Newsletters

Get Open House delivered to your inbox every Tuesday Morning.

Congratulations, historic preservationists. You win again. By Benjamin Freed
Revised drawings for the future of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library only include one new floor.

The vision to remake the District's flagship Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library with a multi-story addition potentially featuring commercial and retail space met its end Wednesday night when the DC Public Library's board of trustees adopted a resolution endorsing a plan to keep the building only as a library with a one-floor addition.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s 1972 building is a landmark of modernist design, but it is in shoddy condition after 43 years, needing extensive renovations to both its public spaces and its infrastructural systems. In 2014, the library selected a design by Dutch architecture firm Mecanoo and DC-based Martinez + Johnson, that proposed fixing up the original structure and adding up to four new stories that could have been used as leasable office space, plus ground-floor retail where the library's expansive lobby now occupies.

Historic preservationists, often egged on by Ralph Nader, revolted, while the District's chief historic preservation review officer wrote in a December letter that the four-level addition "would have an adverse effect on the building due to loss of historic fabric." The complaints apparently took hold: at a meeting last week of DC's Historic Preservation Review Board, DCPL submitted two revised proposals, both featuring just a one-story addition.

"After months of listening and learning, the Board had several goals," Gregory M. McCarthy, the library board's president, said in a press release. "First and foremost, it was essential to make possible additional space for programming in a spectacular central library. We also wanted to create a hub for educational, cultural and civic expression for the whole city and we wanted contribute to the social and economic activation around MLK in downtown. The concept we're advancing does all of that."

The revised renovation plan will involve remaking all 400,000 square feet of the original structure—including classrooms, reading rooms, experimental learning spaces, and a DC history center—while the new fifth floor will be used for reading programs, library events, and a rooftop terrace. More importantly for the city's bean-counters is that adding an additional three or four levels to the MLK Library was projected to generate 10 to 15 percent less revenue than what it would have cost.

The District government is scheduled to commit $208 million toward the library's capital budget over the next five fiscal years.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 09:30 AM/ET, 01/29/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The DC Council gave its final approval to the most expensive stadium in Major League Soccer history. By Benjamin Freed
Rendering courtesy of DC United.

The DC Council gave final, unanimous approval to the plan for a soccer-specific stadium for DC United to be built on Buzzard Point, putting to rest any lingering doubt that the Major League Soccer franchise will find a permanent home in the city.

The plan calls for the District government to spend up to $150 million to acquire the nine-acre stretch of Southwest DC and upgrade its infrastructure, with the team itself paying another $150 million for construction of the proposed 20,000-seat park. The combined expenses will make the future stadium the most expensive venue in MLS history, according to a city-sponsored study published in November.

In order to pay for the city's end of the deal, the Council voted to take out another $106 million in new debt, and to move $32 million from funding for other capital improvement projects, including school construction and transportation upgrades. Council member and mayoral runner-up David Catania raised objections over taking money out of those items before ultimately voting in favor of the stadium plan.

"It is a victory for the team and its fans, the city, the region, and the sport of soccer in this country," United's managing partner, Jason Levien, says in a statement from the team. "Our new stadium will add to the positive development already taking place along the Anacostia waterfront. It will be a venue that makes its neighbors proud; it will help our city become the nation’s soccer capital."

But United can't stick its picks in the Buzzard Point dirt just yet. While arrangements are in place for the District to acquire land from Pepco, Mark Ein, and an industrial junkyard, the city still needs to make a deal with the development firm Akridge. The first plans for the stadium proposed swapping Akridge's two acres at Buzzard Point for the rights to redevelop the Frank D. Reeves Center at 14th and U streets, Northwest. That component died last week when the Council, led by Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser, removed the Reeves Center from the bargain after concluding its enviable location was undervalued in the original stadium plan.

Even with Akridge's land still in flux, DC's soccer crazies are already celebrating. United is hosting a party to fete the stadium deal at Penn Social at 2 PM, because soccer fandom apparently includes getting drunk in the middle of a workday to toast a public-private partnership.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 12:15 PM/ET, 12/17/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
A group wants to turn an abandoned streetcar depot into DC's next cultural destination. By Benjamin Freed
Rendering courtesy of Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground.

