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Breathing New Life Into Quirky Buildings

The ballroom in Ament Hall at National Park Seminary is still in good condition. The site is being redeveloped as housing, but historic buildings will remain.
The ballroom in Ament Hall at National Park Seminary is still in good condition. The site is being redeveloped as housing, but historic buildings will remain. (Photos By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

Because many of the buildings are in bad shape, the developers said, restoring them profitably required that they build some new housing on the property. It also depended on about $15 million in federal and local government grants and tax credits for historic preservation and providing affordable housing. The two companies said they are also putting in their own funds and borrowing money.

Alexander Co. is a 35-person firm that specializes in restoring historic properties such as hotels, warehouses, schools, train stations and century-old office buildings and turning them into housing. EYA is best known for building in-fill housing, mostly townhouses and condos, in Alexandria, Arlington, the District, Wheaton and Silver Spring.

"The uncertain part is behind us of getting through the land-use approvals and putting together the land development costs," said Natalie Bock, development project manager for Alexander Co. She said the approval process took twice as long and cost twice as much as the company had expected. "Now it's just a lot of physical work." Workers will have to deal with problems such as a four-story roof that collapsed because of water damage; peeling lead paint in the long, wide and drafty hallways of the main building, part of which is to become condos and apartments; and the removal of asbestos from falling ceiling tiles in what was once a large dining room but is to become a community and fitness room.

Alexander Co. executives said they are trying to find creative ways to use the historic buildings. For example, a condo will be built in what once was a swimming pool, its mosaic tiles decorating the living room walls. "At first blush, it may seem unusual but it ends up being a selling point," Bock said. "Who else gets to live in a swimming pool?"

Jim Abdo, a D.C. developer known for restoring historic buildings and turning them into housing, said he considered getting involved with EYA in the National Park Seminary project a few years ago, but "it was more than we wanted to take on at that time," and he didn't bid on it. "Plenty of people went at that site," Abdo said of those who bid on the National Park site. "EYA has taken on large-scale, in-fill projects before and they've shown they can be visionaries. They will be successful and get it done. All the buildings at National Park Seminary are speaking a different language, and you need them all to come together at once to make that project work."

Closings

Marriott International Inc. of Bethesda said it closed a $246 million land sale and it expects to record a one-time, pretax gain of $17 million. The hotel giant sold the portfolio of land under 75 Courtyard by Marriott hotels to CBM Land Joint Venture LP. It also contributed land worth an estimated $40 million CBM, of which Marriott owns 23 percent.

Dana Hedgpeth writes about commercial real estate and economic development. E-mail her athedgpethd@washpost.com.


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