Not Ready to Make Way for Marriott

By Dana Hedgpeth and Chris Kirkham
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, July 24, 2006

A parcel that the District got in a land swap with developer Kingdon Gould III this year was widely portrayed as the last real estate needed to build the District's biggest hotel on the site of the old convention center.

Not quite. There are still a few more sites, including the Central Safe and Locksmith Co. at Ninth and L streets NW.

It's been a part of the neighborhood for more than 50 years, and Whit Conway doesn't really want to move.

"I have no idea what's going to happen," said Conway, 35, who bought the business seven years ago from the family that started it. He also leases the building from them. Conway had worked at the shop in the summer when he was a student at Gonzaga College High School.

D.C. officials want hotel giant Marriott International of Bethesda and its partner Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, to build a 1,434-room hotel at Massachusetts Avenue and Ninth Street NW on land that includes what is now mostly a parking lot and the locksmith's shop.

The District approved legislation this summer for the $550 million hotel deal, which includes $135 million in tax-increment financing, and authorized the use of eminent domain if needed to acquire the site of Conway's shop and two other small remaining parcels. Construction of the hotel is expected to start late next year and it will probably open in 2010.

For Conway, it means trying to keep his store open day to day.

"We prefer to stay in the same place, but we know the move is inevitable," Conway said, although it's unclear when or if the District will exercise its eminent domain power.

He leases the brick building from partners Warren Lumpkins of New Hampshire and his sister-in-law, Conchita Lumpkins. Warren's father started the business in the 900 block of New York Avenue, not far from its current location, in 1949. Warren and his brother, who died a few years ago, ran the business for 20 years.

The shop has moved at least four times in the past few decades, all within four blocks of Mount Vernon Square, to make way for new development.

For the past five years Conway has been in litigation with Conchita Lumpkins, alleging that she was trying to break his lease, which has eight more years to run. Conway said he won the lawsuit. Lumpkins and her lawyer did not return calls seeking comment.

"I don't mind moving if I get compensation for it," said Conway, who estimates that he has spent $250,000 on litigation. "With eminent domain, the owners are taken care of but the [lease holders] are not. I'm out on the street."

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