Thursday, April 30, 2009

JBG Seeks Approval for Bethesda Row Development Tonight

The JBG Companies will make a return appearance before the Montgomery County Planning Board tonight to seek Preliminary Project Plan approval for both phases of their Woodmont East mixed-used development in the Bethesda Central Business District. Located at the northeast side of Woodmont and Bethesda Avenues and wedged directly on one of the last vacant parcel adjoining the Bethesda Row development, the project had previously been approved for 78,300 square feet of office space, 40,350 square feet of retail, a 225 room hotel, and 250 multi-family residential units in two towers.

In the first news to come of the project since it was first announced in 2007, JBG has apparently scrapped plans for the hotel and is seeking consent for a re-jiggered development scheme with a whopping 208,579 square feet of office space, a diminutive 9,000 square feet of retail, and 250 residential units that will, in the words of the Planning Board, continue “the successful theme of mixed retail, restaurant and office uses along ‘Bethesda Row.’” The building once intended to house the hotel will instead be utilized as an office tower and the Thymes Square restaurant next door to the site at 4735 Bethesda Avenue will be razed to make way for the development.

Planning Board staff has already granted pre-approval to all three of portions of the plan. The scenario was much the same – staff approval included – when JBG presented their plan to the Board in November 2007, shortly after leasing the property from Bethesda Row developer Federal Realty Trust. In surprise move, the Board wound up denying their application, following complaints from the community about detrimental affects to the Capital Crescent Trail system and encroachment upon the neighboring movie theater. Federal Realty Trust also tried but failed to get approval for a nearly identical project at the site just weeks before that fateful turn of events.

JBG representatives would not comment on the development until after the scheduled April 30th hearing.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

FDA Office Gets Residential Revamp in Rockville


Developers AvalonBay Communities are nearing the end of two years plus of planning for the redevelopment of the US Food and Drug Administration offices at 12720 Twinbrook Parkway in Rockville. The 32-year-old, 50, 235 square foot "office/flex industrial building" currently on site will soon be razed to make way for the Avalon at Twinbrook Station – a new, SK&I-designed residential complex that will add 240 units to the rental market.

"We've been presenting this plan to the neighborhood for the past two years and, essentially, now we’re [entering] the formal approval process. The City of Rockville was going through an entire…master plan recreation for Twinbrook neighborhood,” said John Cox, a Senior Vice President at AvalonBay, of the project’s origins. “When they created the new Twinbrook neighborhood plan, [the City] endorsed our use on the site.”

With the backing of both the local community and city planners, the development team will deliver more than two hundred apartments – ranging in size from 450 square foot studios to 1200 square foot two-bedroom "lofts" – with 12.5% set aside for affordable housing. The bulk of Twinbrook Station will top out at four-stories, but also include a portion that steps down to a three-story “townhome façade along the majority of Halpine Road.” It’s a design scheme that has allowed the developers to conceal the project’s parking garage by surrounding it with residential units on three sides – with the exception being a portion abutting the future site of 7-story office building currently in development by Uniwest Commercial Realty.

AvalonBay will soon be submitting their final site plan to the Rockville City Council for approval and is planning for construction to get underway late next summer. “I don’t believe there is a scheduled hearing date yet, but, obviously, we’ve had numerous meetings with [City Council] staff and public committees,” said Cox. “We’re thinking [we’ll start in] probably the third quarter of 2010.”

District Officials Decry Condos, Celebrate Affordable Housing in Columbia Heights

