Friday, October 29, 2010

HPRB Approves In-fill Project: Historic 14th Street Filling Up

Yesterday, the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) recommended approval of a six-floor office space development at 1525 14th Street, NW in the 14th Street Historic District. Originally approved in 2004 as a seven-floor residential project, developer Giorgio Furioso of Furioso Development decided to switch gears given the difficulty of financing and unloading a small-scale condo operation under current conditions. With the change from residential to non-residential, Furioso also ditched original architect Sorg for updated concept designs from Eric Colbert & Associates.

The development will be sandwiched by two eateries, as it is set to occupy the empty space (currently a parking lot) between the beloved Great Wall Szechuan House and the highly reviewed Posto. The project calls for an additional three stories to be affixed atop the historic and stylish facade of 1515 14th, "a classically-styled automobile showroom constructed in 1928 for a Hudson dealership" that now houses Posto on the ground-floor, and an art gallery on the top level (both entities will remain). The addition to 1515 will be set back roughly 20 ft. from the front façade, so as not to compromise the architectural integrity of the building. Furioso is proposing that the first two floors of the total 55,000 s.f. house retail tenants, while the remaining four levels will be reserved as office space. The building will rest atop three below-grade levels, the first for storage, and the bottom two accessed by a car elevator for parking.

The originally proposed residential project offered a much different aesthetic, as architects at Sorg had initially designed a Cubism-inspired building reminiscent of the work of Frank Gehry. And while the density and massing of the new proposal remain the same, the design is entirely reworked. Although not boring, the new design is certainly less adventurous than the previous. And while the design and materials remain of a modern flavor, the prevailing stone curtain system, and the arrangement of the columns, help better reflect and mesh with the proportions and the large showroom windows of the historic building next door.

HPRB Staff Reviewer Steve Callcott had previously expressed concerns about fluorescent fixtures from the offices becoming an unattractive anomaly on the historic nighttime streetscape. Due to these concerns one of the earlier drafts, a design employing a more generous use of unobstructed glass, was scrapped for the presently submitted rendering (pictured at the top). Architect Eric Colbert explained that increased architectural complexity on the facade as well as added louvers had diminished views into the office levels and alleviated Callcott's concerns. With Callcott and the Board's approval, the development team will now submit their proposal to the BZA, with a groundbreaking still some time off.

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News

First Piece of Arboretum Place Puzzle: The Flats

On Wednesday Clark Realty Capital broke ground on the first phase of Arboretum Place. Amidst the late morning downpour, developers plunged shovels into the muddied earth at at 1600 Maryland Avenue, NE, signifying the start to the first phase of construction, set to yield 257 "high-end apartments." The initial phase has been dubbed "The Flats at Atlas District," and developers expect the residences along with 5,000 s.f. of ground-floor retail to deliver in two years time. Originally expected to initiate construction back in 2009, the market downturn put a significant dent in developer's optimism. But HUD's 221(d) financing program and now Wednesday's ceremony has brought some relief to those who've worked on the project. "We are thrilled to have finally broken ground on The Flats and become part of the exciting Atlas District community," said Project Manager Tracey Thomm at the groundbreaking, explaining that "Without the involvement of HUD, none of this would have been possible."

The proposed multifamily luxury apartment community that will eventually total some 674,757 s.f. and 430 units, is located on a ray of the newly improved "Starburst" intersection (still way less delightful than an actual Starburst), directly across the street from Hechinger Mall; some apartments will have views of the Capitol. According to the developer, the long-awaited complex will bring "high-quality housing to an area that has not benefited from new residential development in many years." In addition to the growing number of retail options in the Atlas District, future residents will plenty of amenities right outside their door - a pool, a business center, a gym, indoor half basketball court, entertainment space, and landscaped gardens complete with fireplace and "meditation courtyard" are all in the works.

Georgia based Preston Partnership brained the architectural aesthetic that fuses sharp angles and a modern facade of dark red brick, cement, and large glassy bays, conveying both a sense of sophistication and an industrial-tinged simplicity. The interiors are equally classy, the renderings of the common spaces inviting the eye to superimpose an image of a lady-wooing 007 onto the leather ottomans. Another Clark subsidiary - Clark Builders Group is charged with making the architectural drawings a reality, and will begin work just in time for the winter months.

