Groups trying to save the historic Rhodes Tavern from the wrecker's ball will have an additional year for their efforts if the city accepts a new proposal from developer Oliver Carr.
The 177-year-old tavern building is located at 15th and F streets NW, and is part of the Garfinkel block where Carr plans to build a $40 million hotel, office, and shopping complex. As things now stand, Carr could obtain a permit to demolish the tavern building in October. That is when a current 180-day demolition delay would expire.
Carr's proposal calls for suspending negotiations on the fate of the tavern building until he begins work on the first phase of the two-phase project. The first phase, scheduled to begin in April, covers the northern half of the block between 14th and 15th streets and F and G streets. The tavern building is on the south side of the block.
Included in the first phase are two other historic landmark buildings - the Albee Building and the Metropolitan Bank Building. Carr says he intends to save the facades of the two buildings and incorporate them in the new complex if the city provides the financial assistance necessary.
The fate of the tavern building has been under discussion for the past two months during negotiations among representatives of the city, Carr and community groups.
"There is a need to focus attention first," Carr wrote in a letter to State Historic Preservation Officer Lorenzo Jacobs," on that portion of the project that is to be developed initially, rather than confronting all of the preservation questions at one time . . ."
Carr said that he would agree to the one-year delay in the negotiations on the Rhodes Tavern if the city, in return, would agree to come up with $1.5 million in benefits, including property tax relief, historic preservation grants and the waiver of alley closing fees.
Carr has previously offered to absorb $2 million in costs to help preserve the facades of the Albee and Metropolitan Bank buildings along 15th Street. The total cost of preserving the facades is estimated by Carr at $3.5 million.
Carr company officials say it would take an additional $1 million to $2 million to save the exisiting Rhodes building or $4.3 million to reproduce the original Rhodes building, part of which was demolished in the 1950s.
"This gives us more time to identify support for the Rhodes," said a spokesman for the Citizens Committee to Save Historic Rhodes Tavern. "Giving more time does take the pressure off, and we worry about declining interest, but we won't decrease our efforts to inform the public."
Leila Smith, who has represented the Don't Tear It Down organization in the negotiations, said that Carr's proposal "creates confusion and leaves many questions unanswered. It sounds as if there might be some difficulty designing the rest of the block when we don't know what's going to happen to the tavern. And new legislation may be needed to provide the tax relief that Carr is seeking, tax relief for people who preserve low-rise commercial structures like the Rhodes."
Thomas Lodge, chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Council 2C, called Carr's proposal "a good idea. It gives the Rhodes Tavern people another year and it will concentrate efforts on the other two buildings. We have to find the money to save them by October."
Jacobs commented that he is "now studying Mr. Carr's proposals as to whether they can be implemented." Jacobs plans to respond to Carr's letter this week, according to his press secretary, Steve Johnson.