A cadre of District officials, including Mayor Adrian Fenty and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, gathered in Columbia Heights today for the re-opening of the 230-unit Hubbard Place affordable housing complex (formerly the Cavalier Apartments) at 3500 14th Street, NW. Spearheaded by the Somerset Development Company and the 3500 14th Street Tenants Association, the $52 million renovation has not only reinvigorated a Washington building recently added to the National Register of Historic Places, but has secured - and ensured the longevity - of a once notorious Section 8 public housing project as well.
"Just a few short years ago, fire marshals had to stand on each floor to assure the safety of the residents. It was dangerous to walk in the halls or ride the elevators…This building has been made safe again for the residents who live here…But this time with a twist,” said Somerset principal Nancy Hooff. “It has affordable rents [and] it’s near public transportation and shopping. Smart growth, indeed.”
According to the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, residents of Hubbard Place can look forward to updated amenities that include “new elevators, the creation of new community spaces and a computer lab, secure access, new kitchens and baths, windows, roof and all new common areas.” The city block-straddling development also includes a new home for the Latin American Youth Center, which provides educational and vocational services to area youth, as well as two new businesses: the Black Lion Deli and George’s Shoe Repair. In the view of Eleanor Holmes Norton, the dramatic shift in Hubbard Place's fortunes can be attributed directly to tireless efforts of the building’s residents.
“There is no way in which the city and the federal government could have done a thing with Hubbard [Place], if there had not been a determined band of residents who said, ‘We’re not going to let this place go’…I’m just pleased to see something that I can point to that [the US Department of Housing and Urban Development] has done these days,” said the congresswoman, not quite jokingly.
The local government, however, did play a prominent role in gathering the formidable sum required for the large-scale renovation procedures, as overseen by the architects of Kann Partners and the project’s general contractor, Hamel Builders. Out of the development’s $52 million budget, the Department of Housing and Community Development provided $8.5 million for the acquisition of the property, with the District of Columbia Housing Authority pitching in an additional $4.6 million for historic preservation. The building upgrades were funded primarily through $26 million in tax exempt bonds issued by the District of the Columbia Housing Finance Agency. It’s a role that District officials, like Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, were eager to hang their hat on.
“We have enough condos,” said Graham. “We can build condos where there once vacant lots surrounded by hurricane fences. But we are going to keep our diversity and we’re going to keep our low-income housing. We’re going to build new low-income housing…We’re going to do all this because we care.”
Hubbard Place is the second such affordable housing renovation opened by the city in as many weeks. Last week, Mayor Fenty presided over the grand re-opening of Jubilee Housing, Inc.’s Ontario Court project at 2525 Ontario Road, NW, in nearby Adams Morgan. New condos are being built in Washington DC.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Arlington's First Green and Gold Building


In a major coup for Erkiletian Real Estate Services' (ERES) mixed-use redevelopment of the Executive Office Building, the developer has gained both a density bonus and approval from Arlington County Board. The reason? In a first for Arlington, ERES is pursuing a LEED Gold certification for their new building - a "green" rating second only to Platinum (but who can afford that nowadays).

Located two blocks away from the Courthouse Metro at 2009 14th Street North, the aging seven-story office complex and adjoining parking garage on site will be razed in the coming months to make way for a sixteen-story titan of eco-friendly development. At present, plans prepared by the architects of the Lessard Group call for 254 rental residential units, 8,127 square feet of office space and 4,354 square feet of retail - plus, for good measure, an additional 2,257 square feet of flexible office/retail space. Couple that with a 26,145 square foot public plaza on top of the project’s three-story parking garage -which, according to the Board, will host "a scenic overlook offering views of national monuments in Washington, DC" - and Arlington legislators have reason to be pleased as punch.

“This building has it all – high-quality housing, ground-floor retail and office space and a public plaza that will offer great views of the national monuments,” said Board Chairman Barbara Favola via press release. “We get all this in a building that is built to a Gold LEED standard. This is the sort of project we want to see more of in Arlington.”

The caveat is that while developers can aim for green standards, there is no guarantee that, once built, the project will qualify as planned. A final determination will made by the US Green Building Council based on five criteria: sustainability, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality. There's no word yet on exactly what type of features Arlingtonians can look forward to bragging about once the building is completed. When DCmud last reported on the as-of-yet untitled project in December, ERES was projecting a third quarter 2009 start date for construction – shortly after they begin work another 200-unit residential building at 621 North Payne Street in neighboring Alexandria.

Alexandria real estate development news

Monday, April 27, 2009

SE Church Bringing Affordable Housing to Barry Farm

Prominent Ward 8 church Matthews Memorial Baptist has partnered with developer Community Builders (TCB) to expand their community servicing mandate into the realm of affordable housing. The Church – which has served the Barry Farm/Anacostia community for 85 years, boasts 1300 members, operates 60 different ministries and frequently hosts speaking engagements for local politicians such as Marion Barry - is now looking to bring a new housing project and community center to a large parcel adjoining their location at 2616 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, SE.

