Friday, August 29, 2008

Rosslyn's Severe Case of Tower Envy

The Rosslyn skyline will be changing significantly in the coming years as two new mixed-used projects shoot skyward. Interestingly, both have at one time hyped themselves as the metro area's tallest developments, JBG's Central Place and Monday Properties' 1812 North Moore Street have both been cleared to exceed the 300 foot height limit usually imposed by Arlington County, both will be runners-up for the region's tallest after the Washington Monument. There's just one problem: with the dual towers of Central Place already under construction and North Moore breaking ground in October, neither side wants to relinquish their bragging rights to the title of tallest.

This has been a long time coming for 1812 North Moore. Now-defunct Westfield Realty sold the $31.5 million parcel to Monday Properties in 2006 after the former’s long-gestating bid to revamp the site went nowhere (not so) fast. Monday, however, have had much more success with their attempts to put the project into turnaround. Their Davis Carter Scott-designed tower boasts 600,000 square feet of commercial office space, 12,000 square feet for retail and a Metro terminal attached to the facility. Additionally, they’re on track to become the first LEED Platinum-certified building in the State of Virginia – a measure that has earned them accolades from the Rosslyn Renaissance (RR) Urban Design Committee (UDC) and the Radnor/Fort Myer Heights Civic Association (RAFOM) and will make them one of the most energy efficient buildings in the country.

But once the plans went public, it wasn't long before creative math came into play. Originally, both Central Place and North Moore were billing themselves with a height of 470 feet – including sea level. Eventually, the dueling parties seemed to realize that adding a hundred plus feet of land elevation to a building’s proposed height was tad on the disingenuous side. (After all, Denver’s Republic Plaza would be the tallest building in the world if it included the city’s 5,280 foot elevation in its’ official measurements.) And that’s where things get confusing.

Currently, Monday Properties says that their proposed 30-story complex on North Moore will come in at 390 feet – and that the Central Place will top out a whopping 60 feet below them. But in December of last year, the Arlington County Planning Commission made Monday shave a story off their blueprints, so as not to obstruct the view from Central Place’s observation deck – the one that was supposed to look down on North Moore. (Further complicating matters is the fact The Washington Post reported North Moore’s post-Planning Board height at a diminutive 370 feet.)

Unsurprisingly, JBG is singing a different tune. Their website states that the taller of their two towers will measure in at 31-stories - 390 feet. According to Thomas Miller of the Arlington County Planning Division – the county body with access to blueprints to both sites - the he-said she-said bit is all for naught.

“Both buildings are 390 feet,” he said Thursday afternoon, “Although, the highest [North Moore] offices actually fall below the observation deck level [of Central Place].”

He also confirmed that the two buildings only have a 3 foot difference in base elevation, but did not specify which. So depending on your point of the view (or the address on your lease), the second highest point in the Washington area is soon to be either Central Place’s glass-enclosed 31st floor tourist draw or the luminescent glass pyramid that will cap North Moore.

All in all, this only serves as a lesson in the strategic power of PR. Both buildings are to offer hundreds of thousands of feet office and retail space that represent a dramatic expansion of Rosslyn’s commercial prospects. Given that the two sites are separated by roughly only 200 yards, the competition for luring prominent DC businesses into these new NoVa nerve centers was bound to be stiff. While 1812 North Moore has yet to commit to a delivery date, Central Place is scheduled to be completed in 2011. Only then will we see who really comes out on top.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Operation Facelift

In the coming months, three major landmarks - the Pentagon, the National Museum of American History and the US Capitol - will reveal their newly improved works to the public after years of intense and deliberate construction. In each case, the changes are by no means minor and should represent a sizable influx of interest in sites sometimes taken for granted by locals.
Washington DC commercial real estate news
The newest monument/memorial in the metro area will be unveiled this coming September 11th, the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks that befell New York and Washington in 2001. The Pentagon Memorial occupies a 1.93 acre plot at the site of the attack and cost approximately $22 million, with another $10 million in projected costs for maintenance. Funding was provided by the Ford Motor Company, Chrysler LLC, AECOM, CSC, Adobe, Cisco Systems Inc. and Intel, as well as through private donations.

Although several smaller memorials have already been erected in and around the Pentagon (including the America’s Heroes Memorial and a chapel – both in the reconstructed portion of the building where it was struck by American Airlines Flight 77), this will be the first large scale project with individually dedicated cenotaphs to each victim. Those will take the form of cantilevered benches inscribed with the remembered individuals’ names and arranged according to their ages when they lost their lives. The space is to be augmented by a perimeter wall, several fountains and approximately 80 Paperbark Maple trees.

The memorial was designed by Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman of New York, following a design competition initiated at the behest of the government. A press release from the Pentagon Memorial Fund describes this newest addition to the Pentagon landscape as “a place for reflection, remembrance and renewal.”