After years of vision statements about subterranean galleries, theaters, and restaurants, the plan to liven up the abandoned trolley depot underneath Dupont Circle is finally taking shape. The Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground, a group of businesspeople with designs on turning the space into DC's next cultural hotspot, signed a five-and-a-half-year lease with the District on Tuesday to turn it into an arts and events venue.

The 75,000-square-foot space, a network of tunnels below Connecticut Avenue, has been mostly dormant since the District's last streetcars stopped running in 1962. It was used briefly as a fallout shelter in the late 1960s, and as a dingy food court in the early 1990s. The city picked the Arts Coalition in 2010 to eventually rehab the space.

Four years later, the organization has finally inked the paperwork, but the city won't be putting up any money of its own. Instead, the Arts Coalition is turning to a series of crowd-funding efforts, beginning with a $50,000 campaign on Fundable. It is also working with Destination Crowd Capital, a DC-based venture that seeks funding from established investors.

"The next five years will be a dynamic time of showcasing new artists and designers, new technologies, and the exciting possibilities this space presents," the group's founder, architect Julian Hunt, says in a press release. "We see the Dupont Underground providing cultural and economic benefits to Dupont Circle and to the District of Columbia."

It'll be a while before artists and entertainers take their shows below ground, though. The initial rounds of fundraising are just for cleaning up the tunnels and opening them to the public, with long-term exhibition plans still in the works, Hunt says.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 11:26 AM/ET, 12/16/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Peek inside the under-construction luxury apartment project on 14th Street. By Marisa M. Kashino
Photographs by Marisa M. Kashino.

With its distinctive windows and pre-war architecture, the building that once housed the Central Union Mission is one of the most recognizable along 14th Street. But as its conversion (along with three adjoining rowhouses and a new rear addition) into 51 apartments nears its scheduled December completion, we were curious to see what it looks like on the inside, too. Project architect Eric Colbert agreed to give us a sneak peek inside a building that has had many lives: as an auto showroom, a homeless shelter, and soon, luxury rentals.

Original moldings and columns showcase the building's historic character. This ground-floor retail space will house luxury watchmaker Shinola.
Units, like this one inside the actual old Central Union Mission, come with exposed brick that looks like abstract art thanks to layers upon layers of old paint.
Another view of that cool brick, plus an up-close look at the honed-granite countertops.
All the bathrooms feature plenty of marble.
A communal hallway located between the backs of the historic rowhouses and the newly built part of the development. Outlines of the rowhouses' original windows are still apparent in the brick.
An apartment inside one of the old rowhouses. There's a lofted sleeping area behind those upper cabinets.
A two-floor unit in the new part of the building.
A rendering of the completed project, courtesy of Eric Colbert & Associates.

Posted at 04:21 PM/ET, 11/06/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The public would be on the hook for 46 percent of the projected $286.7 million cost. By Benjamin Freed
Rendering by Populous via DC United.

A long-overdue report on the proposed DC United soccer stadium suggests it could be the most expensive venue in the history of Major League Soccer. The report, ordered earlier this year by the DC Council but only released to the public Wednesday—after a general election—projects a stadium opening in time for United's 2017 season will cost $286.7 million.

The District and the team are splitting the costs, with taxpayers footing the bills for infrastructure and readying nine acres of Buzzard Point in Southwest for construction, and United paying for the actual building. The report, which was prepared in part by a firm run by former DC City Administrator Robert Bobb, estimates the public's end will cost $131.1 million, about 46 percent of the total, although a term sheet Mayor Vince Gray and United executives signed in July 2013 allows the city to spend up to $151.7 million. Building a 20,000-seat arena will cost the team $155.6 million.

Of the 19 current MLS teams, 15 play in soccer-specific stadiums, all of which have been built or completely renovated since 1999 at an average cost of $105.5 million. The most expensive stadium in the league right now is Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, which opened in 2010 at a cost of $245 million, only 35 percent of which came from Garden State taxpayers.

More imminently, though, the stadium report also projects DC taxpayers will take a $25.7 million bath once it completes all the land deals to assemble the stadium zone. The deal involves getting a large chunk of Buzzard Point from the development firm Akridge in exchange for the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets, Northwest, and smaller parcels from other landowners in exchange for cash or other plots of real estate. But according to the report, the Akridge's negotiated price of $55.6 million for the Reeves Center is more than $11.2 million below its assessed value. (Akridge, which would likely tear down the old municipal building and put up a mixed-use development at one of the city's hottest intersections, stands to gain even more in the long run.) Moreover, DC is overpaying for Buzzard Point parcels owned by Pepco, Mark Ein, and a junkyard to the tune of $19.4 million. (The city's expenses are offset by $5 million in cash from Akridge and United.)