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News

Wilson High School Modernization Video

The city has released a video virtual tour of the Wilson High School in Tenleytown. The $85m project began in February of 2009 and is expected to meet LEED Silver certification when it is completed next July.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Buildings at 1776 Wilson Blvd to Crumble Soon

As Skanska continues to build up at 10th and G Streets NW, approaching "concrete topping out," developers expect the current buildings at their project site on the west side of the Potomac to come down very shortly. Rosslyn's Medical Service Corp. International office, Arlington Motor Cars, and Fashion Dreams, purchased from George Contis for ten million dollars in early 2009, are set to be razed in early December. Already approved development plans were included in the deal, and Skanska will follow through on the original RTKL-inspired vision of 142,000 s.f. of office space with a full ground floor of retail at 1776 Wilson Blvd. Although construction won't be coming "out of the ground" until February, with an official groundbreaking happening shortly after, Jessica Murray of Skanska assured DCMud that "you'll see activity happening before then." While Murray was able to promise impending explosions (figuratively not literally) and subsequent dirt-pushing, she could not report any lease agreement for the office or retail space at this time. "You'll know when that happens," she added.

Meanwhile, Skanska reports that construction crews are "currently placing concrete on the seventh floor" at 733 10th Street NW. Masonry work should begin next month and curtain wall glass is anticipated to begin at the end of November. Murray also confirmed that developers expect the 3,946 s.f. purchased from the First Congregational United Church of Christ's (originally the owners of the property) stake in the ground-floor of the building will likely feature a "white tablecloth" dining establishment as well as a cafe. The Church will maintain its presence in the new building with a freshly designed 25,000 s.f. of worship and office space. Substantial completion of the building is expected in September of 2011.

Correction: Skanska representatives wish to impart to DCMud and their readers that in fact NO EXPLOSIONS will actually happen during demolitions in Rosslyn. Furthermore, the restaurant space going there is not white tablecloth, quite the opposite, as the style of eatery will be either "fast casual" or a café. Jessica Murray explained that this is an important distinction given the zoning issues at hand.

Washington, D.C. Real Estate Development News

The Tell-Tale Architect

By Beth Herman

For D.C.-based architect Edgar Sever and his wife, interior designer Lenore Headly, of Sever Headly Design Group, the opportunity to renovate a deteriorating 160-year-old Alexander Jackson Davis Gothic Revival-style house in remote, sleepy Gallows, Va. seemed, like the dark rain that preceded it, to have fallen from the sky.

Lauded from D.C. to Tokyo for their signature industrial steel-and-glass fabrication designs and edgy interiors, the chance to ply their craft on the 19th century rural residence at 66 Fissure Hollow that boasted decorated bargeboards, a castellated parapet and stained glass pointed arch windows - instead of iron outrigger beams and cantilevered brushed nickel and glass stairs, for example – at first glance seemed very much out of character for the architect/designer team. “It was just like a square peg/round hole scenario, but after talking with us, the young homeowner was pretty certain we should take a stab at it,” Sever recalled of their chance meeting one night as they contemplated changing a flat tire on a flooded country road. “In fact, he refused to let us go until we said yes.”

A Descent Into The Maelstrom

It all began, according to Sever, when the couple borrowed a neighbor’s vintage Ford truck (affectionately monikered “The Relic”) before leaving their Kalorama home for an antiquing weekend. The truck was to help transport two late 18th century Pennsylvania Chippendale desks, located for them by a Southern Virginia furniture dealer, back to the District. Despite a weekend weather report that portended nothing short of a small typhoon, Sever and Headly made the trip.

“As a favor to a friend, Ed and I were doing a Georgetown row house,” Headly recalled, affirming that residential design wasn’t really their métier but “friends are friends.” Because of some unanticipated architectural incursions, in addition to the interior design work, they’d spent more than nine months in review, had just gotten Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) and Advisory Neighborhood Committee (ANC) approval, and were anxious to find product and get going, rain or shine, she explained. The desks, along with a cherished heirloom Chippendale armchair and settee already on the premises, were to be the centerpieces of the 3,200 s.f. row house’s great room. The truck the couple borrowed, on the other hand, was not so cherished and suffered two separate flat tires, going and coming.

“The fierceness of the storm, the added weight of the desks and fear of damaging them, and the increasing darkness made it impossible to change the tire on the way back,” Sever said, adding that the Gallows, Va. homeowner who would soon retain their services seemed to appear out of thin air on the road that night, ushering them through the woods and down a broken path into the Gothic Revival structure to dry off. The evening turned into cocktails, dinner and a lantern and candlelight tour of the three-story structure after the storm doused the electricity. “Even by lantern, it was clear that an antiquated mechanical system, insufficient insulation, sagging cross-gabled roof, cracking foundation and leaks everywhere - not to mention drafts, cold spots, strange thumps and creaking noises we could not easily identify - would mandate razing the house in most cases,” Sever said, “but the homeowner wanted to save it. In fact, he wanted us to save it. He just wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

The Valley of Unrest

Months later, plans to gut and renovate the tired property had gone through yet a fourth iteration – and endured the purchase of two new computers. “It was odd,” Sever reported. “We would just finish what we thought were the right renderings and the next morning they would be gone, almost as though someone had deleted them. We finally gave up and got new hardware.” When the homeowner reportedly suffered a fatal machine accident, Sever said they were contacted by someone who explained he was a family member –in fact the great-grandfather of the deceased – who asked that the team be his weekend guests at the house in Gallows in order to gain a better perspective of his great grandson’s wishes. “He said when the weekend was over, we’d know exactly what was expected of us,” Sever recalled.