On a less somber note, the National Museum of American History will reopen its doors on November 21st after a two year, $85 million renovation. The architectural facelift is said to represent not only a change in facade and decorum for the institution, but an extensive reorganization of its collection as well. The design team for the project was led by New York’s Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP and constructed by Turner Construction Company.

The centerpieces of the newly minted museum are to be a brand new sky-lit, five story atrium and an architectural approximation of the Star-Spangled Banner made of 960 glossy, polycarbonate tiles (“the dawn’s early light”)Washington DC commercial real estate news that will be the gateway to the gallery that houses the original flag - Francis Scott Key’s initial inspiration for the song that would eventually become the National Anthem. Another prestigious addition to the museum’s catalog will be an original, handwritten draft of the Gettysburg Address (loaned by First Lady Laura Bush from the White House collection).

The Capitol too is undergoing a new addition to its grounds. Currently under construction on the Capitol’s East Grounds, the new Visitors Center represents the largest ever addition to the building’s original plans in its 215 year history. Measuring in at 580,000 square feet, the RTKL Associates-designed structure is currently projected to cost $554 million, after months of running over budget and behind schedule. The new Hill landmark will finally open its doors to the public on December 2nd – exactly 145 years to the day after construction on the Capitol was officially declared over (and 7 and a half years after the Center broke ground).

Intended to be waiting station for tourists as they await entrance to the Capitol itself, the VisitorsUnited States Capitol Building visitors center design Center is meant to also serve as an attraction in its own right. The features revealed so far include a museum, a cafeteria for both visitors and Hill personnel, two theaters and meeting and conference rooms for members of Congress and their various committees.

Measures, such as the choice of new center’s location on the Capitol’s eastern face, were undertaken in order to prevent the construction from detracting from landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s original plans for the grounds. Trees, fountains and other landscaping accents will be added in order to minimize any visual alterations to one of the few buildings instantly recognizable to all Americans.

Washington DC commercial real estate news

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Slow, Sad Waltz of the New Shaw Library


The new Waltha T. Daniels-Shaw Library continues to sputter through redesign after redesign in attempts to cut costs while remaining on schedule. After scrapping their first plans and start date (due to interference with a nearby Metro line and an overabundance of ground water), citizens were not pleased when their new and improved branch did not open in 2006. A full two years later, local blogs and librarians alike went ballistic this July when the District unveiled its' second round of tweaked concept art that looked mysteriously like...the old Waltha T. Daniels-Shaw Library. You know, the concrete box that they had paid to demolish.

Given that that same month, Mayor Fenty timidly announced the District was considering keeping all libraries closed on Friday through Sunday due to budgetary constraints, most were ready to assume that any plans for a new Shaw library were going to come to dead stop or, at the very least, be drastically curtailed. There was a light at the end of the tunnel, however, when the mayor did a 180 and announced on August 4th that the city had re-appropriated $2 million in order to keep the city’s libraries up-and-running and (gasp) open seven days a week. Of course, that didn’t stop city spokespeople from opining about “rising material and transportation costs” in the same breath as “Shaw” and “library.”

On August 16th, residents led by the Shaw Library Study Group came together to voice their disapproval with the two year delay at a “Speak Out and Read In” in front of a neighborhood Giant supermarket. Now comes word that yet another set of designs and schematics (and compromises?) will be unveiled on Thursday, September 4th at the interim library currently serving Shaw - the fourth such “community design meeting” to take place since last year.

The DC public library homepage claims that the constant back and forth on the design and funding issues has delayed their current timetable by only 6 to 8 weeks and that construction is still planned to begin this coming fall with a planned completion date somewhere in early 2010. Here’s to hoping that this doesn’t become yet another neglected Ward 2 landmark (we're looking at you, Howard Theater and Wonder Bread factory) that fails to get the treatment it deserves.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Diamond Teague Park Makes Headway in Southeast


Using plans approved by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) in October of last year, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development's proposal for a new public park along the Anacostia River will finally go before the NCPC once again for permit approval on Thursday, September 4th. If all goes according to plan (cue maniacal laughter), Diamond Teague Park will be completed by fall 2009.

Located at the terminating intersection of First Street and Potomac Avenue SE, Teague Park looks to be the much needed community icing on the commercial cake that the mayor's office has baked - first with Nationals Park and soon to be followed by the Capitol Riverfront. The proposal stresses the importance of using the park to attract pedestrian foot traffic as it moves to and fro from the stadium with amenities that include a water taxi service, several public piers for watercraft, a thirty foot wide, floating boardwalk and a lead-by-example, eco-friendly garden space. All of this will occupy a third of an acre at a cost of $16 million.

Of course, what would a public works project in this day and age be without giving into green fever? The proposal calls for the park to be a “green oasis” and refers to the current condition of the Anacostia River as a set of “diverse environmental restoration challenges.” Buzzwords and understatements aside, those restoration challenges should provide an invaluable showcase for the Earth Conservation Corps (ECC), which is currently headquartered in the former Capitol Pumphouse that adjoins the park’s proposed location. With a staff comprised almost entirely of neighborhood youth, they plan on using the park as soapbox for community issues that dovetail with their environmental mandate – namely fighting the further pollution of the river and trash accumulation.