According to the Office of Planning, the 79,900 square foot site currently holds five houses and an asphalt parking lot, all of which would demolished to make way for the Matthews Memorial Terrace – a 100% affordable housing development consisting of a four-story apartment building with 100 residential units, roughly of a third of which would be reserved for seniors. Next door, a three-story community center would include a health clinic (possibly an extension of the United Medical Center – itself slated for a large-scale expansion), a community room, a bookstore/café and “a dinner room/restaurant” that, according to Bishop C. Matthew Hudson, Jr., would be “Ward 8’s second full-service sit-down restaurant.” The project is being designed by PGN Architects.

“Upon learning of my desire for the Church to provide affordable housing, Community Builders contacted me and we discussed the possibility of building…on the Matthews Memorial Baptist campus,” said Hudson at a March 5th Zoning Commission hearing. “The partnership between the Church and TCB is represented a good match to obtain our mutual goals of creating a vibrant, mixed-use affordable rental community.”

Though still in the planning stages, organizations and individuals, including the ANC 8A, the ANC 8C, the Ward 8 Business Council, the Anacostia Coordinating Council and DC City Council members Marion Barry and Kwame Brown, have all voiced their support for the project. The next step in the approval process for the Matthews Memorial Terrace lies with the National Capital Planning Commission, which will review the development team’s proposal at their May 7th meeting. And it looks be a straight shot, given the altruistic nature of the project.

“[The Church] continuously works to revitalize and rehabilitate the Anacostia community,” said Hudson. “The Church’s goal in pursuing this project is to allow it to further serve the community which we love and are an integral part of…I’m very proud of the many ways in which the new Matthews Memorial Terrace will be able to assist Anacostia…as it continues to grow, revitalize, [and] redevelop itself for the future.”

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lacey Condos Grand Opening

The Lacey, a new condominium in the U Street neighborhood, will have its first public grand opening party this Thursday, from 6:30-9:30pm. The Lacey is a new 26-unit condominium at 2250 11th St. designed by Division1 Architects and developed by a partnership of Imar Hutchins and Division1. The ultra contemporary project took the place of the empty lot next to the fabled Florida Avenue Grill at 1100 Florida Ave., itself a bit of a Washington institution. The catered event is being co-sponsored by Washington Humane Society.

Condos at the Lacey, now about half sold, start at $319,000 for one-bedroom units and the low $600's for two-bedroom units. The building is strikingly non-traditional, with design features like floating common hallways, glass demising walls that project light throughout the building, an ultra-quiet and hyper-efficient pistonless elevator, sliding glass interior walls, and Italian Snaidero cabinets. Four glass box penthouse units crown the project, featuring multiple private roofdecks with views stretching across Washington DC. Construction of the project, which began in May of 2007 and being carried out by Eichberg Construction, is almost entirely complete; deliveries began last month.

Washington DC real estate news

"America's Front Yard" Gets Stimulated

While the Associated Press reports that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar directed $55.8 million in federal stimulus money to restoration of the National Mall this past Earth Day, plans for making over America's designated spot for both protest and play have been brewing for quite a some time. The National Parks Service (NPS) - the government agency tasked with overseeing all things Mall-related - recently released the details of their Preliminary Preferred Plan for the 309 acre site and it envisions a few nip-tucks that (gasp) may actually require some demolition.

On that note, NPS calling is calling for both the National Sylvan Theater and Capitol Reflecting Pool (not, as they are quick to point out, the iconic Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool) to be razed. While the latter would simply be replaced by another “water feature,” the Sylvan Theater – which hosts annual Military Band Summer Concert Series and the occasional fair-weather rally - would make way for a “multipurpose entertainment facility,” full details of which have yet to be disclosed. Union Square at the Mall's eastern end would also undergo a redesign, while the deteriorating District of Columbia War and Ulysses S. Grant Memorials would get the old toothbrush and brass polish treatment. Reps for the Department of the Interior also repeatedly emphasized the need to for restoration of the Jefferson Memorial’s sea wall, which spokesman Hugh Vickery described as “crumbling” against an ever encroaching Tidal Basin.

