Developer seeks to give Adams Morgan a taste of luxury with hotel project

WASHINGTON,DC. OCT.20 . Vacant Christian Science Church in Adams Morgan, a possible future hotel site, in Washington DC. on Oct. 20, 2010.( Photograph by Jeffrey MacMillan )
WASHINGTON,DC. OCT.20 . Vacant Christian Science Church in Adams Morgan, a possible future hotel site, in Washington DC. on Oct. 20, 2010.( Photograph by Jeffrey MacMillan ) (Jeffrey Macmillan - Jeffrey Macmillan For Washington)
By Jonathan O'Connell
Monday, October 25, 2010

The Adams Morgan neighborhood in Northwest Washington is known as a hub of nightlife where visitors can go dancing, see live music and, when hunger strikes, consume exorbitantly-sized pizza slices.

What the neighborhood is not known for is luxury, but that could change.

For the past six years, developer Brian Friedman has been pushing a complex project that he says would reinvent Adams Morgan as a bustling attraction at all times of day, not just in the evenings. He has proposed transforming a historic church, formerly the First Church of Christ, Scientist, into a 174-room luxury hotel. His plan calls for preserving the church building and constructing a 10-story connecting building behind it, where there is now parking.

And he is asking for the city's help, suggesting that the new hotel not be required to pay property taxes for 15 years after opening.

Friedman, 32, grew up in Michigan and as a teenager coaxed his football teammates into helping with the grunt work of renovating and flipping houses for his mother, a real estate broker. After moving to D.C., launching companies in other fields and becoming bored at a desk job in security contracting, he turned to real estate professionally by partnering with a Michigan developer, Beztak Properties, to bid for the church's site. The church, with its membership shrinking, no longer needed the space and was seeking developers who had other ideas for the property, located at 1782 Columbia Rd. NW, near the intersection of 18th Street, the center of the neighborhood's nightlife.

"I was the energy guy that would stay up all night and put together the presentations and talk to the people," Friedman said.

Being selected by the church for the work was a start, but it has led mostly to other dilemmas so far. Friedman initially proposed housing for the site, but had to switch to a hotel when the building's historic status conflicted with his plan for condominiums. His plan to convert the church into a hotel met resistance from potential operators.

"They would describe Adams Morgan as a place that's not safe enough for a hotel, that's not safe enough for people who want to walk around at night," he said.

In the course of the search, however, Friedman met the man viewed by many as a visionary hotel designer: Ian Schrager, the intellect behind the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City and the darling of luxury lifestyle press.

Friedman convinced Schrager to sign on, and shortly thereafter the designer secured a deal to develop a line of boutique hotels -- dubbed Edition -- with Marriott International. Soon, Editions were planned for Waikiki, Istanbul, Barcelona, Mexico City, Bangkok, South Beach and ... Adams Morgan.

Edition is marketed as a line that "will combine the personal, intimate, individualized and unique lodging experience that Ian Schrager is known for, with the global reach, operational expertise and scale of Marriott." Travel + Leisure magazine said Schrager may have done more "to bring design to the travel experience than any other living person."

Friedman envisions a hotel for people who are in town for conventions and who can afford to stay at the Four Seasons and other existing offerings but who want "something a little more interesting."

"A lot of those people who are staying at those hotels aren't happy," he said.

He isn't out of the weeds yet. A competing hotel is planned by JBG for U Street Northwest. And to make his project work, Friedman asked the District for a 15-year, $61 million property tax abatement. The church, which owns the site, is not required to pay any taxes on it because it is a nonprofit. But tax breaks have generated controversy recently in part because the city faces millions of dollars in budget shortfalls.

"It provides significant daytime commerce in Adams Morgan and that in turn means a better balance with the nightlife, so our daytime businesses are most certainly likely to be assisted," said D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).

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