On the aesthetic side, the Landscape Architecture Bureau, the project’s lead designers, couldn’t have found a better setting to show off their oh-so-tasteful plans for the waterfront vista. Teague Park is to occupy the prime real estate next to the Riverwalk and, as such, will be in plain view from the ballpark’s upper deck and so-called “Grand Stairs.” From this vantage point, the intent is that Teague Park will serve as the centerpiece of the landscape - providing not only a splash of flora and fauna, but some much needed visual continuity between the Riverwalk and several soon-to-be restored DC Water and Sewer Authority buildings that straddle the site. The park is to be one of four currently outlined under the Capitol Riverfront BID.
Presumably, the ODMPED’s proposal faces little in the way of opposition (unless the Army Corps task force charged with investigating the site stumbles upon more of its own unexploded munitions...again), as it's faced with no competing proposals and relatively little criticism, given its community-oriented mandate and ties to the ECC. All that remains to be acquired before ground can be broken is the requisite National Parks Service permit, whose jurisdiction falls over the portions of river bottom encroached upon by the project.

Positive neighborhood developments aside, the name of the park should serve as a grim reminder of Anacostia’s prospects only a few years ago. The park is named in memory of 19 year-old Diamond Teague, a Southeast resident and ECC member himself, who was gunned down on his front porch by two unknown assailants in 2003. The investigation into his murder remains free of suspects and unsolved to this day. A memorial baring his likeness will be completed in time for the park’s grand opening.

Friday, August 22, 2008

DC Selects Georgia Avenue Developer

Donatelli Development, Georgia Avenue, Mosaic Urban Partners, Gragg & AssociatesDonatelli Development, Georgia Avenue, Mosaic Urban Partners, Gragg & Associates

Washington DC Mayor Fenty arrived by Smart Car today to announce that the District of Columbia has selected Donatelli Development and Mosaic Urban Partners as the development team for three parcels of land on Georgia Avenue. The lots are located one block north of the Petworth Metro station, at 3813, 3815 and 3825 Georgia Avenue. Development plans have not yet been finalized, but Mayor Fenty said today he expects the final product to include retail, restaurants, and market rate and affordable housing. Echoing his oft-repeated calls to fire up development on the neglected corridor, the Mayor insisted today that DC has "gotta have economic development on Georgia Avenue" for the benefit of the whole city, and that the project would complete by the fall of 2010. The city has not yet reached purchase terms with the development team. Donatelli Development has an extensive track record with the city, and, with DC-based Gragg & Associates, is nearing completion on Park Place, a 161-unit residential and retail building almost across the street. Donatelli also owns an adjacent vacant lot, on which it plans a 49-unit condominium building, though timing remains uncertain said Chris Donatelli. Donatelli Development, Georgia Avenue, Mosaic Urban Partners, Gragg & Associates This will be a first for development partner Mosaic, a firm based in DC. Mosaic partner Calvin Gladney, a former NCRC staff member, said that partnering with Donatelli allows them to "integrate retail strategy," and "achieve a better end result for the community." Gladney was a bit more circumspect than the Mayor regarding timing, quickly noting that "there are so many variables", including financing, though partnering with Donatelli will certainly streamline the underwriting process. The project will convert two small neglected buildings and a vacant lot, all District owned, into a mixed use project on two separate sites. Architect Bill Bonstra, partner of Bonstra Haresign, the ubiquitous firm chosen to design the project, said that the project would feature a green roof and locally based retail, and that there was "a real push to do a community-minded project." 

The new building on the now vacant lot will rise three stories at street front, stepping back for a fourth and fifth floor. The selection of developers was unusually swift, with the District having solicited bids at the end of April, with a due date of July. Two teams submitted bids for the project. The mayor's office hopes the project is well timed, coming as the Petworth neighborhood struggles to fulfill the expectations of a revitalized mixed-use corridor. On May 23rd the Mayor stood nearby to announce that Georgia Avenue development was finally taking hold, highlighting Donatelli's Park Place, and Jair Lynch Development Partners' 130-unit apartment building at 3910 Georgia Avenue. But Park Place will not complete until next year, and Jair Lynch has encountered financing, title, and zoning hurdles with its project, and has been reluctant to even give a start date. And while the Neighborhood Development Company is also well underway on its own apartment building just to the north, many of the expected success of Georgia Avenue have yet to be initiated, and a bevy of apartment-turned condominium low-rises that expected to benefit from the retail surge that never happened remain unsold. But the prospect of five new developments all rising within a few blocks is undoubtedly a new direction for Petworth, and an event that may make an honest man out of the Mayor.

