Monday, February 28, 2011

Petworth Library Reopens Today

The Petworth Library reopened today at 4200 Kansas Avenue NW, a 1939 Revival-style building that had been gutted and renovated to accommodate the changing needs of the neighborhood. Designed by Franck & Lohsen Architects, the renovations cost $12.4 million and were built by GCS/Sigal, LLC.

DC Public Library Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper says improvement to the branch includes new web-based tutorials and a doubling of computers to 48 Dells and Macs for teens. On opening day, the branch offers 50,000 books with space for 80,000.
The library is one of thirteen of the 24 in the city that will have been built or renovated over the course of the past two years. During Mayor Anthony Williams' administration, and through Mayor Adrian Fenty's tenure, a re-distribution of funds has translated to beefier collections, more targeted programming, and updated technology in all branches. Over the past five years, she says, community library attendance has doubled.

"There are a lot of little ones in this community," says Cooper of the Petworth neighborhood. "We look at the demographics and shape our plans accordingly." A whole wing of the second floor is dedicated to children's books and reading space.

Ironically, "this library used to have a side entrance for kids so no one would see them and they wouldn't disturb people working," said Cooper. "Libraries are no longer hushed rooms unwelcome for children and families." Officials also emphasized the library as a hub for job searches and for securing help with resumes.

The ground floor level offers wide open spaces with plenty of light as well as lounge seating around the non-working fireplace.

The second floor houses the children's level, an expansion to accommodate more kids in the neighborhood.

The cork floors are new, yet "historically accurate" said DCPL spokesperson George Williams.

Two private study rooms flank a corner of the building on the second floor, with seating for up to ten people. On the lowest level, residents can reserve one of two conference rooms: one that seats twelve and a larger room for up to 100 people.

The second floor also offers space for travel guides and teens (who like the magazine section, apparently).

Washington, D.C. Real Estate News

AvalonBay Plans Apartment Building Near H Street Corridor

AvalonBay, a Ballston based corporation that as been augmenting its apartment portfolio throughout the greater Washington DC area, is under contract to purchase and develop nearly a full block just off the H Street corridor. Jonathan B. Cox, Senior Vice President of Development of AvalonBay, confirms that 318 I Street, NE, is currently under contract with the plan of building 140 rental apartments, with ambitions to break ground by the year's end. The site is just one block north of the spot where Steuart Investment Co. has announced plans to build a Giant grocery store and 215 apartments.
Although the size is modest, paired with Steuart's building the added density could help develop viable retail for H Street's western end, which has been stagnant compared to the Atlast District at the opposite end. "We really like the H Street Market," said Cox. "We are investing in it because we think its unique enough to separate from NoMa." The space will only house residential space. "We don't believe retail is viable in this location on I Street," said Cox.

The developer has chosen an architect but remains mum about the plans for now. What we do know: "It's not a typical D.C. architect," said Cox. "I think it'll be more contemporary and a more unique architectural style than what's now on the market." AvalonBay has also been buying and building, including the Avalon Park Crest, a 354-unit building planned for Tysons with construction to start later this year.

318 I Street NE, which AvalonBay will acquire by a lender sale, had been owned by Broadway Development, but had gone into foreclosure in 2009, around the same time Broadway lost Senate Square next door. The lender acquired the property in July of 2009 for $1.69 million. The space currently houses the vacant site of Uptown Baker, eight underground gasoline storage tanks were removed from the property in 2005.

Washington, D.C. real estate development news

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Your Next Place


By Franklin Schneider

Located in up-and-coming Bloomingdale, this spacious Victorian is a genuine steal at just under $780K. The house has been completely renovated, and is now a gleaming masterwork of polished hardwood, stainless steel, and exposed brick. 'Spacious' is probably an overused word in real estate descriptions - I've seen it applied to properties where you could've opened the front door while seated on the toilet - but this house genuinely qualified.

