Developer Giuseppe Cecchi, who was granted major construction concessions this year so he could build the massive Techworld high-tech trade mart next to the Washington Convention Center, has told the city Zoning Commission that lenders will not finance the $240 million complex unless the agency's restrictions are weakened further.
Cecchi has asked the commission, which approved the controversial project on a 3-to-2 vote in March, to remove a requirement that the building always be used at least partly as a trade center for the high-technology industry.
Instead, Cecchi, who developed the Watergate complex, asked the agency to impose the trade center requirement only "during the initial lease period." His lawyer, J. Kirkwood White, said that could be five to 10 years, although no specific period was mentioned in Cecchi's request to the commission.
When the first leases have expired, Cecchi said, he would "use best-faith efforts to continue to market and lease the trade center," which is planned for the virtually vacant two-block area bounded by Seventh, Ninth, I and K streets NW. But Cecchi could turn the trade center into more conventional office space or some other use if the trade mart is not economically successful.
"The potential lenders of the project will not finance the project with the current restrictions," Cecchi told the commission in a July 1 letter.
He submitted letters from executives of Perpetual American Bank, Equitable Real Estate Investment Management Inc. and Citicorp Real Estate Inc., all of whom said they would not help finance the project unless the requirement was lifted that Techworld always be used as a high-tech trade mart.
The commission is scheduled to consider Cecchi's request Thursday. In the past, city officials, including Mayor Marion Barry, have staunchly supported Cecchi's complex, which includes a 910-room Ramada Inn, as a keystone in efforts to redevelop the faded blocks around the Convention Center.
Cecchi's request for more concessions has drawn a sharp protest from two groups that opposed the Techworld design during lengthy hearings this year, the D.C. Preservation League and the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, an urban planning group.
Their opposition has stemmed largely from Cecchi's approved plan to build a controversial five-story-high passageway between two wings of the complex, starting 75 feet above Eighth Street NW. In addition, they opposed Cecchi's plan to close Eighth Street, narrow it from its present 100-foot width and turn it into a walkway and courtyard for Techworld, with a width of between 60 and 85 feet.
However, the sharply divided commission rejected claims by these groups and the Smithsonian Institution that the passageway and the narrowing of Eighth Street would desecrate Pierre L'Enfant's 1793 plan for the development of the nation's capital by obstructing the vista for the street.
The Eighth Street view now extends from the University of the District of Columbia's Carnegie Library on K Street south to the National Museum of American Art on G Street.
Maureen E. Mahoney, an attorney who represents the Preservation League and the Committee of 100, said that if Cecchi's International Developers Inc. does not "want to live with the conditions for construction of the trade center , then they shouldn't get the concessions."
"If they're building a large structure for office space, then what possible need is there for a bridge?" she asked. Cecchi has told the commission that the Eighth Street bridge is necessary to provide large chunks of display space for the high-tech products.
White said Cecchi's pledge to use the complex as a high-tech trade center during the initial lease period is "not an insubstantial commitment. The expectation of Cecchi is that he will make a success of it. The banks are saying, 'We'll back it, but we want the automatic flexibility after those leases expire.' "
Cecchi said in his letter to the commission that "the lenders require that the Techworld developers and operators have the flexibility required to achieve the economic success for the project not only at the outset but for a period of time at least equal to the duration of the 40-year mortgages. Our lenders must know that we have the flexibility now and in the future to adapt to changing market conditions in order to maintain the economic feasibility of the project."
In addition, Cecchi asked the commission for a variety of other changes in the approved design or other aspects of the project.
In several instances, the commission ordered Cecchi to complete the construction according to the plans his firm submitted. Cecchi has now asked that he be allowed to complete it "substantially" as he proposed.
"The team of architects is uncomfortable in preparing the building permit drawings because they do not have the necessary flexibility to integrate design improvements that will make Techworld a successful project," Cecchi told the commission.
During the earlier hearings, Cecchi said he would support a job-training program for entry-level employment at the project. He now has asked the commission to limit the commitment for the program to the first five years that the building is occupied.