Not to be outdone by Salazar’s show of Earth Day bravado, the National Capital Planning Commission’s (NCPC) “Blue Ribbon Panel” of landscape architects has also released its critique of NPS’ plan for the Mall. While praising the restoration maneuvers as a “heroic effort,” they repeatedly refer to the site as both “America’s Front Yard” and an “international embarrassment.” Informed by the latter, they support “a standing ban on any new memorials or museums not already in planning stages (read: the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Eisenhower Memorial) and call for the relocation of tourist services off-site – citing the long-vacant Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building as prime contender.

To carry out these long-term goals of both the federal government and the NCPC, NPS has enlisted the aid of architects Wallace Roberts & Todd LLC and landscape architects DHM Design Corporation to outline their proposed modifications. With each contributor bringing their own roll of red tape to the table, could this be a case of too many cooks in the kitchen? There’s no telling at this point, but the renovation procedures could begin as early as this coming August.

Correction: The "Blue Ribbon Panel" mentioned above as extension of NCPC is, in fact, an "independent initiative" of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). Says Stephen Staudigl, NCPC Public Affairs Specialist:

ASLA took the lead to establish the Blue Ribbon Panel that included members from the American Society of Landscape Architects, the American Institute of Architects and the American Planning Association...NCPC supports some of the ASLA panel’s key findings, such as the National Park Service’s “heroic” effort to improve the National Mall based on the public’s call for improved conditions and better services.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

DC Teams with Feds for Adams Morgan Affordable Project

Mayor Adrian Fenty was on hand last Thursday for a ceremonial ribbon cutting at the newly refurbished Ontario Court housing complex in Adams Morgan – a 27-unit, 100% affordable apartment building developed by Jubilee Housing, Inc. with designs by Bonstra Haresign Architects. The $9.4 renovation of the 86-year-old edifice also includes a new 4,000 square foot home for Jubilee’s JumpStart Early Childhood Development Center in the very same building at 2525 Ontario Road, NW.

David Bowers of Enterprise Community Investment, Inc. – one of the project’s backers, along with the US Department of the Treasury, the DC Department of Housing and Community Development and PNC Bank – began the festivities by leading a prayer in which he blessed not only the residents of the newly renovated building, but the project’s financiers as well – who, according to Bowers, are “not in the building business, but the people business.” Jim Knight, Executive Director of Jubilee Housing Inc., echoed that sentiment while exploring the various funding sources used to realize the project.

“Housing advocates and city officials have come together to create a funding source that goes by the name of the Local Rent Supplement Program,” said Knight. “It ensures affordability for the lowest income earners among us….The city government [also] came together and worked to create the Housing Production Trust Fund. We’re one of the few localities in the country that has one of these resources. It has been funded in the past and it is here at Ontario Court.”

According to the Mayor’s office, the project received $3.5 million from that fund for upgrades including “new mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, new carpeting, upgraded kitchens and bathrooms, installation of new security systems, new air conditioning, and new laundry equipment.”

Far from being merely a local initiative, however, Ontario Court also received a big boost from the U.S. Treasury Department via their Community Development Financial Institutions Fund’s New Market Tax Credit Program. The program, which was created in 2000 to “provide tax incentives to induce private-sector, market-driven investment in businesses and real estate development projects located in low-income urban and rural communities,” was used to raise capital for Ontario Court - a project that Mayor Fenty says is indicative of a sea change in the DC development community.

“When the market-rate housing boom was coming through the District, people said, ‘This is the renaissance of the District of Columbia. This is the city come to life,’” said Fenty. “Market-rate housing has a place, but what we’ve seen over the past two or three years, as the market has stabilized and returned a little bit to normalcy, is an appetite and patience for building what is probably even more important to the District of Columbia – and that’s affordable housing."

In the coming months, the Department of Housing and Community Development will continue to pursue such developments in the Adams Morgan area by “putting money into” renovation projects at 1703 Euclid, 1720 Euclid, 1631 Euclid and 2233 18th Street, NW - the last two both Jubilee properties.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Amelia Fills in Ballston

The Dittmar Company is nearing the end of work of their newest Arlington County apartment project: The Amelia.