It had none of the narrowness one often finds in this sort of property, thanks to plenty of windows and a sound floor plan, and felt wide open. There's a theater-like living room, a wide gourmet kitchen with obligatory granite and stainless steel, and the master bedroom, with high ceilings and an accordioned wall of windows, has to be seen to be believed. There's also parking for two, and a sizable roof deck with Monument views; on a clear day it almost seems like you could chuck a water-filled balloon all the way to the Capitol. Ah, democracy in action! The house also includes a (totally legal) separately-metered 2-bedroom apartment. I was extremely tempted to buy the house on the spot, and immediately rent out the apartment for twice the amount of my mortgage. Fortunately, if there's one thing the “Great Recession” has taught us, it's that life is not actually a game of Monopoly, and treating it as such will only lead to ruin (or a
multi- billion-dollar bailout).

62 T St., NW
Washington, D.C.

5 Bedrooms, 3.5 Baths


Friday, February 25, 2011

Harris Teeter To Open in Old Town in 2014

Old Town, Alexandria is preparing for an addition to the neighborhood: a 51,500 s.f. Harris Teeter, on the north end of Old Town, one block east of Washington Street. Buchanan Partners of Gaithersburg will team with The Pinkard Group LLC of Bethesda to develop the project, which will also include 175 rental apartments.

"Harris Teeter has been working on finding an Old Town location for years, said Kingsley McAdam Project Manager for Buchanan Partners. "Everyone is very excited about this." Developers are hoping to break ground in 2012 with a 2014 completion. Three condemned buildings reside in the space presently as well as a dry cleaner whose lease will be up by the time the project breaks ground.

The lead architect for the project is John Rust of Rust Orling Architecture, based in Alexandria. Buvermo Properties, Inc. of Bethesda is an equity partner in the $74 million mixed-use development.

Alexandria, Virginia real estate development news

Neighborhood Report: Georgia Avenue

Much has been promised of Georgia Avenue, without fulfillment. Some developers, like Chris Donatelli at the Petworth Metro, have made an impact, while miles of underutilized land changed little on one of Washington DC's major corridors. At last, investment on the avenue has arrived. Below is a summary of the improvement now underway.

The Great Streets Project, a centerpiece of the revitalization of middle Georgia Avenue, is in full swing with single lane closures tying up Taylor to Upshur Streets for much of the month. Plans include better lighting at intersections and at pedestrian level, more trees, and repaved sidewalks.

The Heights, at 3232 Georgia Avenue, will offer 69 units and 10,000 s.f. of ground floor retail, is behind schedule. The Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) project had been slated for completion for early 2011, but has been pushed to a third quarter opening. Half the units will be offered as affordable housing.

The Vue is a smaller, privately financed project at Georgia Avenue and Morton Street; 7,000 s.f. of retail space and 112 market rate apartments. Also an NDC project, the completion date is farther on the horizon since the zoning hearing was rescheduled for late this month.

3813 - 3829 Georgia Ave: This Donatelli project on a neglected strip will provide 5000 s.f. of retail and 5000 s.f. of restaurant space. It also includes Chez Billy, formerly Billy Simpson's House of Seafood, at 3815 Georgia Ave. The restaurant, to be run by Thievery Corporation's Eric Hilton and brother Ian Hilton, had been designated for the National Register of Historic Places for its role in the social and political culture of D.C.'s African American community.

Opening has been delayed because of the owners' focus on other projects, namely American Ice Company and the soon to open Blackbyrd Warehouse next to the Hilton-owned Marvin at 2005 14th Street. Projected opening date for Chez Billy is June.

At the southern end of that strip is 3801 Georgia Avenue: Donatelli's seven-story multifamily - The Griffin - is near completion, slated for July or August, 49 units for sale or lease (not yet decided). Designed by Eric Colbert and Associates, the building is residential only, no retail.

6925-6529 Georgia Ave: Blue Skye Construction has been chosen by the city to build 24 mixed income units in this fenced off, undeveloped lot on upper Georgia Avenue. The District bid the project out in 2009 and chose Blue Sky in early 2010, but the District is still grinding through the approval process.

Howard Town Center: In negotiations for an anchor grocer, Howard Town Center is seeing delays that bump the completion date to 2013 or beyond. Ongoing negotiations to obtain a grocer for what would be Georgia Avenue's largest mixed-use project have been inconclusive, and CastleRock Partners, Howard University's chosen developer for the site, has yet to move forward. CastleRock was selected in early 2009 to build up to 450 apartments, a grocery store, and a large retail component.

