Another Vote Approaches in Battle Over Co-Op Conversion Plan
By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 8, 2004; Page E01
There are accusations of abuse of power, vote tampering and document shredding. People are trying to involve a Supreme Court justice, a U.S. senator and a top White House official. The League of Women Voters has been called in to restore confidence in the process.
The only thing missing in this latest Watergate scandal is a break-in.
The Watergate has been in an uproar for months over plans to turn the Watergate Hotel into cooperative apartments. Three of the six buildings in the complex are already co-ops, whose residents include national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, opera star Placido Domingo and Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) and her husband, Bob. Leading the opposition is lawyer Jack H. Olender, who says the Watergate's way of life is at stake. "It's another Watergate coverup," he said. He started a group called Watergate East Committee Against the Hotel Conversion to Co-ops.
Audrey R. Wolf, a literary agent, leads the proponents. "This issue has been so emotional for some of these people," Wolf said. "You see people in the lobbies and you don't want to get in the same elevator with them. . . . They give the cold shoulder. They won't speak."
Wolf and her husband, William B. Wolf Jr., a lawyer, have formed their own group, the Committee of Concerned Owners, to drum up residents' support for the conversion.
Although the Watergate Hotel is an also-ran in a city with many luxury hotels, it's a gem to some residents of the complex, where two-bedroom apartments can go for $950,000 and a penthouse for about $1.5 million. They frequently visit the restaurant and bar, and use the health club. They also fear that their older units might pale in comparison to the luxury suites that are planned.
Michael J. Darby, the developer with rights to convert the hotel into co-ops, said he is sick of the whole thing. He has tried to accommodate the co-op owners by promising the new building will have a gym -- although a smaller one -- and a restaurant, although different from the existing one.
Darby, a principal of Monument Realty LLC, said that although opponents can make things difficult for him, he will proceed with the project once he gets final zoning approval. He expects that soon. "All these guys who think they're clever lawyers," Darby said, "they don't understand the zoning process."
The Watergate, which consists of the hotel, three residential buildings with 644 co-op units and two office buildings, was designed in the 1960s by Italian architect Luigi Moretti and sits next to the Kennedy Center. The 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate led to President Richard M. Nixon's resignation.
Blackstone Real Estate Advisors LP, a New York-based investment group, bought the hotel in 1998 for $39 million from Japan's Nikko Securities. A year ago, Monument Realty made an offer to buy the hotel, contingent on zoning approval. But Monument backed out of the deal, saying the age of the hotel would make its conversion more costly than it had thought.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Power Struggles Residents of Watergate East are at odds over plans to turn the complex's hotel into luxury co-ops.
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