Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Douglas Announces Plans for Historic Hecht's Warehouse

Any commercial logos in the rendering are maskings for any large tenant.
In the last five years, the former Hecht Co. warehouse east of Gallaudet University on New York Avenue NE has changed hands and seen plans sparkle and fade.

Lights designed to glow inside the iconic crown tower atop one of the most significant art deco commercial buildings in the region - and perhaps the country - stayed dark. 

But those lights could shine again soon.  According to its new developer, the building will be converted into office space and retail and ground breaking could come in the next 90 days, Douglas Jemal of Douglas Development told DCMud.
Tower and lighting element.
Image courtesy of NRHP
Financing secured, architects announced

Jemal said that financing for the project came through at the end of July.  The conceptual design is the work of architectural firms Shalom Baranes and Antunovich Associates and calls for 550,000 square feet of office space, 200,000 s.f. of retail, and 1,400 parking spaces.  The approximately 10-acre site is bounded by NY Ave. NE to the north, Okie Street NE to the south, Fenwick Street NE to the west, and 16th Street NE to the east.

Shalom Baranes will focus on work that involves the original structure, which features tan glazed brick and glass block with ribbon windows around the main facades.  The original structure, built in1937, got additions in 1948, 1961, and 1986, and a renovation in 1992, according to the National Register of Historic Places.  Antunovich will focus mainly on the design for new retail buildings that will replace structures built as additions on the eastern two thirds of the site.  Those structures have not been determined to be historically significant.

Developer plans to offer alternative to expensive downtown office rates

Jemal said plans for the site would meet a growing need for office space in the area, which he said was under-served. "I feel I can offer office at below downtown rates," Jemal told DCMud.  "It has easy parkway access, and you are 15 minutes away from the capitol, you are two miles from 7th and H, and you are one mile away from a Metro," he said. "I will be renting office space there at $25 a foot and downtown space is $45 a foot."
Corner of NY Ave. NE and Fenwick St.
Image courtesy of the NRHP

The announcement comes slightly more than a year after Douglas picked up the title to the 4-parcel property at 1401-1403 and 1545 New York Avenue, NE and 2001 16th Street, NE at auction in July, 2011 with a bid of $20 million.  Douglas already held the promissory note on the property, which, as reported by CityPaper, it bought from U.S. Bank in March of last year after Penn.-based Patriot Equities was unable to keep up with a $66 million loan.

Patriot Equities abandoned plans for "Patriot Yards"
Patriot Equities had initially bought the complex in 2007, for the hefty price of $78 million. The building - a classic Streamline Moderne with a striking facade and extensive glass block - was a canvas for the bubble's finest po-mo dreams.  Developers showed off the art deco gem and there was even talk of a grandiose multi-level car showroom.  But the scheme fell through.

Another developer with eyes on the corridor, Abdo Development, permanently shelved plans for a 16-acre mixed use development called Arbor Place, in 2010.  Patriot Equities scuttled its own mixed-used plan, called Patriot Yards, and the Hecht's Warehouse property went into foreclosure in 2011, when Douglas scooped it up.  It's not the first time Douglas Jemal has moved on New York Ave. properties.  Jemal was behind renovation of the old People's Drug Stores Inc. warehouse on NY and Forida avenues NE, which he also turned into office space.

Good bones

Architect Patrick Burkhart of Shalom Baranes, who will be mainly working on parts of the plan that involve the historic structure, said the building would be a good fit for offices.  "It has really good bones for that - it has tall floor to ceiling heights and a robust concrete frame." Architect Kevin Sperry of Antunovich will be working on the retail portion of the project.

NY Ave. NE, looking west. Image courtesy of the NRHP
The six-story building, designed by engineer Gilbert V. Steel of the New York engineering firm Abbott and Merkt, was part of a plan by the Hecht department store chain of Washington, DC to improve deliveries and add stock space. Burkhart said the Hecht Company also planned to one day open a department store in the building as well, so the design is dual-use, but those plans were sidelined as the U.S. went into World War II. 

Original developers had hoped New York Avenue would become a major corridor into the city, but things didn't quite go like that, Burkhart said.  "New York Avenue went from a major corridor into the city to really a service corridor and a commuter arterial to the city," Burkhart said.  When Macy's bought the Hecht's chain in 2006, the warehouse closed.