Washington DC commercial property news

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Shaw Housing Project Gets Rebirth

Roadside, O Street Market, Shaw, Washington DC Just a block away from the future O Street Market re- development site, Metropolitan Development is planning to weed out the wilted Kelsey Gardens apartment community. The 54 subsidized apartments will be replaced with a mixed-use building that they hope will blossom into 282 mixed-income rental units, 14,400 s.f. of retail space, 237 underground parking spaces on 7th street, and 7 townhomes on P street. Developers hope to break ground by this time next year, and finish in late 2010, provided zoning approval happens this year. Rachael Preston, Financial Analyst for Metropolitan, said the company has been working on the redevelopment of Kelsey Gardens on 7th Street, NW, between P and Q Streets since 2004, and that the new development is consistent with the redevelopment of the larger Shaw area. "When redeveloped, the Kelsey Gardens site will offer important progress for the Shaw community as well as continuity. Shaw is on the brink of a renaissance, driven by the addition of new residences, commercial activity, and the preservation of important landmarks," Preston said. Kelsey Gardens, Shaw, Washington DC The developer also said the project's inclusion of both townhouses and rental units is key to preserving the neighborhood's appearance and integrity while improving its design. Lessard Design, Washington DC architectureThe new townhouses, designed by Lessard Architectural Group, will be "historically sensitive", but will include "traditional and modern architectural styles to break up the length of the building on 7th Street." And as for the apartments, Preston said, "Metropolitan Development sees demand for rental housing in Shaw driven by access to public transit and proximity to DC's traditional downtown locations to the south and west, and the emerging employment zone of NoMa to the north and east." 

Metropolitan stressed that Shaw residents are part of the neighborhood's identity and will be encouraged to return. According to the developer, "The residents displaced at Kelsey Gardens for construction are guaranteed the opportunity to return to their former home once redevelopment is complete. Shaw is a community of many long time residents who give the neighborhood much of its character. By ensuring that these residents are not displaced permanently, Metropolitan Development is able to participate in preservation of the neighborhood as well as change." Metropolitan did not comment on how its former residents would be accommodated. Though currently known as Kelsey Gardens, the project is listed on Metropolitan's website as "Addison Square." Though some locals have objected to the name, suggesting that a final name may be part of the inevitable negotiations, it is unlikely that many area residents will mourn the loss of the drug and crime plagued housing project. Metropolitan acquired the land last summer and retained the previous owners, The Deliverance Church of God in Christ, as a partner in the deal.

Washington DC commercial real estate

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Half Street's Hole Story

Monument Realty, Half Street, Washington DC Nationals Park, Akridge, Shalom BaranesWashington DC's Monument Realty seems to be on top of their game at the ballpark, delivering a 275,000-s.f. office building by the end of the year, owning several other parcels of prime real estate near the stadium, and now having settled their lawsuit with WMATA and Akridge to acquire even more - namely, much of the Half Monument Realty, Half Street, Washington DC Nationals Park, Akridge, Shalom BaranesStreet real estate they don't already own. So why has Monument left its most visible site empty for 18 months? Monument began digging the nearly 2-acre hole across from the ballpark entrance, at the corner of N and Half Street, SE, back in January of 2007. The cavity is the future home to the residential portion of Monument's Half Street project - a 340-unit residential development. According to the developer, financing for the project is still, well, in a hole, but will soon get built. Russell Hines, Executive Vice President of Monument Realty, said the timing of the dig had to coincide with Monument's adjacent office building. "When we excavated the hole, we did it as part of the office building. It was more efficient to dig both at the same time. We knew we weren't building the residential portion at the time because we weren't done with design or pricing. So we got GMP pricing bids earlier this summer and have been working with and talking to lenders. We are still working on financing for the residential buildings. We started construction but haven't advanced it; we are down at the bottom of a hole. We are looking to be back under construction this year and then complete the project 20 months out," he said. 

Half Street, however, is just one part of the developer's ballpark holdings. The developer has three other sites. Monument owns 50 M, on the Northeast corner of M and Half Street, across from the metro, a site which they are marketing as a build-to-suit or a free lease development. "We have been getting interest from tenants on that - smaller buildings and smaller associations," he said. Monument Realty, Half Street, Washington DC Nationals Park, Akridge, Shalom BaranesMonument's other holdings are the product of their June settlement with WMATA. The developer will create two more large office buildings on the hotly debated sites that will replace the old Domino's on the corner of M and South Capital Street and the BP gas station at the corner of N and South Capital Street. According to Hines, Monument will soon begin the zoning process for these buildings. "One of the things it (the settlement) did was finish off a puzzle; there were a bunch of pieces we owned that have come together. Over the next year, we'll be taking both through the zoning commission approval process and that process takes from 6-10 months, maybe as long as a year," he said. Hines added that the developer will spend most of next year designing and marketing the properties, but will keep an eye on the market. "At that point when we have zoning, we will see where the market is and what we want to do. We have no immediate plans. We have a whole office building to lease on the Metro - we wont run out and build another until we get the first one going." Half Street's office building is "nearing completion," but has not yet signed any tenants. The entire 775,000 s.f. Half Street project, being built by Clark Construction, will ultimately deliver a 200-room hotel, 50,000 s.f. of retail space, and about 340 residential units designed by Shalom Baranes

