Filling a Blank Canvas at Catholic University

A clock tower would be a gateway to the project.
A clock tower would be a gateway to the project. (Abdo Development)
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By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

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 centered around a new clock tower.

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

Abdo's project would rise on university-owned land occupied by three dormitories, which the school would demolish and rebuild on the main campus, north of Michigan Avenue. The university plans to announce the deal today.

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 developed more than 450 condominium and rental apartments on the site of the former Capitol Children's Museum.

Abdo said the Catholic University project is an opportunity to link the school to the community and create an attraction for people across the city. "It's an empty canvas," he said. "This will become a destination."

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

The project is expected to dramatically alter the landscape. It would create about 800 housing units, provide street-level studio space for artists and extend the retail area on 12th Street NE along Monroe Street. The clock tower, which Abdo estimates would be about 65 feet tall, would be a gateway to the development, at the southwestern corner of Michigan Avenue and Monroe Street.

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

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

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

Abdo said he would try to draw people to existing 12th Street businesses and not lease space to the kinds of shops that are already there. "We're not here to undermine 12th Street," he said. "We're here to enhance it."

His ideal, he said, is an eclectic mix of "mom-and-pop retail."

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