On a clear, biting (“We could see our breath,” Headly recalled) late October Saturday at dawn, the team, consisting of Sever, Headly, project architect William Wilson and team member Annabel Lee, left Washington for the four-hour drive to the house at Fissure Hollow, buoyed by the thought that the work might actually soon begin. Though sunny at the outset, darkening skies and a violent thunderstorm just outside of Gallows hastened them toward the site. “A note welcomed us and apologized once we got to the front door,” Sever said, “urging us to enter and fend for ourselves for the first night. It said the house itself would tell us what to do.”

Again without power, and following a dinner of cold canned chili and crackers from the pantry, the group set about by lantern and candlelight assessing a litany of design and structural flaws and rot. While the foundation they discovered of 20-inch thick granite would typically preclude razing a structure, even one with significant deterioration such as this, the team was more than certain the end result would be a total gutting and redesign, according to Headly. “We wanted to save what we could because that had been the homeowner’s desire,” she said, “and though our work tends more toward raw steel than stained glass, we are proponents of preservation, especially in a region like this.” The Gothic Revival hand carved wooden fireplace, she indicated, replete with “pointed arches and quatrefoils,” needed to be preserved to honor the 19th century craftsmen whose legacy it illustrated.

With temperatures dropping and the power still out, Sever said the group carefully built a large fire and bedded down beside it for the night, only to have the flames quickly quelled by a burst of cold air. As the team huddled by dying embers, a constant tapping which turned to rapping at the door (and numerous attempts to determine what was causing it, to no avail) put everyone on edge, Headly recalled. When a final investigation by her husband yielded an ungainly black bird, it entered the room through the now half-opened door, circled the dentil, egg and dart crown molding, and perched on the pallid bust of a Greek god.

“We were somewhat surprised,” Headly said, “but nowhere near as mystified as when the diaphanous form of the homeowner appeared to tend the fire.”

“My great-grandfather, who died in 1978, doesn’t want anyone to alter this house,” he said, sort of floating, wiping some residual blood and thready nerves from a dangling forearm while explaining the elder’s plan to scare them all the way back to the District. “But I do. I really love it; it’s just that it needs to be modernized.”

“But aren’t you…also dead?” the group asked incredulously.

“Details,” the homeowner said. “So how about it?”

According to Sever, it took the team all of 30 seconds to exit the house and point the car back to Washington, the black bird on their heels.

“We’re somewhat concerned about historical review,” he explained a month later, noting that the design was currently in its fifth iteration, “but all signs point to a spring start.” When asked about working with a rather gossamer homeowner, Sever said it has its drawbacks, such as his entering meeting rooms unannounced, directly through closed doors, and hovering during project updates that the team wasn’t quite ready to share, but all in all, it’s working out.

“Over dinner the other night Lenore asked me if I’d ever consider doing another project of this ilk,” Sever said. “I wanted to say I was game, but wouldn’t you know it, quoth that darned black bird that followed us home, ‘Nevermore. Nevermore.’”

Happy Halloween from everyone at DCMud

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Paradigm Begins New York Ave Apartment Project

Paradigm Development, Donohoe Construction, Steuart Investment, Mt. Vernon Triangle, Washington DC commercial real estateParadigm has ordered its army of construction vehicles into Mount Vernon Triangle to begin work on the hefty 390-unit rental building at 425 L St, NW. Indeed, ground had broken on what project manager Jimmy Dotson calls a "bold, urban building with all the modern comforts of home." Under construction is a mass of brick and glass that will eventually total fourteen stories, sitting on three levels of below grade resident parking. Along with the standard amenities (gym, roof deck, common rooms) the building will feature a few unique touches like the hybrid and electric car refueling stations to be installed in the parking garage. Paradigm Development, Donohoe Construction, Steuart Investment, Mt. Vernon Triangle, Washington DC commercial real estate The barren surface parking lots that have sat vacant are now occupied by machinery and the warehouse at the eastern corner that has remained unused for years will soon be razed. The apartment building, built in partnership with Steuart Investments, was designed by Architecture Collaborative, Inc., while Collins & Kronstadt of Silver Spring holds the title of architecture of record. Developers expect initial delivery in the spring of 2012, with completion of the building wrapping up later that fall. Paradigm has apparently taken heart from the nearly sold out condo projects (CityVista completed sales this fall) and the largely stabilized new apartment buildings that surround it. Donohoe Construction is well into construction of 218 rental units directly across the street.