Monument has remained steadfast that despite some challenges, the company is overall healthy. Founder Michael Darby recently told the Washington Business Journal, which had published an article highlighting financial setbacks of the developer, such as its conversion of several condominium projects into apartments, that "we are not in trouble," and that "we have not had trouble finding construction financing for the residential building in the first phase at our Half Street project." (WBJ, June 6, 2008). But with so many impecunious developers stung by the twin evils of lower consumer expectation and heightened financing restrictions, many industry watchers are spooked by any apparent sign of distress. Not so, Monument insists; the show will go on.

Washington DC commercial real estate news

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

BZA Approval for Armenian Museum

The DC Board of Zoning Adjustment recently approved plans for the development of the former Federal-American National Bank at 615 14th Street, N.W. into the Armenian Genocide Museum of America. The board unanimously approved plans for a complete restoration and renovation of the five story 50,000 s.f. landmarked bank into 18,000 s.f. of exhibit space in what will be, "The premier institution in the United States dedicated to educating American and international audiences about the Armenian Genocide and its continuing consequences."

Designed by Martinez & Johnson Architecture, the museum will be two blocks from White House, within walking distance of the Smithsonian and down the street from the US Holocaust Museum, a location that symbolically fuses politics, genocide, and education.

Exhibits will be constructed in the two-story banking hall as well as the fourth floor. According to the architect's plans, the exterior will also get a face lift that will include masonry work, general cleaning, and the reconstruction of first floor storefronts. The museum is scheduled for a 2010 opening and will include interactive exhibits, "state-of-the-art" technology, online programs, and places of reflection.

The museum's website compares the Armenian Genocide, which started in 1915, to that of the Holocaust, Darfur, and Rwanda.

Cluster Luck?

The Department of Housing and Community Development has issued a solicitation for developers to bid on four clusters of land in the Southeast, Northeast, and Northwest quadrants of DC, in the hopes of turning underutilized property into affordable and market rate housing. The Property Acquisition and Disposition Division (PADD) of the DHCD is offering the sites in an effort to dispose of properties in its inventory while maximizing the city's profit from their sales. PADD will base its selection on proposed development plans, pricing proposals, the amount of affordable housing offered and the potential community and local business benefits. Developers must present evidence of complete funding for their proposal; the developers selected will take title to their respective cluster on which all existing non-historic structures will be razed.

The clusters are:

Site Cluster #1 (Anacostia)
1700 W Street, SE
1704 W Street, SE
1708 W Street, SE
1712 W Street, SE
1716 W Street, SE
1720 W Street, SE

Site Cluster #2 (Old City)
4540 Kramer Street, NE
1613 Kramer Street, NE

Site Cluster #3 (Old City 2)

4 Q Street, NW
6 Q Street, NW
8 Q Street, NW
10 Q Street, NW
14 Q Street, NW
14 Florida Avenue, NW
16 Florida Avenue, NW

Site Cluster #4 (Old City)

1621 Kramer Street, NE
1627 Kramer Street, NE
1629 Kramer Street, NE
1631 Kramer Street, NE
1632 Kramer Street, NE
1633 Kramer Street, NE

The solicitation encourages proposals to include a mix of uses including family-style affordable dwelling units with two or more bedrooms so families can "grow in place". As usual, the District wants to see evidence of community outreach, complete financing that requires minimal financing from the City, and proof that the units will remain affordable for 15-24 years.

Proposals should specify the type and number of housing units offered, and the scope of new construction and renovations by providing floor plans, site plans, and amenities. In keeping with the Fenty affordable housing pledge, 30% of all proposed housing must be affordable with preference given to those who exceed the requirement.

The lucky developers selected must "participate in a transparent and collaborative process involving the District, PADD, and community stakeholders", and, as with any good business deal, the winner will offer the greatest economic benefit to the District and require the lowest amount of subsidy.

Submissions are due by September 17th; the District will select a winner on November 3rd.

Monday, August 18, 2008

MacArthur Boulevard Townhouses

Washington DC commercial property brokerageAn old psychiatric hospital on MacArthur Boulevard may be replaced with for-sale townhomes as early as next year, if all goes well for the developer. Willco Residential and the New York-based Athena Group, LLC, which owns the property, are in the PUD process for Canal Parc, a 37-unit development at 4460 MacArthur Athena Group, JPI, Lessard Group design, Willco Development, MacArthur BoulevardBoulevard, NW. A partnership between the two companies, if approved, the project will yield "higher end" townhouses and break ground in the spring. Designed by the Vienna-based Lessard Group, the project in the Palisades neighborhood was originally planned as 41 units but has since been scaled back to 37 three and four-story townhouses. Under the new plan, the developer will demolish the old Riverside Hospital and change the site's use from institutional to residential. Athena Group, JPI, Lessard Group, Willco Development, MacArthur Boulevard, DC real estateAccording to Jack Rosenfield at the Athena Group, the project is the biproduct of a friendship between the two developers. The team submitted an application for a raze permit for the old hospital on August 6th; the city has not yet responded. In proximity to the 120,929 s.f. development are Canal View - single family houses, Foxhall Mews townhouses, and rowhouses along Lingan Road. Rosenfield said, "Even through prices have softened, this is a great location." The Lessard Group also designed The Monroe at Virginia Square in Arlington and JPI's Kings Crossing in Alexandria. The Athena Group developed the Grove at Arlington. Willco Residential developed Jefferson Row in Dupont Circle. You'd almost have to be crazy not to buy here.

