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From The Ground Up

District to Decide Soon on Plan for Franklin School

Historic Structure Could House Internship Program or Private Club and Hotel

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 17, 2005; Page E03

The white paint has turned yellow and peeled off the walls at the 136-year-old Franklin School on the southeast corner of 13th and K streets NW. The wood floorboards have rotted. Rust covers the plumbing pipes. A thick layer of dust coats the wrought iron handrails of the brown and white tiled steps.

But developers, D.C. planners and economic development officials said they have a vision to turn around the historic brick building. They want to redevelop it into something -- a hotel, offices, condominiums, or a cultural or educational center -- that brings more vitality to a part of downtown Washington that is now dominated mostly by daytime office workers.

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"We want to see it rehabilitated and become something that will generate revenue for the city," said Chris Bender, a spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. "It's an extraordinary piece of real estate, and it's not doing anything but collecting dust."

Bender said in the next few weeks he expects his office to pick a redevelopment plan and a developer for the school, which is now being used as a homeless shelter.

Two teams have offered plans to spend millions of dollars to restore the historic building and develop it for commercial use. The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars, a nonprofit group that offers lectures, training and internships to college students, wants to spend about $10 million to convert the Franklin School into its offices and classrooms. The other proposal is from Western Development Corp. and Jarvis Co., developers based in the District. The firms want to spend about $15 million to turn the Franklin School into a small hotel and private club. The price tag for the building has yet to be negotiated.

"It's the perfect size and the perfect location for us," said Michael B. Smith, president of the Washington Center, which has placed 32,000 students from across the country in internships at nonprofits and government agencies in Washington over the past 30 years.

Having the Franklin School would save the group money, Smith said. The center has offices at 23rd and M streets NW, but it must lease lecture halls and other meeting space in city hotels and at buildings in Northern Virginia for its training sessions and guest speakers.

"We don't have a permanent downtown home, and the Franklin School would be a great fit for us," Smith said.

Smith said his group would use most of the building as administrative offices for its 60 employees and use the upper floors for classrooms, offices and lecture halls.

Western Development and Jarvis want to turn the school into Soho House, a private club combined with a hip, 20-room hotel. It would be managed by a British company that has similar projects with the same name in New York and London. The clubs typically try to attract people who work as writers, media executives, photographers and others in the entertainment field as members, said Brad Dockser, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Western Development. Members would pay about $1,000 a year to join the club, which would have a bar, restaurant, gym and rooms for meetings, games such as pinball and pool tables and movie screenings.

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