With less than a week to go before the end of a city-ordered delay in demolition, the fate of three city landmark structures, the Albee Building, the Metropolitan Bank Building and the Rhodes Tavern, are still in doubt. The buildings are slated to be demolished by developer Oliver T. Carr Jr. to make way for a shopping and office mall on the downtown block that includes Garfinckel's department store.
According to Carr, the cost of preserving two of the landmark structures has escalated by $2.3 million since he began studying five months ago the feasibility of including them in his project.
Carr told preservationists and city officials last week that the extra cost of incorporating the facades and a small portion of the interiors of the Metropolitan Bank Building and the Albee Building into the new project has risen from $3.5 million to $5.8 million since the first calculations were made in May-Carr company officials said the increase was due mainly to rises in mortgage rates, construction costs, workmen's compensation costs and to the unexpectedly high cost of the atrium that would link the new mall to Garfinckel's.
"I'm still in a state of shock over these new figures," Ben Gilbert, director of the city Municipal Planning Office told Carr at last week's negotiating session. "We were ready to make a deal when it was $1.5 million."
Previously, Carr had offered to absorb $2 million of the $3.5 extra cost of preserving the landmarks, leaving the public to come up with $1.5 million.
At a meeting earlier this month, however, Carr said he was no longer able to offer the $2 million. Because increased costs had forced his firm to increase the projected rents to above market level, Carr said, the company was "no longer willing to absorb the additional risk."
The new cost of $5.8 million for preserving the landmarks would not save the 178-year-old Rhodes Tavern. Carr said, however, that "under certain circumstances" he would donate the tavern to the Junjor League or lease it to the league at a norminal fee. The organization tentatively plans to use the building for a restaurant and museum. The league would get the tavern if it could prove that it is financially able to restore the building, and if a savings and loan association does not exercise its right to occupy the corner of 15th and F streets, where the Rhodes stands. When the savings and loan firm sold its building to Carr, the contract specified its right to locate on that corner, Carr also indicated that the tavern would be made available to the Junior League only if the city approves one of his alternative plans - either a plan that preserves landmarks and grants him a subsidy, or a plan under which all buildings except the tavern would be demolished and replaced by new construction.
Mayor Walter E. Washington's office announced this week that an application has been prepared for an Urban Development Action Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to cover the $5.8 million cost. If the City Council approves it, the application will be submitted to HUD by Oct. 31, according to the mayor's office.
Carr claims that prospects are not good for getting the federal money. Grants will be announced in December, and Carr says that HUD officials have advised him not to count on any funds.
Carr has suggested that the District government make up the deficit by giving him surplus city property - either the Georgetown incinerator site or the Summner and Magruder school buildings at 17th and M streets NW. The Carr company has also suggested that the city freeze the tax assessments on the new building for a set period. City officials say these actions would require legislation.
State Historic Preservation Officer Lorenzo Jacobs asked whether saving the landmarks is worth the $5.8 million in subsidies, which could take away funds from other city projects.
"We've watched the city be destroyed," answered Tom Lodge, chairman of the advisory neighborhood commission that represents downtown. "Anything the city can do to preserve these buildings is worth it."
But Leila Smith, representing Don't Tear it Down, the city's leading preservation group, disagreed.
"We're on a roller coaster of figures and of what's asked of the city," said Smith, adding that she planned to have Carr's figures analyzed by experts.
Carr, at last week's meeting, showed one other plan that would require no public subsidy. Under the scheme, the Rhodes Tavern and the Albee Building would be demolished and the Metropolitan Bank facade, a Beaux Arts marble structure, would be preserved and incorporated into the new structure.
But James Fahey, the city zoning administrator, announced that under a 1910 law, Carr might not be able to build as large a building as planned. City officials and the Carr firm are trying iron out that problem this week.
Sources within the Carr organization say they doubt that any buildings will be demolished next Wednesday, when the 180-day delay in demolition is over, but say that Carr will probably obtain demolition permits at that time.