Georgia Ave Safeway: According to Duball LLC, groundbreaking for what will become the second largest Safeway in the city at 3830 Georgia Avenue won't occur until a year to a year and a half from now. Duball said at this month's ANC meeting that they will focus on permitting and securing approval for the Planned Unit Development. Expect completion in two to three years, at best.

Park Morton: Though Hamel Builders is on site to break ground in the joint venture between the Warrenton Group and Landex Companies on the $130 million dollar, 500 unit housing project, they're still waiting for permits says Tom McManus, Studio Director of Wiencek Associates Architects and Planners, the firm responsible for the project's design.

Dubbed "The Avenue," the development located on the southwest corner of Newton Place and Georgia Avenue includes public housing. DCMud reported that the project was to take 14 months to build, but it has to start first.

2910 Georgia Avenue: The construction of this 22 unit, all-residential development is well underway. Developed by Art Linde of ASL International, the designer is Eric Colbert and Associates. Linde bought the property from Howard University in 2009 for $560,000.

Washington, D.C. real estate development news

Thursday, February 24, 2011

McCaffery and Douglas Pick Up Chinatown Corner Site

The last undeveloped corner in one of the most high-traffic areas of Washington has just been acquired by McCaffery Interests Inc. and Douglas Development, at 675 H Street N.W., encompassing the iconic corner building, long since boarded up, and the vacant lot behind it.

"This is the best intersection in metro D.C." said Juan Cameron, Managing Director of McCaffery, comparing it to Georgetown's Wisconsin Avenue and M Street hub. "It is a central location with a lot of pulse, narrow streets, tons of foot traffic, a heavy daytime population, tremendous residential presence, plus the energy of the Verizon Center. In our eyes, its the closest thing Washington has to Times Square."

Though "everyone has their ideas for how the property will take shape," said Cameron, in these early stages the venture is dubbed as a state of the art, mixed use development. "Step one is looking for a marquee tenant," said Cameron.

General partners for the venture Douglas Development and McCaffery Interests acquired the property yesterday at auction. The property had gone into foreclosure thirty days ago, after Yeni Wong of Riverdale International had been unable to secure financing for the building. This past month was the last of many times the building had fallen into foreclosure; in 2009, Wong was given a notice for this property as well as 801 7th Street for $13,491,471 plus attorney's fees. Wong bought the two properties in 2006 for $10 million dollars.

This isn't the just the first or second try at developing this corner. DRI, a Transwestern Company, had slated 675 H Street as a two-building project: one that would restore the corner space and rise nine stories over the arch, the other a Class A office building behind the main storefronts. The total project would have yielded 110,000 s.f. of office space and 50,000 s.f. of retail. McCaffrey owns Georgetown Centre, leased by Barnes & Noble, and Mazza Gallery, which it bought in 1997. Douglas owns pretty much everything else.

Update: Alex Cooper Auctioneers states that the lot was purchased for $9.1 million.

Rosslyn Office Project Breaks Ground Today

This morning marks groundbreaking at 1776 Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, a self-financed Skanska development of a five-story office building with 108,000 s.f. of rentable space and 26,000 s.f. of retail. Skanska is shooting for completion in a year and a half.

Skanska purchased the site for $10 million in 2010 from George Contis, whose property had housed Medical Service Corporation International. Skanska will build out the RTKL-designed plans, having stepped into the shoes of this and several stalled DC area projects like the PN Hoffman office project at 10th & G and Opus's southeast office project at M and Half Streets.

The ground breaking ceremony begins on site at 11:30 A.M.

Arlington, Virginia Real Estate development news

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Columbia Heights in a Fishbowl

Constantine Stavropoulos' announcement that he is opening a sibling to Adams Morgan's Diner and Tryst in Columbia Heights is fitting, with a Sunday New York Times profile about the retail surge - particularly bars and restaurants - in Columbia Heights and its eclectic go-to spots, in contrast to big box stores in the 14th Street section of Columbia Heights.