Washington DC commercial real estate news

Friday, August 15, 2008

Plans for West End Library Renovations

West End library redevelopment in Washington DC stopped by Ralph Nader Washington DC West End Library, Save DC's libraries, EastbancThe District will soon write the next chapter of its library tales when it issues a solicitation for developers for Square 37, home of the West End Branch of the DC Public Library, sometime this fall. Though the West End's story does not have a plot as dramatic as that of the Tenley Library, efforts to redevelop the site on the corner of 24th and L Streets, NW have still faced traditional District-neighbor conflicts. A year ago, the DC Council passed "emergency legislation" to sell the site to EastBanc Inc., only to rescind it at the opposition of the community. Foggy Bottom, West End, and Dupont Circle ANCs, community groups, residents, and business representatives have since taken the reigns and held vision sessions, distributed surveys, and conducted studies of who uses the library, how the catalogue can be improved, and what amenities should be included in the branch's redevelopment. West End Library Friends Stakeholders Committee released their "Guidelines for a New or Fully Renovated Branch Library" mid July. In it, the group calls for a coffee shop with an outside entrance, attractive, well-landscaped grounds and accessible inviting sidewalk space and entrances, office space for local ANCs and community organizations, and an architectural team that is familiar with library design. Robin Diener, director of the DC Library Renaissance Project, an organization founded by Ralph Nader to improve the DC Public Library system, said the report is consistent with what her organization wants to accomplish on the site. She also stressed that the District should do a better job of including the community in the planning process. "We think that planning should be dealt with early on by the community and that we should see a more comprehensive planning process. We had our own vision session that was shorter than the Friends of the Library, but still very comprehensive, and then the Office of planning had a meeting in which they read back to us what we had put forward. It was a standard question and answer and they were very generous in answering our questions, but it wasn't much of a program. 

The second meeting that they hosted was more of the same. There will be two more in September but my impression from what happened is that they will be more of what was already done," she said. Diener said that under current procedures it seems that the District cares more about which developer is interested in the site, than what the community would like to see. "DC is missing a critical piece of planning that should happen before there are discussions with developers. In DC, what we do is we talk to developers and see who might be interested in the project and then talk to the community, it should be driven the exact opposite way. Now it seems like they (the City) have got an idea, and they're trying to put an idea out there in a way that people can be respond, but that plans have already been determined," she said. Many of the redevelopment suggestions for the parcel at the corner of 24th and L Streets, NW are related to the large homeless population that congregates in the library. 

A survey issued to 348 self-selected respondents by the Friends of the Library showed that the homeless population's use of the library is "a deterrent to greater use by other patrons." The report recommends fewer reading tables to deter homeless people from congregating, removing parking meters in front of the building so that bags can not be tied to them, limiting the number of bags each person can bring to the library, and adding stand-up computer-only tables. In addition to interior and exterior design guidelines, the report calls for a revamped collection that better reflects the demographics of the users. "Those who do use the library are older, wealthier, better educated, and less racially diverse than the general population of the District; and, therefore, the collection, programs, and services for this particular branch, like all branches, should be tailored to the population it serves." EastBanc developed the Georgetown and West End Ritz-Carltons.

Washington DC retail and commercial real estate news

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Old Town Storage Site Development

After changing hands and changing plans, "The Security Storage Site" at 621 North Payne Street in Alexandria will now be developed into mixed-use development, a design that will bring more than 200 residential units to Old Town. Hoping to break ground next year, the developer is not yet committing to for-sale or for-lease units, but condos seem unlikely with financing of condominium construction so limited.

Erkiletian Construction Corporation bought the site, currently occupied by a warehouse, from Security Storage at the end of June, altering the plans presented to the Alexandria Planning Board back in 2007. The prior development plan, submitted by K. Hovnanian Homes in February of 2007, included 146 condominium units in the form of townhouses, live-work units, and low rise building.

Erkiletian will instead develop a three-story, 12,000 s.f. building designed by Rust Orling Architecture. According to Tom Woodhouse, Project Manager, the building will be consistent with the appearance of the surrounding buildings. "It won't be a contemporary high rise because they don't like that in Old Town, we're going with traditional design - brick and glass with cornices. The building is designed to harmonize with those that are already present in Old Town, those from time periods starting around 1725 and going through the present day. So you have all kinds of architectural achievements."