Designed and constructed by the same in-house Dittmar team responsible for the company's other Northern Virginia holdings - including their most recent developments at 1325 Pierce and Quincy Plaza - the Amelia is set to include 108 rental apartments, 4,158 square feet of ground floor retail (soon to be occupied by a mattress dealer) and 147 parking spaces. Flashy it may not be (we're looking at you, pillow top provider), but it’s a surefire improvement over 816 North Oakland Street’s former use as a four-story office building and adjoining Pizza Hut – two things off the menu for tenants when they begin to relocate to the building just off Wilson Boulevard early next month.

“Our first apartments will be in place by the 8th of May. Everything is ready [for that date], except that...we are waiting on Arlington County to give us permission to start moving in. We are pre-leasing at this point,” said Dittmar Leasing Consultant, Marsha Graham.

The building’s amenities are duplicitously friendly to health nuts and couch potatoes alike with a “cardio theater and strength equipment” for the former, while the more sedimentary folk can look forward to a “community room/media lounge with flat screen TV’s” and a “full service business center equipped with 24” Apple iMac computers. Interior decorum comes on the form of Corinthian countertops, “designer ceramic tile floors,” nine-foot ceilings and private balconies overlooking Oakland Park. Also in keeping with the current zeitgeist, the Amelia also Dittmar’s first foray into eco-friendly architecture.

“We are the first green building that Dittmar has built,” said Graham. “We are sound baffled and wonderfully insulated. All of the appliances are Energy Star rated, including a HVAC system...that is said to be 15% more efficient for heating and cooling.”

Rents at the Amelia are currently starting at $1625 for a one-bedroom with two-bedrooms priced from $2595 on up.

Near Southeast PUD Development Faces Re-Shuffle

Forest City Washington and Urban Atlantic (formerly known as Mid-City Urban, LLC) will go before the National Capital Planning Commission on May 7th to face a second round of approvals for modifications to their Second Stage PUD redevelopment of the Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg Dwellings in what is now the Capitol Riverfront. The project stems from a $34.9 million federal Hope VI grant given to the District of Columbia Housing Authority in 2001; that agency, which selected Forest City and Mid-City Urban for the project in 2003, is aiming for a mixed-income redevelopment at the Near Southeast site, with a one-for-one replacement of the 758 public housing units lost to demolition, plus 525 new affordable units and 330 market rate homes.

"It's a PUD stage two application for Squares 882, which is at 6th and M, SE. There’s a commercial office building on the south side of that, right up against M Street and then there’s a residential building behind it to the north. The other PUD site is Square 769 at 2nd and L Streets that is a residential building,” said David Smith, Project Manager for FCW. “Those are the only two that we need the PUD vote for, so that we can move on.”

The development team – which also includes architects from Torti Gallas, the Lessard Group and Shalom Baranes Associates – had their first hearing regarding the changes with the DC Zoning Commission (DCZC) on March 19th. Citing the economic downturn as a contributing factor, they’re now planning to cut the size of floorplans at their four pending residential buildings along Canal Park with the intent of increasing the number of units on site.

“We are basically shifting around the density of the residential units and moving some parking…we’re above the required zoning amount [for parking]. We’re increasing it some spots and reducing it others,” said Smith. “There’s reduced parking at the office building, but there’s increased parking on another parcel.”

FCW has also been pushing for an extension of time to build a new community center at 5th and K Streets, SE – a project that has already been pushed back several times since it was first announced. The DCZC gave the team a conditional approval for both the unit increase and parking reduction with the hitch that construction of the community center must begin sooner rather than later – in fact, a full twelve months earlier than FCW’s requested 2012 start date.

“We had asked for a certain date for the community center because of the economic times. The financing’s not there for it and we’re hoping they understand…We’ll find out what their vote is next Monday,” said Smith.

Though the sprawling, 23-acre Department of Housing and Urban Development-funded redevelopment initiative often fails to generate as much buzz as work immediately surrounding Nationals Park (including FCW’s own Yards project), progress in the Capper Carollsburg has been progressing steadily. The new Capper Senior Center and 400 M Street have already taken on tenants, while EYA’s Capitol Quarter project - featuring 137 market rate townhomes, 75 workforce housing townhomes and 86 public housing units - held a grand opening this past Wednesday. Seven hundred thousand square feet of office space is still planned to be split between 250 M Street and the Capper Senior Center’s former location at 7th and M Streets, SE.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Corcoran Seeking New Developer for Vacant Southwest School

One of the District’s many vacant school sites will be remaining empty for the foreseeable future, now that the Corcoran College of Art and Design and Monument Realty have parted ways over the mixed-use redevelopment of the Randall Junior High School in Southwest DC. The split, which occurred last August after financial backing evaporated, has led the Corcoran back to square one in their attempt to convert the 800,000 square foot property at 65 I Street, SW, into two nine-story residential towers with 420 units of housing and 100,000 square feet of new college facilities. Now Corcoran will need find another development team up to the task. The school had intended to occupy the rebuilt space by 2011.