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News

JBG and Grosvenor Unveil Name for 14th & S Condo Project

In an unparalleled combination of simplicity and genius developers at JBG and Grosvenor have titled their much-talked-about, seven-story condominium project set for 14th and S Streets NW District Condos! Today that name was officially christened. And while no champagne bottles were smashed over the corner of Whitman Walker Clinic, suits and ties from the development world, as well as Jack Evans and one well-recognized Jim-Graham-bow-tie, gathered earlier today to celebrate the newly-named 125-unit residential building and its impending groundbreaking (which is expected in just a couple weeks).

While the name might be a smidgen on the unimaginative side, the building's design, interior, and amenities will be nothing short of state of the art. Architects from Shalom Baranes designed the sleek and modern "glass and terracotta facade with balconies and terraces," while Cecconi Simone Inc. have been tasked with selecting the interior finishes, as well as designing the unit layouts, common areas, and amenities. JBG and Ceconi Simone have also teamed up with local retailer Vastu to stylishly furnish the common space and model units. Condo buyers wanting to add that modern-chic flare to their newly purchased units will have the option of employing the style-genius of Vastu and their product lines.

By tapping into the rich historic preservation experience of Shalom Baranes, and with much appreciation from former Whitman Walker Chairman and now Ward One Councilman Jim Graham, the beautiful brick facade of the former AIDs clinic will be improved, preserved, and incorporated into the new building. Although specifics weren't provided, Graham said he was more than pleased that JBG's project will honor and commemorate the hundreds of brave District residents who volunteered and were treated at the facility during the horrible AIDS crisis of the 1980s and '90s.

In addition to the indoor gym and the rooftop terrace, featuring outdoor living rooms, a kitchen, bar, fire pit, fountain, and sundeck, the building will also offer an additional 18,000 s.f. of retail. And with most of the vacant storefronts on 14th Street being pasted one by one with Zoning permits signaling the newest restaurant in line for the area, there is likely to be no shortage of interested tenants by the time construction is completed in the Spring of 2012. Potential buyers can "register" beginning today and actual sales will start sometime in the Spring of next year.

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News

Rosslyn Station Kicks Off Today

Development of the expanded Rosslyn Station kicks off this morning with sacramental event to publicize construction of the $32m project. The 10am ceremony will highlight expansion of the underground station and replacement of the single elevator with three high-speed lifts intended to increase speed and create redundancy for Virginia's highest-trafficked station. The event will be attended by officials from Arlington, WMATA, the state's Congressional delegation, and JBG, which owns part of the site and has plans to build the Central Place development above it.

Arlington, Virginia real estate development news

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

District Takes Action Against Condo Developer

Developers of shoddy condo projects beware. The District government has filed a complaint against Charles Jenkins, who the District said had performed "inadequate renovations" on numerous condominium projects, and that he "failed to disclose to potential purchasers the true condition of the condominiums, which suffered from severe defects." The District is seeking to enjoin him from further condo projects and for payment of all repairs made to his projects.

Jenkins is accused of failing to obtain a warranty, as required with all new condominiums as a backstop against product defects, that he failed to provide or provided inaccurate Public Offering Statements (POS) to purchasers, and of performing "shoddy workmanship" with "significant defects." Jenkins and his company renovated and sold the Eighth Street Condominiums at 3201 8th St., SE, completed in 2005, Eastern Avenue condos at 940-948 Eastern Avenue, NE, and the A Street Condominiums at 4932 A St., SE.

The city has ordered a jury trial to seek relief for duped condo purchasers. Complaints included non-functioning air conditioning, leaks, "inoperable security gate and door buzzer," and vermin.

Corner of Ninth and Eye Street NW Gets Delicious Makeover

Chalk up the Penn Quarter neighborhood for another trendy, upscale restaurant and lounge. Yes, the entrepreneurial ambitions of David Von Storch and his Urban Adventures Company continue to spill out across the District, with the fourth VIDA on the way to U Street next year, and now a new signature restaurant will serve as a more elegant showcase for the many craft beers of Capitol City Brewing Company (also a Von Storch entity). Yesterday Von Storch's company signed a long-term lease to occupy the restaurant space at 901 Ninth St, NW, situated next to the Renaissance Hotel and directly across from the Washington Convention Center. Von Storch hopes to open the doors in mid to late April.