The report isn't actually that grim over the longterm. It projects substantial benefits to the city, especially Southwest, if the stadium gets built. Economic investment over a 32-year period could support up to 1,683 full-time jobs, with financial benefits exceeding costs by $109.4 million over the life of the stadium.

Read the full report below.

DC Soccer Cost-Benefit Analysis FINAL

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 01:00 PM/ET, 11/05/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Peek inside the under-construction condo project off U Street. By Marisa M. Kashino
The Atlantic Plumbing condo building, still under construction. Photographs by Marisa M. Kashino.

Developer JBG Cos. recently announced prices for its Atlantic Plumbing condos at Eighth and V streets, Northwest, with junior one-bedrooms starting in the high $300,000s to penthouses for $1.9 million. Though the 62-unit project won't be done until March 2015, Matt Blocher, JBG's senior VP of marketing and communications, says a third of the condos have already sold.

Named for the Atlantic Plumbing building that used to occupy the site just off U Street near the 9:30 Club, the JBG project consists of both the condos and a larger, 310-unit apartment building across the street, scheduled for completion toward the end of 2015. Look a block southward down Eighth, and you'll spot two other under-construction JBG buildings: the Hatton (condos) and the Shay (apartments), which should deliver in late spring.

For now, here's a sneak peek at the progress being made at the Atlantic Plumbing condos.

The lobby, with elevators etched to resemble the cage doors found in historic buildings.
What will become one of two restaurants on the building's ground floor. JBG says it will announce the names of the restaurants soon.
Cabinets on the even-numbered floors of the six-level building will feature this light tone, while those on odd-numbered floors will be darker.
Living rooms, like the one above, all have floor-to-ceiling windows.
All units have either one or two bedrooms. Here's one of them in progress.
A rendering of what a finished kitchen/living space will look like. Renderings courtesy of JBG.
A rendering of the completed exterior.

Posted at 01:00 PM/ET, 10/30/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The store, which burned down last year, will reopen as part of a mixed-use development. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph by Flickr user Tommy Wells.

Frager's Hardware, a Capitol Hill institution devastated by fire last year, will return to its original location in about two years as the anchor of a mixed-use development, the store announced Friday. The neighborhood shop, first opened in 1920, will reopen at Pennsylvania Avenue and 11th Street, Southeast, as part of a new project from Roadside Development, which is in the process of buying the fire-ravaged site.

"We learned that the fire damaged the site so severely that, even with insurance proceeds, we could not afford to rebuild the site alone," John Weintraub, the store's longtime owner, says in a press release.

Since the fire in June 2013 that destroyed nearly all of the 94-year-old landmark, Frager's has spread its paint, garden, and equipment rental businesses among three Capitol Hill locations. Roadside says it will refurbish and preserve the original building's historic façade, which was left charred but still standing after the ravaging, four-alarm blaze. The rest of the store burned to a crispy husk. Investigators later determined the fire was most likely sparked by a smoldering cigarette butt.

Roadside is experienced in turning city landmarks from rubble to new developments. The firm was responsible for transforming Shaw's old O Street Market, which caved in after a 2003 snowstorm, into a massive new Giant supermarket capped by high-end apartments. The development on the Frager's site will be mostly the hardware store, and Roadside says it does not plan to seek any rezoning. Construction is expected to take up to two years.

Posted at 12:33 PM/ET, 09/26/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Remember when a huge water-main break flooded a downtown construction site last year? Well, here's what the property looks like now. By Marisa M. Kashino
1200 17th Street, Northwest. Rendering courtesy of Akridge.

You might recall that for a weekend last year, the corner of 17th Street and Rhode Island Avenue, Northwest, was briefly transformed into the District's largest pool, thanks to an epic water-main break. But at the ribbon-cutting Tuesday afternoon for 1200 17th Street—a 170,000-square-foot building developed by Akridge and Mitsui Fudosan America—everything was nice and dry.

The law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman will take over five of the 11 floors, and part of a sixth, by January 2015 (the firm is relocating from the West End). That leaves 68,000 square feet still available for lease, if you can afford about $80 per square foot. 