"The Corcoran is currently entertaining proposals for the building, but we’re as of now trying to move forward," said Kristin Guiter, Manager of Media Relations for the Corcoran. "We’re just trying to find an appropriate partner."

The college purchased the 50-year-old middle school from the District government in 2006 for a reported $6.2 million dollars. After teaming up Monument and Shalom Baranes Architects for the redevelopment initiative, Corcoran officials had planned to sell the site to the development team for an estimated $8.2 million, while retaining a condo interest in the property. Suffice it to say, the sale never occurred and full control of the Randall School still rests with the college.

In the meantime, Corcoran higher-ups continue to vet candidates from the DC development community for the project. Guiter tells DCmud that college currently hopes to retain the Shalom Baranes designs left over from the Monument era, but even that – along with many other details concerning the project’s future - is far from a certainty.

“It’s hard to say at this moment how we’ll move forward because of the economy and the current financial situation. It’s all TBD,” she said. “The Board is looking at proposals and we haven’t found the right partner yet, so it hard to say [when construction might begin].”

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

909 at Capitol Yards Opens

Capitol Riverfront southeast, 909 at Capitol Yards, JPI, WDG Architecture, the Jefferson, new apartments While the Washington Post may be increasingly skeptical about the viability of Southeast's Capitol Riverfront as either a residential or commercial neighborhood, it is certainly a strategy that developer JPI has bet heavily on. Next month, the developer will open the doors on the 909 at Capitol Yards project - their 421-unit "boutique-hotel themed"Southeast DC, Capitol Riverfront, 909 at Capitol Yards, JPI, WDG Architecture, the Jefferson, new apartments, retail for lease apartment building and third entry under their greater Capitol Yards development. According to the Capitol Riverfront BID, tours of the WDG-designed complex have already begun for prospective residents and move-ins are scheduled to begin late this month. JPI is apparently targeting that hard to pin down 18-35 demographic the project with an advertising campaign that boasts of amenities like a two-story bar and lounge, yoga rooms, a “pub room” with shuffleboard (?!) and Nintendo Wiis, an in-house movie theater, a rooftop swimming pool for hosting “raucous barbeques,” and a Twitter ticker in every elevator tracking losses in the housing market (no, not really). Should you feel the need for something more “classic and traditional” or an apartment with a little “industrial style,” JPI is directing inquisitive renters in the market around the Ballpark to the first two buildings completed under their Capitol Yards banner: the Jefferson and Axiom. Their marketing whizzes have even gone so far as to whip up a “personality quiz” to help choose from among their properties (sample response: "Call up your fav five and hit Banana Cafe for pitchers of Caipirinhas"). Though JPI still has one project in the pipeline– a 419-unit apartment building with 15,000 square feet of retail at 23 Eye Street – completion of Capitol Yards could be viewed largely as the developer’s curtain call the DC area. The Texas-based company had once targeted DC, along with New York City, as hot spots for condo development. However, after completing projects like The Byron and Jenkins Row – the latter of which is still selling four years on – the market’s prospects seem now much dimmer than they did just a few years ago and JPI has yet to announce any new plans for follow-up developments. Correction: 909 at Capitol Yards was designed by the Preston Partnership, not WDG Architecture. WDG designed two other neighboring JPI projects, the Jefferson and Axiom at Capitol Yards.

Washington DC retail and commercial real estate news

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Benning Station Yanked by DC


The much vaunted Benning Station project has lost its main tenant and developer in a recent twist that leaves its future in doubt.