Stavropoulos purchased the ground floor of 1020 Monroe Street for $1.9 million from Madison Development, the folks who own the commercial Lyon Bakery and have fairly recently entered the world of commercial real estate having purchased the building to convert into condos. Madison purchased the building for $3.2 million in 2010 from a bankruptcy trustee sale.

The 7,000 square foot ground floor space is housed in a 1920's building that Stavropoulos hopes will "attract a mixed crowd" and "will be great for people watching." Constantine especially likes that the building is older and offers interesting architectural elements - old tiles or pressed tin ceilings in addition to open space. Stavropoulos and his father George Stavropoulos will design the interior, as his father is the architect behind Stavropoulos Associates.

Prior to settling on 11th Street, Stavropoulos's choice for a fourth location had been to anchor in what's now Room & Board - a prolonged lobby he ultimately lost. Despite the loss, he says 11th Street has always been on the radar, "since Red Rocks opened and Room 11 hadn't yet been conceived." It wasn't until recently that he found the space on 11th, he also had happened to know the owners for years, since they supply some of the bread for his three establishments. "It's Barry and Fia Madani," he reminisces. "I didn't know they were developers."

Though Stavroupolos says he has received a positive response following his announcement, he hears neighborhood concerns about noise and parking that might result from a high volume restaurant that's open 24-hours. Stavropoulos acknowledges that 11th Street is no Adams Morgan. That he does not know it as intimately hinders him from being as proactive to concerns as he'd like.

"They're totally different neighborhoods in terms of capacity, infrastructure, traffic patterns," he said."The biggest problems with parking and noise in Adams Morgan is during six hours of the evening on Friday and Saturday nights. And those are not the times I'd recommend visiting the neighborhood. The other 150 hours of the week are terrific." As co-president of the Adams Morgan BID and a business owner of Tryst and The Diner for 13 years, he would know.

In private meetings, neighborhood Q&A's and at ANC meetings, he acknowledges he will have to learn about the high traffic times by collecting information from neighboring businesses and monitoring things once the place opens. He is already working toward banding together with Meridian Pint in particular as well as other restaurants on the street to address parking.

"We have to anticipate problems and find solutions, both before problems arise and as they come up," he said.

He hopes that many regulars come from the Metro, bus or within walking distance. He also notes menu items and pricing won't necessarily attract a partying crew past the wee hours. Even in Adams Morgan, his restaurant's late hours attract and eclectic mix as opposed to a boozy one. "My restaurants attract students, construction workers, freelancers," he said. "People are going to and from work all the time. We're not in an era of 9 to 5 anymore."

And as for the name? "I changed the name to The Diner from The Fishbowl the week before it opened," he said. "Then my mother asked if I was opening a fish restaurant." Opening date is slated for fall of 2011. Meanwhile the city is planning a new park directly across the street (rendering, right)

Washington DC real estate development news

Your Next Place...

By Franklin Schneider

When I was young, my parents maintained a small greenhouse on our property, and I always thought it would be cool to live in one. This childhood wish came back to me as I ambled through this unique townhouse on the edge of Rock Creek Park. Not because it's made of draped transparent vinyl sheeting (it's not), or is as stiflingly hot as a trucker's armpit (it wasn't), but because it was so incredibly full of light. With five separate skylights and a profusion of windows and glass doors, I'm not sure I've ever been in a brighter house.

The living room features sliding glass doors and a fireplace, and the kitchen (granite counters, stainless steel appliances, etc.) has a breakfast nook so cute you'll want to croon at in baby talk. (There's also a dining area.) The master suite is massive, and has a fantastic park view; if the apocalypse hits and civilization disintegrates, whoever lives in this house will have access to prime urban hunting grounds. On the third floor is my favorite room, a cozy sort of irregularly trapezoidal family room (or third bedroom), with its own skylight and several windows. If I'd had access to a TV room like
this as a teenager, I could've gotten waaaaay more girls pregnant.
(Kidding!) The house also features two beautiful full baths, one of which has that kind of shower with a small marble bench inside. I love this type of shower and I truly believe the publishing industry is missing out on billions of dollars by not having an entire line of laminated shower-books for people to read on their shower benches.