"Maybe 10 to 15 buildings can command that," says Gregory Tomasso, a vice president and managing director of Akridge's leasing team. 

So what does Akridge say makes this one worth it? Its location between Dupont and Logan Circles and downtown, to start. It also boasts views of the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial, and an efficient layout that Benjamin Meisel, another VP of leasing, says will allow Pillsbury to shrink from its current 180,000 square feet to 105,000. 

All renderings courtesy of Akridge. (Top to bottom: Office layout, roof deck, and conference room.)

Find Marisa M. Kashino on Twitter at @marisakashino.

Posted at 03:32 PM/ET, 09/17/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Washington uber developer says some surprising tenants are coming to his Hecht Warehouse project in Ivy City. By Marisa M. Kashino
Rendering courtesy of Douglas Development.

Updated Friday, August 29: Ari Gejdenson confirms his restaurant group, Mindful Restaurants, will open three places at Hecht Warehouse. In an e-mail, he says: "We're in the process of wrapping up the lease and I'm thrilled that Mindful Restaurants can be a part of the exciting revitalization of Ivy City and the Hecht warehouse. It's the most beautiful warehouse I've ever seen and, having grown up in NE, it means a lot to me that this historic building and it's surrounding neighborhood will once again be a thriving part of our city."

Unless you're low on gas, have a fast food craving, or want to spend the night in a cheap motel, there's not much to stop for along heavily industrial New York Avenue, Northeast. On Thursday, the city announced plans to attempt to rectify that. The five-year Ward 5 Works plan aims to adapt industrial land to encourage the growth of business, residential, and cultural areas.

It's good news for Douglas Jemal, president of Douglas Development, who made an early—and sizable—bet on Ivy City, the small neighborhood just off New York Avenue, with Hecht Warehouse District. Housed in the building formerly used as the distribution center for Hecht's department store, the project is slated to bring 350 apartments, plus retail and restaurants. By January's groundbreaking, Jemal had lined up two retail tenants for the space: Mom's Organic Market and Planet Fitness.

As it stands now, though, it's tough to imagine, say, a Banana Republic or a trendy restaurant setting up shop there. But Jemal insists that's exactly what's on the way. During a conversation with Washingtonian earlier this week, the developer shared this list of tenants that he expects to open in the Hecht project: Banana Republic, Gap, Nike, Petco, Busboys and Poets, and three restaurants from the restauranteur behind Ghibellina (on 14th Street, Northwest) and Acqua Al 2 (near Eastern Market). We've reached out to Busboys owner, Andy Shallal, and Ari Gejdenson, owner of Ghibellina and Acqua Al 2, for comment, and will update if we hear back.

Construction of the retail space is scheduled to begin early next year—we'll stay tuned. 

Find Marisa Kashino on Twitter @marisakashino.

Posted at 02:58 PM/ET, 08/28/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
PN Hoffman is increasing its already-huge footprint on the Southwest Waterfront. By Benjamin Freed
Rendering courtesy Interface Media.

PN Hoffman’s cranes have been hacking away at DC’s Southwest Waterfront for the development firm’s massive Wharf complex since March. While work continues on the $2 billion mixed-use behemoth, the company has announced its next project for the neighborhood—and it’s right next door to the Wharf.

PN Hoffman plans to build a 105,000-square-foot, 108-condominium unit at 600 M Street, Southwest, slated to open in early 2016. The new condo building, which will be re-addressed as 600 Water Street, will take the place of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, a 53-year-old congregation that once counted Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall among its members. As part of the project, PN Hoffman is also building a new, two-story church for St. Augustine’s on an adjacent lot facing Water Street.

The Wharf—a multi-phase project scheduled to open its doors with more than 1,000 residential units and hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail, commercial, and entertainment space—has already transformed the area by clearing out many of the decades-old establishments from the waterfront. And PN Hoffman is the dominant player in Southwest DC, much like JBG is in the U Street corridor, where it has numerous projects.

People who buy at 600 Water—sales start next spring, PN Hoffman says—won’t have to depend on their neighbors at the Wharf for all their amenities, though. A press release for the forthcoming building promises a clubby atmosphere with a residents’ lounge, a courtyard with plenty of water features, and access to a new park.

Posted at 04:51 PM/ET, 07/09/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()