Having long envisioned the Benning Road corridor in Ward 7 as one of the keystones of redevelopment in eastern Washington, DC, city planners aimed to realize their goals by not only attracting new retailers and residents to the long struggling area, but local government agencies – and the traffic that comes with them - as well. To the end, the Fenty administration has masterminded mixed-use projects, like the $108 "Downtown Ward 7" project at Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road, NE that will include large residential and retail components neighboring the new, currently under construction headquarters of the Department of Employee Services. But another project in the same vein may be in danger of falling through. And now community advocates are laying the blame at the feet of those that promoted it – namely the Office of Property Management and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

Developer (and Fenty confidant) Ben Soto and DBT Development's $55 million, Bonstra Haresign-designed project was supposed to bring a new, 132,500 square foot headquarters for DC’s Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) to 4414 Benning Road, NE – along with 21,000 square feet of much needed ground floor retail and a future phase that would include sixty-two residential units. Then, last month, the developer told the local ANC that he could possibly be pulling out of the project, just as news came down from OPM Director Robin-Eve Jasper that CFSA would not be relocating to Ward 7 after all.

“[The] reason the CFSA lease was being pulled was that they had found a ready-to-move in space… in Ward 5, specifically NoMa,” says Sylvia Brown of the ANC 7C04. “The DC City Council passed legislation two weeks ago giving developers in that area a $50 million tax break for the next two years. When you look at the fact that Ben Soto has designed the Benning Station project for CSFA with no additional monies requested and he’s not asking for any tax subsidies, that move to NoMa contradicts what the city says about needing a ready-to-move-in space.”
The news not only raised suspicions of community advocates, but was also an unexpected surprise. Soto himself had reportedly spent $11 million of “pre-development investment” funds to ensure the CSFA’s occupancy. Furthermore, according to the Ward 7 Citizens Coalition, the Benning Station project had already received numerous letters of interest from potential retailers, including CVS, TGIFriday’s and “other neighborhood serving retail” and has been tailored specifically to meet needs of the CFSA – making occupancy by another tenant unlikely, even as the project nears the end of the District-led approval process.

“Just this morning, it was before the Board of Zoning because it needs to have some zoning variations and it’s gotten the approval of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, as well as the Department of Transportation,” said Brown. “This is a project that had acquiesced to the CSFA’s needs for an additional 50,000 square feet. How can you…negotiate that additional space to meet your particular needs and then pull out at the last minute?”

Director Jasper will be on hand to answer that question herself, when she attends a public forum concerning the future of Benning Station this evening, Wednesday, April 22nd, at the Kenilworth Recreation Center at 4300 Anacostia Avenue, NE. The meeting will begin at 7 PM.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Social Safeway Set for Demolition Next Month

Washington DC commercial real estate, Social Safeway Georgetown, Craig Muckle, Torti Gallas architectureFollowing last year's announcement that Georgetown's old "Social Safeway" at 1855 Wisconsin Ave, NW would disappear (temporarily) in 2009, now executives at the supermarket chain say the aging facility will meet the wrecking ball as soon as it closes up shop once and for all on April 26th.Washington DC commercial real estate, Social Safeway Georgetown, Craig Muckle, Torti Gallas architecture

"Demolition will start immediately [following the store closing]," said Safeway spokesman Craig Muckle. "We plan to have it done for a March 2010 opening." In the meantime, shoppers at Safeway are stocking up on discounted food as if there were light snow in the forecast.

But fear not, valued customers. As stated above, the new and improved Social Safeway is planned to open next year with a 21st century design - courtesy of Torti Gallas Architects - and a new floorplan that will largely abolish the current store’s massive and congestion-prone parking lot. By reclaiming part of its underutilized footprint, the from-scratch storefront will bare more resemblance to CityVista’s so-called “Sexy Safeway” rather than it’s former incarnation. Muckle tells DCmud that the new building’s design is the result of a lengthy approval process that the company underwent with locals and DC authorities.

“We had a number of visits with [the Old Georgetown Board] and [the US Commission of] Fine Arts. We went back a couple of times as there were some revisions requested along the way. But I don’t recall there beingWashington DC Safeway to close in Georgetown anything wildly out of line or that needed to be redrawn significantly,” he said. “We did spend a lot of time with the ANC, so I think we can say safely that the ongoing conversation really made the process much less challenging.”