Taking the first portion of its street address, the new restaurant will be called simply 901. The freshly designed and soon to be renovated 7,500-s.f. space will carve out a "hip, sexy and laid-back atmosphere." Estimated at completion to total some five million in renovation efforts, Stoneking-von Storch Architects of Charlottesville, VA will serve as the architect of record, while Hallock Design Group of Miami, FL will assume the title of "project Interior Design firm." The property is owned by JBG Rosenfeld Retail.

“This vibrant corridor caters to residents and visitors alike and we think patrons will enjoy the creative design and relaxing venue as they settle in for lunch or dinner and unwind from their day," Von Storch explains confidently, "We’ve designed a wonderfully edgy, urban dining experience wrapped in its own unique style of elegance." 901 will hop on the small-plate bandwagon with a concept that is a modern combination of Spanish tapas style portions and an array of international flavors. Here are just a few of the crowd-pleasing finger foods expected on the inaugural menu: Ahi Tuna Tartar, Wagyu Beef Meatballs, a Thai Lettuce Wrap, and All American Bison Sliders. With his growing franchise of gyms, salons, and spas, as well as the brewery, Von Storch has proven himself highly successful at delivering creative urban spaces where the young and wealthy want to come to both work and play. Now he hopes those same professionals want to come eat his food.

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bethesda Church Moves Forward With Development, Receives Council's Blessing

Twice the Montgomery County Planning Board had approved the plans of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bethesda-Chevy Chase to build a 107-unit residential building combined with a six-story church and community center. And twice Hearing Examiner Martin Grossman had recommended denial of the proposal, citing a lack of "compatibility" with several nearby rows of single family homes. The Church's development team had reduced their mixed-use development plans from 53,000 s.f. to 25,000 s.f., as well as offered more dramatic setbacks and reduced massing in an effort to appease naysayers. But although Grossman called the augmented plans a "much closer call" he still predicted
the development to "dwarf the nearby single-family detached homes." Nonetheless, last week County Council became the "ultimate decider," settling the dispute with a 6-2 vote in favor of the Church's plans.

Virginia-based MTFA Architecture is the project architect, and seem to be busy with several church-residential combo projects, as another of their client's in Arlington (The Views) recently emerged in tact after a similar drama. The Church project will occupy two-acres, currently inhabited by a church building and attached community center, several single-family homes and a surface parking lot, all of which will be razed. Parking needs will be satisfied by two levels of below-grade lots. The complex will cover a college-size indoor athletic field for community use, public green spaces, affordable residences serving the elderly, transitional housing for the homeless, and a range of other social-work programming.

While Councilman Mark Elrich "was frankly appalled" at the plans to essentially box in the contesting enclave of residential homes, others saw this sort of development as inevitable, and not much of a change in the grand scheme of zoning in the area, as many other large projects nearby have already been approved. Councilman Roger Berliner seemed to take a less reactionary stance, and painted a broader picture in which he concurred that "substantial compatibility" was present in this proposal give the urban nature of the immediate area.

But Church representative Barry Lemley said there is still about a year before construction can be expected, as preliminary site planning and securing building permits should take a significant amount of time. Having originally partnered with Bozzuto in 2006, and then left the agreement to tackle planning and approval process on their own, the Church will once again look for private development partner to see the plans through.
Lemley says they remain undecided on whether to release a RFP immediately, or sit on the approvals until the market further stabilizes. "For an urban infill project like this, in this slow economy, some of the bigger firms that passed on it originally, may have an interest now," Lemley said. And even though construction might be further down the line, and delivery probably won't happen for "two to three years," Lemley and his church are relieved to have the support of County Council. "We always thought we had a unique project here," he explained, "and while some people thought that it was too much, others thought that it was just what the community needs."

Bethesda, MD Real Estate Development News

Erkiletian to Start Old Town Apartment Project

Developers in Old Town Alexandria haven't had the stomach for starting large residential projects of late, but at least one thinks the timing is now right. Locally based construction and development company Erkiletian says it is just a few weeks away from starting work on The Asher, a 206 unit apartment building two blocks from the Braddock Road Metro station.

Developers of the apartment building slated for 621 North Payne Street in Old Town say both the site and building permits should be issued this week, allowing them to submit for demolition permits next week to tear down the Security Storage warehouse now on the lot. Garland Miller of Erkiletian says work could begin by mid-November, with demolition lasting about 2 months.

