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


Anonymous said...

True, the last venture was a disaster -- but let's hope that this design team is smart enough to vent the restrooms to the OUTSIDE.

It has potential, and makings a nighttime destination makes sense.

Around N. Around said...

The best plan for this space would be to fill it with cement and forget about it. People generally don't like spending their free time in caves.

JJ said...

I guess the developers have thought this through, but I don't really hear a regular destination type activity in their plans. A winery? It seems that microbreweries are a proven winner, and I haven't heard of an inner city underground winery anywhere. So why wine and not beer? Is it that wine goes with art and the developers are thinking the wine and art gallery crowd? Not too smart in my opinion. I don't see huge crowds at gallery openings. I think beer and roller skating would be better. Ping pong. Skateboarding. Dancing. Fun stuff!! Wine and art sounds so dull.

JJ said...


I just went to the J.M. Zell and SmithGroup websites.

They both look like button-down, Jos. A. Banks-type dull corporate dullards. No wonder they thought of wine and cheese.

I don't think the wine and cheese crowd is going down to party down underground.

Hint: why not get "underground" types? Hipsters and the 9:30/U Street nightlife crowd?

I think they are targeting the wrong demographic.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the evicted skateboarders in Sunday's Post could use it.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, this space would be better used as a Mass Ave bypass of Dupont Circle for automobiles(if structurally possible).

Anonymous said...

um, why not turn it into... wait for it... a trolley station? seems so wildly obvious, i wonder it's not even being considered.

or the automobile idea.

generally these sorts of underground spaces are best for infrastructure not wine bars.

LJ (not JJ's sister) said...

JJ has the right idea. I love the idea of a big skateboard park/beer hall. You could have bands ala Fort Reno.

I'd rather have that or the mass ave underpass idea. Hey Boston endured the big dig.

Anonymous said...

IIRC, Underground Atlanta was a big deal, with music venues, restaurants etc in the late 60's early 70's. My understanding is that it became crime-ridden and people didn't want to go underground any more. I know it re-opened, but I'm not sure it's been a success. Anyone have better info?

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