Mixed-Use Project Plans Move Forward After a 20-Year Purchase

Monday, November 24, 2008

Douglas Jemal took more than 20 years to acquire the property he needed near Mount Vernon Triangle. He can wait for the city's go-ahead and for credit to start flowing again.

The builder who helped transform Washington's Chinatown has plans for a mixed-use project two blocks east of the convention center, bounded by 6th, 7th, K and L streets NW, but he has yet to secure financing for it. Jemal said in an interview last week that his plan is to begin the city's approval process now and be ready to build in two or three years, potentially leapfrogging the credit freeze.

"When the market does open up, we will be ready," Jemal said. "Until then, life is going to go on."

Jemal has hired District-based architectural firm Shalom Baranes to design the mixed-use project, which is to include office buildings and a variety of retail shops. Jemal said he was not certain whether a boutique hotel will be included, as originally planned.

"It is too soon to tell," he said. "We don't know where the hotel market is going to be right now."

The approval process is to begin next month, when his development team presents an initial design to the city's Historic Preservation Review Board. Some of the buildings that are part of the project have landmark status that Jemal must preserve.

Last week, members of the Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association got their first look at the long-awaited project from Douglas Development.

"We would love to see something that brings life to that area," said Cary Silverman, president of the association. "The neighborhood wants something to move forward."

Jemal's plans call for building around four structures that, for now, the team does not plan to acquire: Marrakesh restaurant, a rowhouse and a small parking lot on New York Avenue NW, as well as one building on 7th Street NW.

Jemal's willingness to begin the approval process signals the near end of an acquisition phase for this project that spanned more than 20 years, he said.

"It has been a long time coming," Jemal said.

Two other pieces of Mount Vernon-area development are also wending their way through the approval process. The development team of Quadrangle and Marriott will go before the District's Zoning Commission today for approval of a 1,100-room Marriott Marquis headquarters hotel, planned for the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and 9th Street NW. Both the hotel project and a plan for two office buildings, two condominium buildings and two apartment buildings on the site of the former convention center, southwest of the current one, are slated to break ground next year.

Neither of these projects have secured financing, said Steven Siegel, the District's project manager for both sites.

-- Alejandro Lazo

© 2008 The Washington Post Company