In the meantime, renovation procedures take a much more low-key tactic at the "Not So Safeway" at 1747 Columbia Road, NW. That store will remain open when it goes under the knife (as early as early next month) and, although the store will forgo demolition, the end result will be much the same as in Georgetown.

“Under the current situation, [we couldn’t close the store]. We would have liked to, but if we’re not able to that, we’ll do the in-place remodel. It will be a complete interior renovation and decorum upgrade,” said Muckle. “It will look like…our other upgraded Safeways, of which there are now nine or ten in the area.”

Washington DC retail and commercial property news

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Spectacular Adams Morgan Loft


Friday, April 17, 2009

Luxury Hotel Sought for Georgetown Canal

ICG Partners, Castleton Holdings, Georgetown, hotel, David Stern
Commercial real estate developer ICG Properties announced this week that it is seeking to redevelop the former headquarters of the American Trial Lawyers Association at 1050 31st Street, NW through a joint partnership with Castleton Holdings. The Washington DC-based developer's goal for the prominent Georgetown location? An "ultra-luxury hotel" with top-tierICG Partners, Castleton Holdings, Georgetown, hotel, David Stern retail.

"[We are looking for a] high-end, luxury hotel operator," said David C. Stern, a principal with ICG. "There’s an opportunity for a fantastic restaurant presence on the Canal side of the building…In keeping with its location in the heart of Georgetown, it’s going to be a high-end project."

In its current incarnation, the five-story building hosts 50,000 square feet of space with two-levels of underground parking and views of the C&O Canal, the Potomac and the surrounding Georgetown area. According to Stern, the development will doing little to alter that – at least, externally.

“It won’t be a demolition. The hotel renovation would be primarily interior renovation work,” he said. “We haven’t selected a project architect yet…It’s very preliminary right now. Decisions like the operator, financing and the hotel architect haven’t yet fallen completely into place.”

That, however, hasn’t scared them from locking down a timeline on the project. Stern says his group is negotiating with an unnamed hotelier and is planning to begin construction by the end of the year. "They are not currently in the District, but, like many other groups, they are very interested in starting operations [here]," he said.

"Given the fact that it’s primarily an interior renovation project, it would be a 12 to 18 month period for construction,” said Stern. “Our goal would be to open in the first quarter of 2011." Presumably by then a hotel operator will have been selected.

Washington DC commercial real estate news

Adams Morgan Fixer-Upper Gets Fixed-Up

The Kalorama / Adams Morgan neighborhood will soon have one less dilapidated tinderbox for neighbors to revile. Located at 2110 19th Street, NW, the three-story apartment building at the site has gone from bad to worse over the past half-decade. Luckily for area preservationist aficionados, however, renovation (if you can call throwing out everything except the facade a renovation) is currently underway and, once completed, this real estate ugly duckling will emerge a swan - courtesy of DC apartment developer and management company Keener Squire Properties and the architects of Eric Colbert and Associates.

Originally known as the The Hilltop, residents of the then 15-unit tenement - described by The Washington Post at the time as a "badly deteriorated building" - were bought out of their leases in 2005. Another District development company, Nicol Development, then tried their hand at culling 22 condominiums out of the building shortly thereafter and summarily failed, leaving nothing but a condemned husk of a building in what was (ironically enough) one of the District’s more desirable neighborhoods. But then 2007 happened, and Nicol lost control of four local projects, this one to the lender. The property had been informally floated above $5 million by Nicol, then more formally listed at $3.8 million but still no takers. Cut to the summer of 2008, when Keener Squire was able to pick it up at the “fixer-upper” special rate of $2.1 million.

“My client bought it at auction,” said architect Eric Colbert. “Someone had tried to develop it a while back, but they didn’t know what they were doing and wound up abandoning the project…It must have been at least five or six years [since people lived there.]”

That's about to change. Keener-Squire is currently projecting a 12-month timetable for a complete renovation of the once-roughshod apartment complex. The building’s original 25,000 square foot shell will receive an extra 5,000 feet during the course of the build-out, allowing for a total of 35 new residential units and two new floors. Keener-Squire’s in-house general contractor, Wayne Construction, is overseeing work at the site. Sources say the building is being designed as rental apartments, but, as always, market forces will ultimately dictate the final outcome.


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