Erkiletian purchased the land in June of 2008 and expected to be under construction last year, but hasn't kicked off a large residential project since the Halstead Towers in Alexandria, which it completed in 2005. "The developer just feels the timing is right" said Miller. The developer is shooting for LEED Silver certification. The six-story Ashton will feature 206 apartments, a three-story, 256-space garage, and a tiny retail component.
The project was first conceived by Rust Orling Architecture and Hovnanian, which Erkiletian modified and added 60 units to, bringing on Lessard Group as project architect. BE & K will build the apartments. The Asher will sit just a few blocks west of EYA's Old Town Commons mixed-income project, which began construction earlier this year.
Alexandria, Virginia real estate development news

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Monroe Towers Apartments Take Big Green Step Into Record Books

Yesterday, on a scorching hot rooftop in Columbia Heights, a group of environmental engineers and entrepreneurs unveiled the completed construction and installation of the second largest solar thermal project in the District, consisting of 32 giant solar panels, and storing over 1,600 gallons of hot water. Sound like the type of trendy green construction reserved for some pricey, experimental zero carbon house that you only see on HGTV? It's not. This unique project sits atop 3501 13th Street NW, a 45 unit apartment
building. The solar panel system will drastically reduce the carbon footprint and energy bill of this multi-family property owned by Crosstown Properties, LLC.

This is the sixth project by Skyline Innovations, a small but creative, new enterprise of young energy professionals taking on all the start up, installation, and maintenance costs of solar panel construction, so to encourage green investment. Clients, in this case Crosstown Properties, simply agree to purchase the generated energy from Skyline at a guaranteed discount rate. In eliminating nearly 70 percent of their natural gas consumption, 3501 13th Street residents are taking a commendable step in reducing their carbon emissions and impact on the environment.

Greenavise, an environmental sustainability consulting group based in Silver Spring, helped make this project come to life by introducing the needs of Crosstown Properties and this building to the innovative services of Skyline. Greenavise looks to work with real property owners and operators to discern and prioritize the green solutions most feasible, efficient, and appropriate for individual properties and businesses.

It all came together yesterday, on July 21st - an excellent day if you're a sun-soaking solar panel, if not for a journalist. Scott Friedman, CEO of Greenavise, gathered at 3501 alongside Skyline CEO Zach Axelrod and several team members to unveil their newest and most impressive project to the press, city officials, and several local residents. As many of the involved parties are citizens of Ward One, they stressed their pride in bringing an important project like this into their own neighborhood. Zach Axelrod and Aaron Block, Skyline's head of market development, both insisted that six projects in a year was not keeping them busy enough, and declared their business anxious to expand. With what seems to be a unique and winning business model and pricing formula, Skyline may indeed convince many new companies that going green is not just ethical, but good economical sense.

Ward One Councilman Jim Graham (pictured) was in attendance along with Ward Three Councilwoman Mary Cheh. Each briefly took the microphone to express their gratitude and support for this kind of environment-focused business venture, and pledged to continue their work at making sure D.C. maintains its course towards becoming one of the greenest cities in the country. Later in the evening, Skyline Innovations celebrated their one year birthday party.

Washington real estate development news

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hickok Cole to Design New AIA Center in DC


The Washington D.C. Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA|DC), in partnership with the Washington Architectural Foundation (WAF), recently revealed that a team from Hickok Cole Architects has been awarded the task of designing the new District Architecture Center (DAC) at 421 7th Street NW in downtown Washington, D.C. AIA received 17 contest entries from firms throughout the District, but the six-person jury could only select one winning design. Winning the week-long, rapid-fire design competition doesn't just earn the architects an ego boost, they also get the design contract and a $6,500 prize. Coming in second place, and sure to be heckled at the office, was another team from Hickok Cole; but losing doesn't taste quite as bad with a $3,500 check.

Members of the winning team include: Devon Perkins, AIA LEED AP; Jason Wright, AIA LEED AP; Lori Geftic, IIDA, LEED AP; Matt Starr, Assoc. AIA; Rod Letonja, AIA, LEED AP; Shelly Mrstik, RA, LEED AP, and Thomas Corrado, LEED AP. The working drawings were spawned from "a conviction that the project should express light, transparency and a connection with the city." More specifically, the design team penciled a two-story space that employs a healthy dose of glass so that a sense of openness, as well as natural light (sunlight, not the beer), spills throughout the entire building. When reached for comment on their winning design, the media staff at Hickok Cole played Steel-Curtain-style defense, sternly denying DCMud's prying questions: "we cannot release any more information than has already been put out there." What kind of dirty secrets could be hiding behind an innocent design competition? That's the kind of perilous journalistic digging that should be left to Bisnow; let's just hope this blog is not in too deep already.

