Hearing on Kennedy Center Expansion Raises Timely Questions
By Roger K. Lewis
Saturday, June 12, 2004; Page F14
At a public hearing last week, the National Capital Planning Commission reviewed the conceptual site and building plans for "access improvements, plaza and buildings" at the Kennedy Center. This attempt to expand the arts center and better integrate it with its site has been in planning for some time, and will take years to complete. However, this meeting was a key step in the process.
Several witnesses and the D.C. Office of Planning questioned many aspects of the project. After testimony and discussion among commissioners, the commission voted to approve the concept.
In light of the concerns expressed, especially by the Office of Planning, and the immensity of the project, the commission discussion seemed perfunctory, and the vote to approve the concept seemed rushed.
The project applicants, the Federal Highway Administration and the Kennedy Center, pointed out that the conceptual design process has been underway for more than a year, and nods of preliminary concept approval have been received previously from D.C. officials and the Commission of Fine Arts. The applicants are understandably "disheartened" that the Office of Planning is now expressing reservations.
The planning office's somewhat delayed reaction may be a bit untimely, but in the overall time frame, this delay is minuscule. More important, the response is justifiable, well reasoned and thoughtfully articulated. This project's scope, complexity, impact and cost -- a whopping $400 million just for redoing the roadwork and building the deck -- are enormous. By the time the project is completed, its cost is likely to exceed half a billion dollars.
Whatever is ultimately done will affect this part of the District profoundly. Therefore, now, while the changes are still in the concept formulation stage, is the time to fully consider -- and reconsider -- the transportation, urban design and architectural options, and their consequences.
The project has two main goals: improving vehicle, transit, pedestrian and bicycle access to and movement around the Kennedy Center; and creating a new deck and plaza spanning the Potomac Freeway on the east side of the center, with two new buildings on top of the deck and framing the vast plaza.
Before the hearing, the planning commission staff and executive director reviewed the proposal and recommended concept approval. But in their report, in response to many of the D.C. planning office's concerns, they also directed the applicants to undertake 31 alternative design explorations, revisions, modifications and enhancements -- a record number of recommended items, according to the planning commission staff.
Some of the recommended changes would have little effect on the substance of the concept. Several, though, are significant. Among them:
• Improve and maximize connectivity to the existing city fabric and street grid for vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists, especially those arriving from the north and east.
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