Image courtesy of the NRHP
Burkhart compared the structure to the former Trans-Lux Theater and retail space, which opened in 1936 (just one year earlier than the Hecht Co. building) at 738 14th street between H and NY Ave.  The Trans-Lux, which had art deco ribbon windows similar to the Hecht Co. building, was torn down three decades ago.

"Preservation was in its infancy and there just wasn't enough political will to preserve it," Burkhart said.  "It was one of the losses that helped bolster the will for preservation in the city, especially for commercial buildings."

The bottom line, Burkhart said, is that the building is very special.  "I can't think of anything of this size and scale that exists anywhere, in this city or really anywhere," he said.  "It really is a special project and something I really look forward to working on."

And the lights in the facade tower at NY Ave. NE and Fenwick St. are still in good shape.  "The lighting element needs a little renovation, but it still would be capable of producing that magnificent glow," Burkhart told DCMud.  "It has been such a long time."

Washington D.C. real estate development news

Image courtesy of the NRHP archive


OctaviusIII on Aug 7, 2012, 6:21:00 PM said...

Looks good, but what's Walmart doing there? And a skybridge? The Hecht site is a block away from the Walmart site, unless they've moved and I wasn't aware of it.

Unknown on Aug 7, 2012, 6:26:00 PM said...

Octaviuslll, the logos are just maskings for any large tenant, according to the developer. Yes, there is a Wal-Mart going down the street. There's not one slated for the Hecht's building.

Anonymous said...

I want an Ikea... bad!

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much of an assessment deduction Jemal will get for this property?

Anonymous said...

Great job taking absolutely zero architectural cues from the Hechts building.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Doug Jemal





Anonymous said...

Thrilled to see the Hecht's Warehouse being reused. But what's with the atrocious, suburban strip mall design for the site next door? Can't we do better??

Skidrowe said...

Is it just me, or is it the elevation rendering, or is the proposed new portion not only banal, but banal at a monumental scale? Notwithstanding that its design appears to be a fairly standard-issue one-story suburban strip shopping center, he higher portion reads as approximately matching the height of the 4th floor of of the Hecht's building! The lower portion matches the top of the 2nd floor of the Hecht's building.

This is mainly a worry because the more substantial the eastern building is, the longer it will hang around before being replaced by something worthy of its neighbor in specific and modern DC in general.

The work on the Hecht's building itself is very exciting. Given the similarities between the Hecht's building and the Merchandise Mart in Chicago--both Art Deco behemoths with vast tracts of high-ceilinged, windowless interior space--I wonder if some of that space could become a Design Center. Odd location, I suppose, but the private Bible Museum has bought the Design Center in Southwest DC (also an odd location, if more convenient). Presumably, over time, many or most of those showrooms will need to relocate.

Anonymous said...

I did hear the Design Center considered the spot....but the location was too far. The newer portion is very boring and I do think it would have been better to include housing.

Anonymous said...

Glad people noticed how horrible this strip mall design is. Ditto on the Jemal comments.

Monty Bessicks said...

You know, I've been reading DCmud for a long time and I suspect that about 90% of the comments come from people who are not in the real estate industry.

As for the negative comments about Jemal and his family, if you: a) have no knowledge of what it takes to assemble this kind of project; b) have no personal relations with him or his family; or c) don't have the BALLS to post your name when making suchs comments... then shut the hell up!

Anonymous said...

Hey Monty,
Jemal is a leach, like it or not. Allthough I love that he saved the old synagogue.

Skidrowe said...

I am involved in the D.C. real estate development industry. I know that Jemal bugs a lot of people and has earned a lot of enemies in various communities, inside and outside of real estate circles. He's a player, yes, and often plays fast and loose. At the same time, though, he's one of few developers who has somehow achieved a level of independence from the blandifying demands of real estate finance people. He uses this independence to do things that few other D.C. developers do, like hold out for retailers who will enliven the urban scene rather than simply pay the highest rent most predictably.

A project like the Hecht's Warehouse couldn't get off the ground with a standard D.C. developer, because it defies the pigeonholing that development finance people demand.

So, despite his irritating and at times ethically challenged peccadillos, Doug Jemal is a D.C. treasure. I wish we had 10 versions of him developing all over the city. The only other major player who breaks the mold is Anthony Lanier. His stuff is great, but it's largely aimed at the 1%, i.e. the highest-end condos & retail. Jemal is comparitively egalitarian.

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