason for the long wait time, according to Wilkes, is that he is "taking the time to determine the right mix of uses [at the site] and determine the right timing."
The market is a big factor, specifically the uncertainty of the market for office space in the immediate area, and the unknown effect of substantial commercial density being added to west NoMa.
Wilkes is familiar with the market, as well as the ongoing changes in NoMa: along with being an owner of substantial property for over 25 years, he invested in the construction of the New York Avenue Metro stop, and serves as vice chairman of the NoMa BID (a map with the boundaries of NoMa is found below).
Although the specifics may change given Wilkes' earlier statement, an original design for 300 M, conceptualized by D.C.-and-New York-based Beyer Blinder Belle , incorporated retail, loft-style residences, and office space catering to a large organization: a non-profit HQ, government agency or trade association.
One thing is clear about the future use of the site,"It will require zoning relief," explains Wilkes. The Ward 6 location is zoned C-M-1, low bulk commercial and light manufacturing uses, with a maximum height of 3 stories or 40'. Wilkes asserts that the zoning process will take some time, and that ground breaking at the site is not imminent.
Wilkes also claims that east NoMa will eventually develop as more of a nod to New York's SoHo and Tribeca than anywhere else in D.C., and "patience" is the name of the game, but patience is wearing thin for some.
For now, it seems Wilkes' project will sit on the sideline for the rest of the year, as west NoMa continues to witness the highest concentration of construction in Washington D.C.
With over $3 billion of private investment shuttled into the whole of NoMa since 2005, 15.7 million s.f. of the neighborhood has been developed, and with 16.8 million more square feet to go, more patience may be a necessary asset.
Washington D.C. real estate development news