Deal Close on Georgia Ave. Dealership Site

By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 12, 2008

District officials have long sought to revive Georgia Avenue, the historic but frayed corridor that begins downtown and snakes its way through a string of neighborhoods to Silver Spring.

Their vision has taken another step forward with a developer's plan to turn a 3.5-acre parcel along an upper portion of the avenue into a mix of rental apartments and retail.

The developer, Foulger-Pratt, is finalizing the deal with the property's owner, Dudley Dworken, whose family for more than 40 years operated a Chevrolet car dealership on the site, in the 5900 block of Georgia Avenue.

Both sides expressed confidence that they would reach a deal and that the development would spur the kind of quality shopping and dining that residents have long demanded.

"There aren't a lot of other big sites on Georgia Avenue, so this is a unique opportunity, and you can have an impact," said Cameron Pratt, a vice president at Foulger-Pratt, which helped redevelop downtown Silver Spring.

Dworken had negotiated with a number of developers, including Jim Abdo, but none of those deals were completed. Dworken said he is confident that his agreement with Foulger-Pratt will be finalized, in part because his family has long-standing personal relationships with the developer. The Dworkens will have an equity stake in the project.

"It's a joint venture," Dworken said. "We'll still be in the community, and our community will benefit from the project."

As the city's economic fortunes reversed in recent years, District officials have focused on Georgia Avenue after decades of neglect. The 5.6-mile strip, which suffered after the 1968 riots and the migration of residents to the suburbs, was once considered Washington's "Main Street," linking such neighborhoods as Shaw, Petworth and Brightwood.

As part of the city's campaign to remake the corridor, officials included Georgia Avenue in the Great Streets program, in which millions of dollars are devoted to repairing streets, roadways, sewers and facades.

Developers also have migrated to Georgia Avenue. A 32-unit condominium building was completed a block from the Curtis Chevrolet site in 2006. Another developer is putting up a 156-unit condominium in Petworth, at the intersection of New Hampshire and Georgia avenues.

As part of the revival, District and community officials had hoped for a developer to build on the Curtis Chevrolet site, at the intersection of three major thoroughfares: Georgia, Colorado and Missouri avenues.

"If we can kick-start this, we can encourage other revitalization," said D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), whose district includes the corridor. "We have seen so many residents going to Silver Spring and Bethesda to buy basic things. We don't want our residents to leave the ward or the city."

Although the developer's plans are still taking shape, Pratt said the project would include as many as 300 rental apartments, with ground-floor retail. The neighborhood's zoning allows for 65-foot-tall buildings, or about five stories.

The developer, Pratt said, has decided against building condominiums because the "for-sale market has certainly softened -- collapsed, you could say. We believe there will be continued demand for rental apartments in the District."

Whatever is built on the site, it will be far different from the car dealerships that have been there since 1949. The Dworken family bought the property in 1966.

In recent years, Dworken said, the family has resisted entreaties from developers to sell the property. But the offers became too tempting to resist. The Chevy dealership shut down at the end of November.

"We were very happy here," Dworken said. "But after a number of times of putting sugar in the pie, it looked like a better long-term investment to do something else."

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