Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Arts at 5th and I Finally Moving Forward?

At a Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association meeting last night, a Donohoe Companies representative explained the firm’s new plans for the long, long, long awaited Arts at 5th & I project, a real estate development deal initially announced back in September 2008.

The good news: the project, located just off Massachusetts Avenue at the corner of 5th and I streets NW, is apparently finally moving forward, according to its developers. The bad news: completion won't be until 2016, and the ‘arts’ element that gave the project its name has largely disappeared, and the development itself seems to have been distinctly scaled back from earlier iterations.

Renderings from the project's website
Jad Donohoe explained the company’s plans to roughly 15 residents gathered for the community organization’s monthly meeting, though he didn't have any new visual images to release. The new concept includes a boutique hotel with an entrance on 5th Street, and an adjoining apartment building facing I Street that will hold roughly 140 units and max out the height. The project will include at least 4,000 square feet of ground floor retail space; most of that will be dedicated to a large restaurant connected to the hotel and also accessible from 5th Street, but plans include a smaller space on I Street as well. Three levels of underground parking will be accessible from an I Street entrance.

The firm’s initial plans were considerably more ambitious. They included a high-end hotel, residential units (including almost a third that would be tagged as affordable), intriguing artsy elements like a jazz club and art gallery, and a range of retail options like a bicycle store, hardware shop and bookstore.

Not all of those bells and whistles are gone. Approximately 8 percent of the new apartment building’s units will be affordable, and Zenith Gallery may utilize some space in the hotel’s lobby. And Donohoe pointed out that the company is still communicating with the Boisdale Jazz Club, a London-based chain of nightclubs.

But the new plans are much more somber, and that’s largely the result of unfortunate timing. Donohoe Companies won the city’s bidding process in 2008, and funding for projects like this one simply dried up (though that funding had dried up before the bid). Since then, a range of plans have been presented but never acted upon, and the site is currently used as a parking lot and weekly outdoor market. That gives this version a distinct advantage—as long as it becomes a reality. “This isn’t as grand as we’d have liked, but we want to get it done,” said Donohoe.

The timeline goes something like this: On November 13, the Deputy Mayor’s Office for Economic Development will hold a surplus meeting to sign the land over to the Donohoe Companies. The city will package the documents and pass them along to the City Council by the end of November, and the City Council should approve them sometime early in 2013. The company will spend the next 13 months working with architects, getting permits, and acquiring financing before breaking ground in early 2014.

“That’s generally pretty quick, though it sounds far away,” explained Donohoe. The project would be done 24 months later.

The gathered residents didn’t seem to mind the long time horizon; most were relieved to hear that the project was finally moving forward. Donohoe acknowledged the long wait. “I know this has been a slog,” he admitted.  And its not over yet.

Washington, DC, real estate development news


Erin said...

I don't understand how the city can award it to a group that doesn't build it. Its SUCH a prominent site, why doesn't the Gray administration put it out for bid again, maybe there's a company out there that has more ability to build this thing. 2016?? Are you kidding?

Anonymous said...

File this under believe it when I see it.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Thank you, spambot.

And a great big old YAWN to this. I was actually moderately excited about this project when it was first announced, but now it seems we're back to just a bland old standard box with standard tenants and standard amenities.

Move along folks, nothing to see here.

Anonymous said...

Typical of Donhoe to take forever to launch a project and it'll probably take them twice as long to build it even if it was simple lincoln log construction.

Skidrowe said...

Why do I suspect that Donohoe plans to downgrade the architecture commensurate with the programmatic downgrade? Perfectly fine if they owned the property and the development were by-right. But they don't and it isn't.

City Councilmen and MVT CID members, please take note - don't just sell our public land to Donohoe because it's the path of least resistance. Private development will rarely provide the distinctive users we need to be a serious city with interesting neighborhoods. All the worse if we also get bland architecture. We must leverage publicly-owned sites for those things! Note that MVT's anchor, City Vista, was a heavily-government-infleunced project. Without it, MVT would have almost no restaurants or shops to attract residents, visitors, and office tenants.

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