Southwest D.C. waterfront proposal shaping up

By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 7, 2010

Developers of the long-awaited Southwest waterfront -- a $1.5 billion pedestrian-friendly mixture of housing, restaurants, hotels and offices overlooking the Washington Channel -- recently released a final plan that borrows heavily from Baltimore's Inner Harbor and Seattle's Pike Place to create the city's first walkable destination on the water.

The development along what is now Maine Avenue SW, covering 26 miles and nearly a mile-long boardwalk, is by far the largest in scale in the quadrant's history, a transformation that replaces much of the car-oriented concrete construction of the urban renewal of the 1950s and 1960s.

"We're trying to create public spaces that last forever. Buildings come and go," said Stan Eckstut, the project's lead architect. "We want to do what other great cities have done and bring the city to the water's edge."

About 525 people filled into the Kreeger Theater at the new Mead Center for American Theater on Sept. 29 for the presentation, the first in two years' worth of planning before construction is set to start.

The development plan includes at least 400 marina slips, about 560 residential units, 600 hotel rooms and 840,000 square feet of office space. About 2,500 underground parking spaces are included.

A community benefits package includes requirements that 30 percent of the project's housing be set aside for households making less than 60 percent of the area's median income (for a family of four: $62,000); that 35 percent of goods be certified by the city as coming from small and local businesses; and that 25 percent of retail establishments be locally owned.

Public officials said the Southwest waterfront, subsidized by $198 million worth of public financing, would provide much-needed development, jobs and resources to long-neglected portions of Wards 6, 7 and 8.

"I knew that in order to have a real waterfront, we needed the Southwest," Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said. "With the Southeast opening up too, the developments really open up the water to those who have lived here but haven't necessarily been included in the city's long-term planning."

The project is expected to create 650 to 1,000 temporary construction jobs and 2,800 permanent jobs, about 1,000 of which are service oriented.

The historic Fish Wharf and the District's jazz club traditions are to be incorporated into the Southwest waterfront's designs, developers said, and, as proposed, Maine Avenue SW will be turned into a 60-foot expansive boulevard with 10-foot, two-way bike lanes and a center-lane streetcar system.

The western end of the waterfront, an area called Market Square with the redesigned fish market, a grand staircase, pier and a new intersection, will be built as a busy meeting place with a music hall or movie theater, maritime museum, outdoor cafes and farmer's markets.

The City Pier, at Ninth Street SW, would be the gateway to the waterfront, an active civic place with a Santa Monica-like town square. A light tower with views of the Washington Mall is being considered there.

The Capital Yacht Club would be situated in the Club Plaza, a neighborhood corridor with alleyways and mews and the Gangplank Marina would be placed near a similar section called the Grove. The Seventh Street Park and Pier would be a grass-heavy formal spot with upscale restaurants and shops. The M Street Landing would be a family-and-pet destination, with fountains, kiosks, dinner boats, an ice skating rink and direct access to Arena Stage and evening dinner boats.

"If you have a kid, you're probably going to head to the western side," said Monty Hoffman, chief executive of the lead developer, PN Hoffman. "If you have a dog or don't have anything, and want peace and quiet, you're going to head to the eastern side."

Several attendees hissed when Eckstut, the architect, described the tallest potential building on the waterfront -- a 130-foot, 11-story apartment building, which could block views of the water and change the look of the area.

Groundbreaking has been projected for the fourth quarter of 2012. The plan awaits zoning approval from the city, and public hearings are expected to begin in the spring.

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