Mt. Vernon Triangle Edges Upward

"It's new, fresh and a little edgier," Peter Greenwald of Penzance Cos. says of Mount Vernon Triangle, site of a Penzance project. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 3, 2006

For more than 20 years, George Sigalas and his brother, Anthony, have watched from the second floor of the brick building where they run a strip club at the southeast corner of Fifth and K streets NW as new condos, offices and retail have sprouted in downtown to their west and around Verizon Center to their south.

Now change has come to their block.

Directly across the street from their nightclub, called Louis' Rogue, cranes and dump trucks are working to build CityVista, a $215 million project that will feature 119 condominiums selling for $500 a square foot and a 58,000-square-foot Safeway supermarket. On the blocks around them other condominium and office projects with names like the Sonata, the DuMont and Madrigal Lofts are underway.

Altogether, about 120,000 square feet of retail, more than 1,700 apartments and condominiums and 234,000 square feet of offices are under construction in the neighborhood known as the Mount Vernon Triangle, making it one of the most active development areas in the District. And much more is planned.

"They say it's progress," said George Sigalas, 55, as a woman in a tropical bikini top and hot pink spandex shorts trotted by his seat near the bar on her way to the stage for a noon show one day last week. "There's no stopping it."

The District's downtown has become mostly built-out over the past few years, thanks to steady job growth and a drive by baby boomers and young professionals to move closer in. So developers are building new housing, retail and offices on land that is mostly home to parking lots, abandoned row houses and auto repair garages. The Mount Vernon Triangle, which is bounded by New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts avenues, is one of the last spots to develop in the central city.

"This area is finally taking off, and it's going to become a 24/7 neighborhood that's an extension of downtown," said Gerry Widdicombe, director of economic development for the Downtown Business Improvement District, which promotes development.

The new projects, which total more than $600 million, have been jump-started by city officials who have allowed for more dense development and offered tax abatement for housing construction, developers said.

"You had the progression of development coming from the Penn Quarter area, just below the Mount Vernon Triangle area, a change in zoning and a frothy residential market," said Charles "Sandy" Wilkes, chairman of the Wilkes Co. With his partner, Quadrangle Development Corp., Wilkes plans to build up to 2.2 million square feet of office, residential and retail space, plus a K-3 school for a nearby church, in the Mount Vernon Triangle over the next few years. "You have all the right ingredients."

Wilkes has two condominium projects underway in the neighborhood -- the Sonata and Madrigal Lofts. He said he's sold 85 percent of the 300 condominiums in the two buildings in the past six months, even with what some real estate agents and economists are saying is a slowdown in the real estate market.

Another developer, Peter N. Greenwald of Penzance Cos. is so confident that he's constructing an office building at 455 Massachusetts Ave. NW on what was mostly parking lots, without having a tenant in place.

"When we saw this opportunity come to us we jumped on it," said Greenwald, whose company bought the property in 2004 from another developer who had been assembling the lots. He is trying to attract financial service and media companies, law firms and associations to his 250,000-square-foot office building, which will be completed in late 2007. "This area is a bridge between downtown and Union Station and Capitol Hill," Greenwald said. "It's new, fresh and a little edgier."

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