Woodhouse said the developer has not yet filed for permits for the site two blocks from the Braddock Metro Station, but hopes to do so in the near future and begin construction in Spring of 2009. Erkiletian is also responsible for Alexandria's Carlyle Towers and Northampton Place.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The End of Howard Theatre Blues

Since it first closed in 1970, the Howard Theatre's fate has been as unpredictable as Cab Calloway's scat. After being named a historic landmark in 1973, the theater opened and closed several times, its stage finally going dark in the early 1980's, seemingly for good. Now, after years of work by Howard Theatre Restoration, Inc., a nonprofit organization, along with the District of Columbia, private developers, and DC residents, the curtain will go up again just in time for the theater's 100th birthday.

A representative at Howard Theatre Restoration told DCMud that the organization is in the midst of a fund raising effort that, if successful, i.e. if they raise the $28 million necessary to fully renovate the theater, will allow construction to begin this time next year. The District already gave $8 million to the project, and the organization can collect $6 million more through historic and additional tax credits. The District's contributions are part of a deal to improve the neighborhood, a commitment that will also bring African American-Owned Radio One to the District. Fenty signed a $144 million deal with Broadcast Center One Partners in January, the Radio One Headquarters will sit on the same block as the theater.

Built in 1910, the theater near the corner of 7th and T Streets, NW could seat 1,200 people. It was made specifically for African American performers, but was known as "The Theatre for the People" and hosted crowds of all races and performers such as Duke Ellington, Buddy Holly, James Brown, and Redd Foxx.

HTR's interactive website says, "Together with the City, HTR and its partners will reestablish the historic U Street/Shaw and LeDroit Park neighborhood as an art and entertainment destination where residents can live, work and play."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pattern Shop Lofts Underway

Construction is now underway on the Pattern Shop Lofts, the redevelopment of an historic Navy Yard warehouse. A piece of Forest City Washington's larger The Yards project, the former pattern store was part of the old Navy Yard Annex, but will be converted into a 170-unit "loft" apartment building with 10,000 s.f. of ground floor retail space. The six-story building is being redesigned by Bethesda-based SK&I Architectural Design Group , including 33 two-level penthouse units with private terraces and views of the Anacostia River.

The mixed-use retail and residential Pattern Shop Lofts will be completed and begin leasing units in fall of 2009, according to the developer. The overall project, surrounded by the Anacostia River, U.S. Department of Transportation Headquarters, the Washington Navy Yard, and the new Nationals Park, will deliver 2,800 residential units, 300,000 s.f. of retail space and 1.8 million s.f. of office space by 2013.

The retail space will likely host a restaurant, though Vanessa Lopez-Isa, marketing manager at Forest City said the developer is currently focusing on leasing the Boilermaker Shop across the street, a retail building which will also deliver next fall as part of Phase One. "There has been a lot of interest in restaurants and some really neat tenants that I can't disclose yet," she said of both buildings.

Lopez-Isa said the developer acquired the property through a federal grant and that the development is consistent with Forest City's portfolio of historic adaptive reuses. "We obtained control of the 42 acres directly adjacent to the ballpark after we went in for a proposal with the federal government in 2002 and were awarded site through that proposal process. Pattern Shop Lofts was originally Pattern and Joiner Shop in 1918 and it was part of the Navy Yard Annex...the area we are redeveloping. It was a large-scale wood and pattern house and it is one of five historic buildings on our site." Forest City has experience in other adaptive re-use projects, as at Tobacco Row, its historic project in Richmond.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Douglas' Plans at Cheverly Metro

Douglas Development received partial approval last week for their plans to create Addison Row at Cheverly Metro, a mixed-use residential and commercial development southwest of the Cheverly Metro Station. The Prince George's County Planning Board approved the developer's conceptual site plan, which proposed two scenarios, the first of which would offer 121,900 s.f. of retail space, 940 residential units, 650,000 s.f. of office space, and a 25,000 s.f. recreation center. The second, larger plan is for 121,900 s.f. of retail space, 2,000 multifamily residential units, 14,000 s.f. of office space, a 25,000 s.f. YMCA-like recreation center, and a 178,000 s.f. hotel. The project will be developed on 34 acres that is currently occupied by a large vacant warehouse and distribution center that the developer will eventually raze.

According to the Zoning Hearing Examiner's report, 60,000 s.f. of the project's retail space will be used for a grocery store, but the final selection of retail vendors is a long way off as the Board asked the developer to clarify the structure of the retail and residential components. Staff Reviewer Susan Lareuse reported, "It is not unusual for residential living to be located above retail uses on the first floors, but the plans do not clearly provide the amenities required to assure stable functional relationships between the uses."