1692 Oak St
Washington, DC

3 Bdrms, 2.5 Baths, Parking


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Arlington's Block Busting Year

One of Arlington's most stubbornly static development sites - a superblock of three stagnant development parcels at the Courthouse Metro station - is finally ready to start construction in what could be a fraternity of development initiatives. Developers of the 1800, 1900 and 2000 blocks of Wilson Boulevard, all located on the same block, have been working separately for years to build large, mixed-use projects on their respective sites, and now the latter two say they will start construction this year for vast amounts of retail, housing, and office space, broken up with a new street between them.

Elm Street Development plans to start its construction on 2000 Wilson Boulevard (formerly the Taco Bell and Dr. Dremo's site), known now as 2001 Clarendon, with 30,000 s.f. of retail space and 154 residential units, while USAA, which purchased the 1900 block of Wilson Boulevard late last year, plans to start work this fall on a mixed-use, predominantly residential project. Working out approvable developments on both sites required land swapping and an endowment of land to Arlington to extend Troy Street, connecting Wilson and Clarendon Boulevards. Meanwhile, developers at the eastern end of the superblock on Rhodes Street are still vying to get financing to double the size of the office space and integrate retail.

2000 Wilson

The stuttering progression at 2001 Clarendon was initially planned to begin in late 2007 as a condominium, but in 2008 switched to apartments (in theory), shooting for a 2010 completion. In early 2010 Elm Street VP Jim Mobley said the team was again "looking at" the concept of condos, "financing dependent." With financing now in place (underwritten as apartments), construction is near, with the likely chance of condo conversion down the road. Retail space will front 3 streets, subdivided into small storefronts. Because of Elm Street's rejiggering of the plans, at Arlington's suggestion, no permits have been issued, but sources for the project say work is expected to commence late this year.

George Dove, Managing Principal at WDG Architecture, which designed the 6 story "extremely contemporary" building, notes the challenges facing the climbing site. "From a zoning standpoint, between Courthouse and Rosslyn, you have a sequence of height limits, and you have elevation changes, so it has a series of levels that drop-off as you move down the street, like stair-steps. This had alot to do with driving the design." Besides shooting for basic LEED certification, an Arlington requirement, 2001 Clarendon will incorporate a series of green roofs. "This is the antitheses of the high-rise, urban, compact residential project. It stretches out over a much larger floorplate. That gives alot of rooftop areas at different levels, it is definitely not a boring facade," said Dove.

1900 Wilson
Across the (not yet built) street, USAA has purchased 1900 Wilson Boulevard, along with its plans for a 5-story mixed-use residential building. USAA bought the Hollywood Video site from Zom, Inc., which had already birddogged plans to construct residences through Arlington's approval process. USAA will retain Zom as a fee developer to build out the project. Torti Gallas designed the more urban seeming structures with large retail spaces along Clarendon Boulevard and live/work spaces along Wilson Boulevard.

Sources involved in the development say no dates have been set, but that work is "on target" to materialize this year, and Hailey Ghalib of USAA says the the developer expects to build in the third quarter of this year and is working with Harkins Builders on pre-construction issues, but has not yet signed a construction contract nor obtained construction permits. Construction is expected to last 22 months.

1800 Wilson
The lone holdout at this point is the eastern end of the block, slated to demolish Rhodeside Grill and Il Radicchio to more than double the office space used by the National Science Teachers Association. The NSTA has teamed with developer DRI to expand their Arlington headquarters at 1840 Wilson, with an approved site plan in hand. NSTA hopes to build a 107,000 s.f. office building with 10,000 s.f. of retail, taking up an adjacent surface parking lot. The site plan was initially approved in November 2005, amendments were approved in July 2008 and November 2008 to resolve fa├žade and parking issues, but the project is on hold pending financing, which the team is "working very hard" to secure, of course. The NSTA has already contracted Davis Carter Scott as the architect and DPR Construction Company as the general contractor, if and when the bankers come to the rescue.

As if that weren't enough, work is now underway next door in the 1700 block of Wilson Boulevard, where Skanska is building a 5 story office building. Get ready for a loud but productive year, and lots of cranes.

