Nine different plans for the development of the Garfinckel's block of downtown - most of which would preserve one or more of the three landmark buildings in the block - were presented to the Joint Committee on Landmarks last week by developer Oliver T. Carr Jr., who is planning a $40 million retail-office-hotel complex adjoining Garfinckel's.
The joint committee, which reviews all demolition permits for structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, recommended a 180-day delay before Carr can take down any of the three buildings. During that period. Carr is required by law to negotiate with local preservation groups and explore ways to save the buildings - the Rhodes Tavern, the Metropolitan Bank Building and the Albee Building, all across 15th street from the Treasury Building. Carr applied for demolition permits earlier this year.
The joint committee's recommendation for delay now goes to the city's historic preservation officer, Lorenzo Jacobs, who has 60 days to decide on whether to implement the delay. If he decides to consider imposing the delay, he will hold a public hearing on the matter.
At last week's hearing Carr asked the community for help in raising funds to save the buildings it wants to preserve.
Rhodes Tavern, on the corner of 15th and G, is the oldest surviving commercial building in the city. Built in 1801, it has been substantially altered and part of it was demolished in the 1950s. It served as the British command post during the burning of the White House in 1814.
The Albee Building and the Metropolitan Bank Building were both built in 1912.Designed by architect J.H. De Sibour, they are considered fine examples of the Beaux Arts style. All three buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Carr told the joint committee that his development, "a galleria-type mall around an atrium with Garfinckel's as the anchor store, will play a dramatic role in revitalizing the downtown shopping district.
"We are here seeking a solution to a problem," Carr said. "We need community input."
The problem, as outlined by Carr, one of his architects, David Childs, and his project manager, Clyde F. Newman III, is how to save the three landmark buildings in the block. Newman said that to preserve all three landmarks would require a subsidy of about $17.9 million. He said that figure was based on the loss of rentable space if the buildings were preserved. To save only the Rhodes Tavern would cost an estimated $1.5 million, according to Newman, and to save the facades of the Albee and Metropolitan Bank buildings - the course recommended by the architect - would require $4.7 million.
Carr said he is prepared to go ahead with the mall project with private financing if he obtains demolition permits for the landmark buildings. "If the permits are granted, we will get on with the business of opening up a part of the city," said Carr."If a delay is imposed we will assume the leadership in raising funds to save the appropriate buildings."
If Carr is unsuccessful in raising the money or if no solution for saving of buildings is worked out during the delay, Carr could obtain the demolition permits at the end of the 180 days.
"We will proceed with total demolition if we can't raise the funds," Carr said.
Carr announced that he had engaged a consultant, Betts Abel, former executive director of Don't Tear it Down, a preservation group, to help raise funds such as federal and foundation grants and contributions from private preservation interest groups. Carr said some subsidies could be in the form of real estate tax abatements and the possible transfer of a city owned alley within the block.
Even though the joint committee voted unanimously to recommend delay, committee chairman Henry Brylawski expressed some misgivings.
"If we impose a six-month delay in demolition, it will be up before you make up your mind what you want to do," said Brylawski. "You're taking away whatever power we have by applying for demolition permits before you want them."
According to Carr, he is required under his purchase contract with the Cafriz Co., owners of the Albee Building, to ask for demolition permits now.
"We waited as long as we could," Carr told the committee.
"We want the clock to start running now," replied Carr, "because we view this (funding the preservation of the three landmark buildings) as a challenge to all of us to bite the bullet. We need confirmation as to what the right scheme is. Anyone in the community interested in the project should contact us."
If Carrr decides to preserve the buildings but wants to alter any of their facades, he must appear before the joint committee again. When plans for the new structure are drawn up, they must be presented to the Fine Arts Commission. The Fine Arts Commission reviews plans for buildings adjacent to federal areas such as the Treasury Building.