Located at the intersection of Addison Road and North Englewood Drive, the project is close to both the Cheverly and Deanwood Metro Stations. WMATA said they support the development and all mixed-use development near stations as they promote the use of Metro. A letter from Joel Washington, Director of WMATA's Office of Station Area Planning and Asset Management, read "WMATA would like to see as many steps taken as possible to improve the accessibility of this project to Metro at Cheverly and Deanwood stations by foot, bicycle, or shuttle bus, including wide, safe, well-lit paths." Douglas' current plans show a potential connection to the metro station, but according to the PG County Staff report, the execution of this connection is unlikely because of environmental features on property north of the site.

Phase One, which will deliver a retail building, two mixed-use buildings, and the recreation center along Addison Road is scheduled for completion in 2009. The entire project is slated for delivery in 2012.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Major Tweeking for Tewkesbury

The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development just announced that four developers have submitted proposals for the redevelopment of a vacant 1950s-built, 26-unit apartment building at 5425 14th Street NW in Brightwood.

Known as the Tewkesbury, the building has been cited for over 100 violations since it was vacated in 1980's. DC bought the property for $3 million from Vincent Abell, one of the 20 less-than-savory landlords sued in April for code violations on rental properties.

Blue Skye Development, LLC and The Educational Organization for United Latin Americans Spanish Center, Mi Casa, Inc., PML Real Estate, LLC, and 14th Street Partners, which includes UrbanMatters Development Partners LLC, Northern Real Estate Urban Ventures, and Emory Beacon of Light, Inc. responded to the District's May solicitation for the 30,000 s.f. property.

The District would like to see senior or, you guessed it, mixed-income housing for the site, but did not specify whether or not the units had to be condos or apartments. Over half of the units must be affordable.

“This property has been a blight on the neighborhood for more than 20 years,” Deputy Mayor Neil O. Albert said. “The response to our solicitation clearly shows that the development community -- just like the residents of Brightwood -- is eager to get this property back into productive use.”

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Onyx on First Opens Its Doors

It's time for another ballpark area opening: The Onyx on First by Faison Development and Canyon-Johnson will open its doors Monday. The developer has been giving small tours of the fourteen-story, 266 unit apartment building at 1st and L Streets, SE for the last few weeks, but will officially open the leasing office next week. The $60 million project, near the Navy Yard metro, offers units sized from studios to two bedrooms.

Onyx apartments feature floor-to-ceiling windows, stainless steel appliances, stained concrete floors and full size washer-dryers. The community, which sits two blocks from the Nationals Stadium, includes a roof deck with a pool, WiFi in common areas, a fitness center, 24-hour concierge service and a clubroom with billiards.

Designed by Esocoff and Associates, the project was originally planned as a condominium building with prices in the high $200 and $300,000's, but went rental earlier this year. Construction began in November 2006. RAM Partners, LLC is the property management company.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Walnut Street Development Sells Mt. Vernon Site

Walnut Street Development (WSD) will be selling its Eye Street Lofts project; the sale is apparently imminent. WSD had been planning approximately 160 residential units and 4,000 s.f. of retail space for their land at 443-459 Eye Street, NW, since it purchased the land in 2004. The Mt. Vernon Triangle project had been planned originally as a condominium, to break ground in 2007, but market changes forced a shift to a planned rental building, construction had not yet begun. The purchaser is not presently being identified.

The site, a large project in its own right, is enhanced because of the adjacent District-owned property, the hotly pursued District 5th and I site for which four developers are vying. According to Jared Jablonka at WSD, the developer submitted a proposal for the 5th and I site, but withdrew when another developer made an offer on the Eye Street Lofts' parcel. Speculation points to JBG as the purchaser, though WSD would not comment on the terms of sale or identity of the purchaser.

"We had a pretty good plan, but then we got an offer from another developer to buy the land. We wanted to develop it ourselves because it would have been an exciting project, but we received an attractive offer," Jablonka said.

He added that WSD had delayed groundbreaking because they hoped to win the 5th and I site. "We had held off because the announcement of a developer for the adjacent piece of land (5th the and I) was delayed. We wanted to incorporate that site into our project, that was the idea, but then we got the offer to sell the site and it was hard to turn down. We are now under contract."

WSD's original $55 million multi-use project would have been a renovation of two 1880's row houses and other industrial buildings into an approximately 12-story structure with over 15,000 s.f. of community-serving retail space.

WSD's plans have been in the works since 2005 and have since faced several obstacles because of the historic nature of the buildings on site that include the Central Auto Works garage, a historically-designated structure. Architects HOK Group decided to incorporate the entire garage into the new edifice by piercing columns through the building and creating footings beneath the garage to support the new construction. The development would have also included the two existing row houses as well as a historic blacksmith shop.

According to the Deputy Mayor's Office, the four remaining developers - JBG, Buccini/Pollin, Potomac Investment Properties, and a group comprised of Holland Development, Donohoe Development, Spectrum Management, and Harris Development had all submitted satisfactory bids, but had subsequently been asked to submit a further "best and final" offer by this Friday to remain in consideration.

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