Arlington Virginia real estate development news

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tysons Developers Plan 40 Acres Along Silver Line

Cityline Partners has filed a petition with Fairfax County to rezone Scotts Run Station into a 40-acre mixed use office, residential, hotel, and retail area as part of the Tysons Corner Comprehensive Plan, which incorporates a redesign of a low density project dominated by surface parking. The application was accepted by the county, indicating county planners have given the project an initial review, though numerous intensive public and administrative steps remain before final approval of the plan.

Cityline Partners LLC is a subsidiary of DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners of New York City' Cityline was formed in 2010 to manage the land holdings in Tysons Corner, which encompasses 114 acres and 22 buildings, the largest of the several gargantuan projects that will reshape Tysons as a more urban, gridded, walkable destination - if and when the plan is realized.

Located in the former Westgate Office Park, the area to be developed is flanked by Route 123, I-495 and the Dulles Access Road. The site is within a quarter mile of the proposed Metro station scheduled top open 2013.

"We dont want to turn this area into a concrete canyon," said Tom Fleury, Executive Vice President of Cityline Partners. "We're looking to develop the property into a transit-oriented, walkable, sustainable, mixed-use development with Scotts Run Stream Valley park as the focal point and natural amenity." The project will house eleven office buildings, nine residential buildings, one hotel, and ground level retail space. The entire project encompasses 8.5 million gross s.f. And while several other developers in Tysons Corner have projects nearly as large - 23 acres planned by Capital One and 28 acres planned by the Georgelas Group - each of the sites represents a only a potential for build out and none of the developers have plans to assemble anything close to the approved development in the near future. Once approved, the land could be sold along with the plans, or developed over years since the approvals do not expire. In this case spokesmen for the developer say the project will remain in the planning stage for the next few years, with initial construction forecast in 2013 when the Metro station is operable. Architects for the project have not yet been selected.

Tysons Corner real estate development news

Friday, February 18, 2011

North Bethesda's Rock Spring Centre is Back in Action, For Now

Last night, the Montgomery County Planning Board gave the go-ahead for the final phase of Rock Spring Centre, a massive mixed-use development that will include nine buildings on the 54 acre tract in North Bethesda. DRI Development will navigate the project that's to house a hotel, retail, office, and residential space in a town center located on in the north east quadrant of the intersection of Rockledge Drive and Rockspring Drive in the Garrett Park area of the city.

This isn't a new project, it's a redo of the last phase of a multi-stage development: the first phase began in 1997, with the creation of 390-residential unit, Avalon Bay; the second phase introduced a 352-unit Rock Spring Centre residential towers - approved but not yet built; and the third phase would have been the creation of Canyon Ranch spa, which was canceled in 2006. DRI has been shepherding the project since 2008, at which time it was shelved as a result of the economic downturn.

Last night's meeting was an amendment to the 2008 plans, which shifted 10,000 s.f. retail to office space and tabled plans for a community center. By the numbers, the 1.3 million s.f. project looks like this:
  • 590,000 s.f. office space
  • 210,000 s.f. retail
  • 90,000 s.f. entertainment use space
  • 200,000 s.f. hotel, 200 rooms
  • 1250 residences

Sandra Pereira, Montgomery County Lead Reviewer for the project, says that financing and permits will determine when they'll break ground. That may not be for a while.

Bethesda, Maryland Real Estate News

CityCenter on the Launch Pad

Two months away: So say developers of CityCenterDC, for now downtown Washington DC's largest surface parking lot, who are poised to announce an official start to their transformative mixed-use plan to develop nearly 700 units of housing, 185,000 s.f. of retail, 520,000 s.f. of office space, and central shopping plaza, to replace the site left vacant when the forgettable convention center was demolished in March of 2005. Officials say they are nearly set to announce a late April or early May start date to the project, despite any lack of signed tenants to date.The upcoming groundbreaking is in keeping with the April start date Hines officials promised DCMud in June of last year, though it represents a slippage from original intentions to start construction in early 2008 amid the financial crisis. Current tenants such as Bolt Bus have been given until the end of March to vacate the site. With a spring construction start, developers should wrap up construction by late 2013, just as the Convention Center Marriott is nearly finished next door, a pair of events that should have a profound impact on downtown and Mt. Vernon Square, already a bottleneck for traffic.

