New $950 million CityCenter DC complex on site of former convention center set for construction in April

By Jonathan O'Connell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2010; 10:23 PM

Construction is slated to begin in April on six new buildings and a public plaza on the site of the District's former convention center, a project that city officials say could cost $950 million and be one of the largest active developments on the East Coast.

The 10-acre downtown site was home to the city's convention center until it was torn down in 2004, a year after the Walter E. Washington Convention Center opened. It was turned into a surface parking lot and bus terminal as the lead developer, Hines, finalized plans and sought financial partners.

The development, dubbed CityCenter DC, will include 520,000 square feet of office space, 458 apartments, 216 condominiums, 185,000 square feet of retail and 1,570 underground parking spaces. It will be bounded by 9th and 11th streets NW to the east and west and by H Street NW to the south. The plans include an extension of 10th Street NW through the project and an extension of I Street NW to form its northern border.

The northernmost portion of the site, along New York Avenue, will be developed in later phases.

Hines, a privately owned real estate firm based in Houston, and Colorado-based developer Archstone, were selected by the city for the project in 2003. But their plans were delayed after the financial markets collapsed and they were unable to find investors.

Hines had courted the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom to move into the planned office space but Skadden pulled out of negotiations in July.

On Thursday, William B. Alsup III, Hines senior vice president, issued a statement saying the company had a preliminary financing agreement that would allow construction to begin April 4.

Alsup would not name the investor; city officials said only that it is a foreign entity willing to foot nearly the entire development cost of between $750 million and $950 million. The building team of Clark Construction Group and Smoot Construction began seeking subcontractors Oct. 10 for the initial work.

With construction of a new $550 million convention center hotel set to begin nearby in November and CityCenter ready to go in April, about $1.5 billion worth of construction is likely to continue for more than three years.

But the news also nearly ensures completion of two projects that were first planned under former Democratic mayor Anthony Williams and which Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has pushed since entering office in 2007. Fenty's economic development chief, Valerie Santos, called the CityCenter DC site "the hole in the doughnut of downtown" and said the hundreds of millions of dollars of investment demonstrated Washington's strength in the international real estate market. "It just shows again that there are investors around the world who are bullish on the city in terms of economic growth," she said.

Although the deal is not final, Santos said, "I have every reason to be optimistic that this is a firm timeline," she said.

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