Sigal Construction has agreed to act as general contractor, and construction is expected to begin in March of 2011, putting an optimistic delivery and move-in date in the late summer of next year. Initial sketches must be elaborated and expanded upon, as finalized architectural drawings are to be completed by the end of December to avoid delays. Besides anchoring educational outreach efforts and operating as the Chapter House for AIA|DC and for WAF, the Center plans to also feature a gallery dedicated to showcasing architecture and design talent from around the capital city.

Washington, D.C. Real Estate Development News

Hines Affirms Spring Construction for City Center DC

Developers of downtown DC's last block of empty land are holding firm on their commitment to start building City Center DC, and confirmed in a statement released yesterday that construction could begin as early as April of next year. Colorado-based Archstone and Texas based Hines development plans for the 10 acre site were approved by the DC Council back in 2005, but have since stalled over financing and tenant prospects.

Hines representatives told DCMud in June they would begin redevelopment of the old
Convention Center site in the "first quarter of 2011," but have yet to announce a major tenant to occupy any of the space. The project should reach "substantial completion between May and September 2013," said Howard Riker, Vice President at Hines Development. Despite the lack of commitment, The Washington Post reports that Hines issued a statement yesterday saying it still planned to begin construction by next spring. Plans call for several hundred thousand square feet of retail space, more than half a million square feet of office space, 458 rental apartments, 216 condos and a 400-bed “high-end” hotel with its own 100,000 square foot retail plaza, under a 99 year lease from the city.

Hines has already chosen a general contractor team of Clark Construction and Smoot Construction, and has begun subcontractor bidding. Construction will begin first along H Street, building parking first, then office, saving residential for the last component.

Foster and Partners of London and DC-based Shalom Baranes serve as co-architects on the work. Designed to achieve LEED Gold certification, "the design of the landscape, office and condominium buildings relates to the specific sun and wind patterns and the climate. The site and the buildings will also incorporate solar shading, harness rainwater and water conservation and planting" according to Foster's website.

Washington, DC real estate development news

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dupont Underground Plans Unveiled

Last night, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) hosted a meeting at the Dupont Hotel to introduce interested parties, mostly journalists and artist-types, to the selected development team and their preliminary plans for the 100,000 s.f. space known as "Dupont Underground." After a failed endungeoned food court experiment in '95, and some 35 years without a viable solution for the neglected Dupont Circle trolley station, DMPED and the development team believe they've "cut the Gordian knot" of Dupont Underground. Having released an RFP in March, the District received two official offers. Eventually deeming one "unresponsive," DMPED officials have decided to move forward and go public with the lone development plans. Spearheaded by Arts Coalition for Dupont Underground (ACDU), a registered not-for-profit "comprising artists and designers, businesspeople and community leaders," and in partnership with J.M. Zell, the newly chosen development team will look to deliver an "important cultural institution highlighting Washington’s rightful place on the cultural map." In other words, developers will transform the rat-friendly bunker, "stretching nearly eight blocks long," into a high-brow cultural center: part art gallery showcasing local talent, part sophisticated "top-tier" dining venue, part wine-swirling hobnobbing-goodness. Developers cited their "optimal goal" for delivery of the ten-million-dollar, 40,000 s.f. phase one as somewhere between 24 and 36 months, or two to three years.

SmithGroup is currently in the preliminary stages of designing an elegant new wardrobe for the currently raw and unfinished underground tunnel, and WCS Construction has signed on to build the finalized plans. Phase one will consist of 20,000 s.f. of gallery space and 20,000 s.f. of concession space (potentially a restaurant, wine-bar, and cafe). Developers expect that pending leases with a high-end restaurateur and winery of some sort will enable a loan covering three-fourth of phase one construction costs. The remaining quarter will be left to fund-raising efforts. Developers promised they "are not counting on any District financial support." Phase two will consist of an additional 60,000 s.f. of cultural space, its construction wholly dependent on the financial success of phase one and the growth of the endowment. Citing formerly rotting and now reimagined public and cultural spaces like New York City's "The High Line" (an unused elevated rail-line turned public park) and Saint-Nazaire, France's "Alveole 14" (an abandoned submarine bunker turned art-space), developers expressed their hopes of creating a cultural attraction that will even "attract international tourists from Berlin and Paris." Considering the last Dupont Underground project failed to lure their own citizens down for a lunch-time burger, it seems the difficulty of the task ahead looms rather large.

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News

To Raze or Not To Raze

By Beth Herman In the film "Prizzi's Honor," Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner played hitmen (or hitpeople, to be politically correct) assigned, in parlance, to rub each other out. When Nicholson fell in love with his nemesis, he had a rather pivotal conversation with himself, ruminating, "Do I ice her; do I marry her? Do I ice her; do I marry her?"

When the time comes to decide whether to raze or preserve a cherished property, there are factors, like those in Nicholson's dilemma, that run the gamut from practical to emotional - and everything in between.

