Prime D.C. Business Site Might House Cars for Now

The developer plans a 12-story office complex at Connecticut Avenue and K Street, but not for a year.
The developer plans a 12-story office complex at Connecticut Avenue and K Street, but not for a year. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
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By Paul Schwartzman and Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 24, 2008

The corner of K Street and Connecticut Avenue is among downtown Washington's most prestigious, a crossroads District leaders believe is worthy of the glass, steel and stone tower that a developer envisions.

Anything, they say, but a parking lot.

Guess what might be on the way?

Citing the economic downturn, a developer has sought the District's permission to turn one of the city's prime parcels into an aboveground parking lot, at least temporarily.

The developer demolished two office buildings at the intersection's northwest corner this year after winning D.C. approval to replace them with a 12-story office complex designed by the architecture firm founded by I.M. Pei.

But in a letter to D.C. officials last month, the developer sought to alter the project to generate cash while the lot sits fallow until construction begins, perhaps at the end of 2009 or in early 2010.

"In the interim, and in light of the recent financial market turmoil, the Applicant seeks approval for the option to construct a temporary parking lot on the now vacant site in order to make productive use of its land," the developer's lawyers wrote to the zoning commission Sept. 23.

In the past, developers have turned vacant land into parking lots as they sought tenants to lease offices in proposed buildings. But during the frenzy of the building boom of the past five years, offices sprang up without developers having signed any leases.

Now the declining economy and frozen credit markets have hurt the real estate industry, forcing builders across the country to delay or halt plans. But developers, ever mindful that potential lenders can become squeamish even at the hint of a risky bet, are loath to acknowledge turbulence.

Bernard Gewirz, a partner in the project on K Street, at first said he didn't know anything about building a parking lot on the parcel, across from Farragut Park and one of the city's busiest Metro stations, and a block and a half from the White House. Later, his son, Steven, confirmed the plan.

But Steven Gewirz disputed their attorneys' assertion that the financial market's situation was a factor in the decision to build a parking lot.

He said that the development team's negotiations to obtain bank financing for the project are proceeding "swimmingly" and that he expects the loan to be finalized next month. The construction delay, he said, is necessary because the main tenant, a prestigious law firm, cannot move in until 2013.

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