NEGOTIATIONS ARE UNDER WAY between the National Press Club - which has hired the Atlanta based John Portman development corporation - and the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation to revitalize one of the most important blocks in downtown. The Press Club plan, still in its embryonic stage, calls for a 1,000-room hotel, office space, stores and restaurants, and a new National Theater - all on the block bounded by 13th, 14th, E and F streets NW. It's an exciting idea - on paper. It is also an exceedingly ambitious idea: It could do wonders to extend the after-hours life of an aging but promising part of downtown - or it could fall of its own weight. The Press Club has hired the John Portman development firm of Atlanta to handle the job, and much will depend on how well Mr. portman can apply his broad experience as a designer, developer and financial packager in Atlanta, Detroit and Los Angeles to the local scene.
The Portman-Press Club proposal has yet to get official approval from the PADC, though its prospects appear to be good. But the commission still intends to examine the effect that the proposa would have on the area. The plan would undoubtedly generate activity downtown and attract residents and tourists alike. It would be an incentive for other developers to propose new downtown projects and would complement the development of convention facilities in the area. The project would also bring additional revenue into the city through the creation of jobs and services that go along with developments of this kind. All this it would presumably do, once it were finished.
But what would happen to the area while the demolition work and the rebuilding were under way? The PADC ought to insist, before granting approval, that the development be carried outin stages so that all activity in the block isn't shut down at the same time. This is particularly important for two of the most active buildings in the area: the National Press Building and the National Theater. The National press Building should not be removed before its hundreds of tenants are provided with new lodging. And the National Theater is one of the few facilities that continue to generate downtown activity after business hours. Because of the historic signifcance of the theater and the plans for extensive renovation, it is important that the proposal be discussed with the National Theater's board of directors. The costs of replacing a theater in the area should be closely examined, from the standpoint of both economics and the long-range benefit to the theater itself. The idea here is to bring new life to downtown - with the least possible damage to the life that is already there.