New Look at Old Convention Center
With Master Plan Approved, Design Begins

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 27, 2006

The master plan approved last week for the 10 barren acres at New York Avenue and Ninth Street NW, where the old convention center stood, means that locations have been selected for housing and offices and the designing can begin.

Approval of the plan by the District's planning and economic development agency is a milestone for the $650 million project, which is being developed by Hines Interests of Houston and Archstone-Smith of Englewood, Colo., an apartment developer.

The housing will go along H and Ninth streets, with a plaza near the buildings. Office space will be built alongside, between 10th and 11th streets. A park will sit to the north.

"You need the master plan approved, so that sets the roads and the land use of the parcels," said William B. Alsup III, senior vice president in charge of Hines's Washington office. "We've agreed on a location for the condos, apartments and offices so we can now proceed with the design of the buildings."

The developers plan to build 415,000 square feet of office space and 280,000 square feet of retail space that will include restaurants, home-furnishing and clothing stores, and specialty bread, wine- and-cheese and produce shops. There will be 686 residential units -- 20 percent designated "affordable" -- and 1,700 parking spaces.

The project is projected to create more than 7,500 construction jobs, 5,200 permanent jobs and $30 million a year in tax revenue.

There are also plans for a large park with a fountain and a plaza with cafes and outdoor seating around it. The buildings, which are being designed by architects Norman Foster of London and Shalom Baranes of the District, are intended to have a modern feel and human scale to them. Tenth and I streets NW would be reopened to traffic.

About 110,000 square feet is to be set aside for civic or cultural use. Some city officials are pushing for a public library to be built there.

The D.C. Council voted last week to keep in committee a bill to authorize a library. The vote to table the bill makes it difficult for Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and others who want the library to win approval before Williams leaves office.

"It would be great to have a library on that site," said Richard H. Bradley, executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement District. "Is it central to that project being successful? Less so. But it could be a new anchor to the project."

Developer Kingdon Gould III, who swapped a piece of nearby land in exchange for just over an acre at Ninth and I streets on the old convention center site, said he still has not decided exactly what to put on his land. He is waiting for his deal with the city to close. He said his buildings will have retail on the ground floor and be compatible with "what Hines is doing." He could build residential, office buildings and a hotel.

"We need to have a focal point for the downtown," Gould said. "This gives us a place where we can do retail. . . . It will draw people in when a lot of our retail dollars from the city are going to the suburbs."

The master plan was compiled over the past year after developers met with more than 20 civic and local community groups, many of which wanted to make sure the plaza area would attract people. They wanted to avoid dead, concrete spaces.

"I'm very excited about Hines's efforts," said Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations. "It seems to be one of the few District-related projects that's moving forward and that will maximize jobs, benefits for D.C. residents and create revenues for the District.

"Hines is, step-by-step, moving the project where it needs to get," Lynch said. "We had to remind them that retail is where we're going to get jobs for D.C. residents, so it's an important part of the project."

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