Catholic University Taps Developer to Create 9-Acre 'Destination'

By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 20, 2008; 6:27 PM

Catholic University has chosen a developer to turn nearly nine acres across from its Northeast Washington campus into a dense mix of restaurants, shops and housing, all of it centered around a dramatic new clock tower.

The university's agreement with developer Jim Abdo, if approved by the District, would create a new destination across from the Brookland/CUA Metro station in a low-slung neighborhood that developers largely ignored during the recent real estate boom.

Abdo's project would rise on land now occupied by three dormitories, which Catholic University would demolish and rebuild on its main campus, north of Michigan Avenue. The university plans to announce its deal with the developer tomorrow.

Over the past decade, Abdo has played a key role in rebuilding 14th Street NW around Logan Circle, as well as H Street NE, a long-forlorn strip where he recently developed more than 450 condominium and rental apartments on the site of the former Capital Children's Museum.

Abdo said the Brookland project is an opportunity to link the university to the surrounding community and create an attraction drawing people from across the city. "It's an empty canvas," Abdo said in an interview. "This will become a destination."

Abdo stressed that his plans are still conceptual and that he will host meetings to solicit input from Brookland community leaders and residents before finalizing his design.

Yet his vision would dramatically alter the neighborhood's landscape, creating some 800 units of new housing, providing street-level studio space for artists, and extending along Monroe Street the retail area on 12th Street NE. The clock tower, which the developer estimates would be about 65 feet tall, would serve as a gateway to the development, at the southwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Monroe Street.

The housing, Abdo said, would be a mix of condominiums and rental apartments, some in buildings ranging from five to eight stories, others spread out over more than 50 rowhouses. The condominiums, he said, would sell for $400,000 to $600,000, although those prices could change depending on the market.

As for retail, Abdo envisions Monroe Street as a new commercial corridor, lined with storefronts built at the ground floor of apartment buildings. "What's missing in the neighborhood?" Abdo said when asked about his retail choices. "Cafes? Bookstores? Maybe we'd like to see more restaurants."

Although he said he has no specific commercial tenants in mind, he categorically ruled out big box stores, fast food, nightclubs and bars. "It will not be a place where people are waiting on line to get their hand stamped and go to a DJ," he said.

Abdo said that he would seek to draw patrons to already existing 12th Street businesses and would not lease space to the kinds of shops that exist along the corridor, such as a hardware store. "We're not here to undermine 12th Street," he said. "We're here to enhance it."

Catholic University set out to develop its property after deciding to relocate the dormitories, which were built during the 1960s. "It became an opportunity for us," said Julie Englund, the university's treasurer and vice president for finance and administration. The new retail and housing, she said, would "create some amenities we don't have."

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