According to Amy Gardner of Bethesda, Maryland's Gardner Mohr Architects LLC, we live in different houses now. “People are living in housing stock which, whether from the turn-of-the-(last) century, pre-war, post war, 1950s or ‘60s – anything up to the ‘80s, doesn’t fit their lifestyles.” What’s more, they are “energy hogs,” Gardner observed, noting increasingly clients are approaching the firm with critical questions about saving or demolishing outmoded family homes.

Lowering the Boom

In the so-called boom years, Gardner recalled, about a 15-year period from the early 1990s into the first part of this decade, it was very common to see an older home in the greater D.C. metropolitan area destroyed, often by a builder to start a custom home on the order of 5,000-7,000 s.f., depending on site and zoning. Today, Gardner said, and even with problematical older homes, “We have a lot of clients come to us and say, ‘I love my neighborhood, the schools; I really don’t want to move. We’ve been looking at houses to buy and we’re not finding any place that’s better than what we have, and want to look at options to renovate and meet our family’s needs.’”

Aside from aesthetics which may involve poor configuration of space, and citing issues that may include antiquated mechanical systems, rotted siding, inadequate wiring (more common in turn-of-the-century homes), poor insulation, deteriorating roofs, movement around window openings, inferior HVAC systems and/or any combination of the aforementioned elements, which is often the case, Gardner said the decision to renovate vs. tear down and start over on the same lot is often painstaking – and highly expensive. “We can be talking hundreds of thousands of dollars,” she affirmed, maybe even something close to the cost of purchasing a new home. But, there are also different levels of renovation.

“Homeowners generally have to think about their long term goals when doing a thoroughgoing renovation,” Gardner explained, with “thoroughgoing” meaning the existing fabric of the house is maintained. “The money in – where the homeowner may not be able to get that money back out for quite some time, like if they were to turn around and want to sell that house – those values plus the renovation values are high enough that they really wouldn’t be able to sell right away.”

Gardner also indicated that in the firm’s purview, and considering sustainability factors which are naturally key in building issues today, “the most efficient use of materials are the ones you don’t throw out.” To that end, the architect believes in identifying the characteristics, qualities and strengths of the structure’s existing elements, keeping them and building on them to create something more attuned to contemporary sensibilities.

What’s Old Can Be New Again

Conceding that sometimes, especially at the outset of a project, the decision to save a house is something she considers an act of faith, Gardner, who is also a faculty member at the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, explained that preserving can have different facets. “Preserving can mean anything from saving the foundations of the foundation wall and building from there, or all the way to preserving a house largely intact and doing a kind of interior renovation, to preserving the house intact and doing a complete gut of it with an addition, along with providing all new building systems and finishes,” she said. In the last iteration, you essentially get a whole new house without having completely torn down the one that was there.

Noting that the firm starts every project in this vein with an energy audit in order to understand the performance of the house and its systems, Gardner said at times she and her partner utilize the services of a structural engineer as well. The structure itself, a barometer of other failures (a cracking foundation wall could indicate possible water infiltration), is a good prognosticator of time and cost. That said, and even with the proverbial roof falling in, mitigating circumstances such as one that arose with a Gardner Mohr client a few years back involved a 1920s era bungalow, about which Gardner said “a sanity check would have indicated the house be torn down.” The foundation, however, was discovered to be comprised of 20-inch thick granite walls, and demolition alone would have been exceedingly difficult. “That was the tipping point for the decision-making process about preserving that house,” Gardner affirmed.

Also identifying current lot and zoning issues as major factors in the decision to retain and renovate, Gardner said because zoning laws are not static, on occasion people tear down and try to fill out the zoning envelope by building something as large as they can, which makes for an odd and cumbersome proportion between the house and the site. In the example of a current client in Bethesda undergoing renovation of a mid-century home they’d considered razing, Gardner said because of zoning, if they tore down the home, they could not rebuild with the same north/south orientation that has served the homeowners well. “While that may not sound like a big deal,” she explained, “right now it’s ideal for passive energy strategies, and they would lose that advantage.”

The Greening of the Girders

If one does decide to let go of a house and desires to do so within sustainable parameters, deconstruction is a green-friendly alternative to demolition, where depending on the deconstruction category, reusable and code-abiding materials from the building such as flooring, lighting fixtures, paneling, plumbing, bricks and lumber are stripped and can be donated to charity, precipitating a tax write-off.

“We believe in saving what we can save,” Gardner said about renovating vs. razing. “We believe in the fabric of the neighborhood and trying to preserve that, and, overall, I think there’s a kind of cultural value in trying to preserve these places.”

Photography by Celia Pearson


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