Filling the chasm downtown, the Hines-lead team, chosen by Mayor Anthony Williams, will rebuild 10th Street and add an east-west oriented pedestrian shopping plaza, hotel, apartments (458), condominiums (216), parking (1500+ spaces) and two office towers. The central retail plaza will be framed by stepped-down buildings to encourage a naturally lit shopping thoroughfare, in what Mayor Adrian Fenty predicted will be a "bustling area where people come after work to shop or eat or to hang out, a city center." The whole site is designed to achieve LEED Gold certification.Construction without an anchor tenant would be an important indicator of faith in the downtown commercial market, as DC's retail spaces show strong demand, financial markets stabilize and the Washington DC office market remains buoyed by an expanding federal presence. CityCenter's backers have been energetically courting large tenants to sign on prior to construction and have tantalized news purveyors that brand name leases are "in the works." Howard Riker, Vice President at Hines, told DCMud last June that the team was reworking some of the floorplans to make way for a major tenant, soon to be announced, and the team has been close to signing several tenants that could have anchored the project, a prospect that still might be close at hand, but there are "no signed leases to date" says Hines' Dawn Marcus. Larger office projects such as Monday Properties' 35-story office tower in Rosslyn have since broken ground sans lessee.

Gerry Widdicombe, Director of Economic Development for the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) notes the difference 185,000 s.f. of retail will make for downtown. "This is really the capstone for downtown DC. We have about 5 million square feet [of buildable space] left on vacant lots or dilapidated office buildings...the old convention center site is about 2.5 million [s.f.] of that, 1.8 million is the air rights building, then we're almost built out." Widdicombe credits former city leaders with setting parameters of a strong residential presence rather than solely office space - despite the commercial's greater tax base value, and for fostering a vision of a retail center. "Everything's working pretty well. The thing we're lacking is retail, hopefully we'll have an Apple store, maybe a Bloomingdales, to get us over 500,000 s.f. of destination retail." He notes that when the BID formed downtown had 95 surface paking lots and 30 dilapidated buildings. "Now we've got 5."

Putting that concept to paper, and soon to ground, is the worldwide team of Foster + Partners, which created the master plan and is bookending the site with apartments (overseen by Archstone) and office towers, and Shalom Baranes, designing the interior condominiums and integrating the retail. Along with a new 10th Street and I Street, the plan introduces a new vertical pedestrian street ("9 1/2 St"), an east-west pedestrian promenade, and at their intersection an expansive public plaza encompassed by two-story retail spaces with street-level access. The dominance of retail is not lost on its designers and developers, who sloped rooflines downward to the plaza and raised ceiling heights, a major sacrifice in a height restricted city, while stacking an extra floor of retail and creating - if successful - a destination akin to the European fountain, albeit less historic. DC is a city without plazas, and the architects have their sites set on a remedy.

"The real focus of the project is the public realm and retail" says Robert Sponseller of Shalom Baranes, a design principal for the project. "If you take the architecture aside, DC has always lacked a critical mass of urban retail. We're stuck with low height, so our retail space is squeezed. Here the ceiling heights are 16-22 feet, with a 2nd level of retail around the public plaza area...these are literally modeled on the best European street designs of Barcelona and Berlin." Sponseller says the alleys, or "intimate pedestrian streets," in his words, are 24 feet in width beneath residences that stoop to 4 or 5 stories above the plaza. "The Foster plan is remarkable for its clarity and simplicity. There is great pedestrian access, its really an intense, mixed-use project" says Sponseller.

The northern tier of the lot will be filled by a public park on the western margin, a hotel north of I Street in the middle, still just conceptual and without a flag, and a lot on the east owned by Kingdon Gould that has no firm plans for development at this time. Gould obtained the land in a swap with the city, giving up real estate at the Convention Center Marriott to get the northeast parcel of CityCenter.

Hines is a Houston based, privately owned real estate investment firm with offices in 68 U.S. cities and 15 countries. Old convention center photo courtesy Wrecking Corporation of America.

Washington, DC real estate development news

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