Declaring that downtown Washington "ready to come back" as a commercial area, developer Oliver T. Carr Jr. announced plans yesterday to erect a $40 million mall, hotel and office complex, filling the entire block to the north and west of Garfinckel's department store at 14th and F Street NW.
The announcement come sat a time of intense interest in the redevelopment of the downtown areas, where speculators and developers have for years been positioning themselves for a blossoming of new interest and new construction.
Now, with construction of the Metro subway system in Washington a vast refocusing of interest in the central city not only here but across the country, it seems such a blossoming may have begun. Carr's announcement follows announcements by two other major developers of nearby office, retail and hotel projects at 13th and E Streets downtown and of the present site of the National Press Building, 529 14th St. NW.
The Gardinckel's block at the western edge of Washington's downtown area, contains the historic Rhodes Tavern and Old Ehbit Grill, both of which the Carr organization plans to preserve. The tavern will be preserved intact and the interior of the grill preserved, although moved to an office location in the new complex.
The fate of two other historic landmarks is less certain, according to Carr's manager for the project, Clyde F. Newman III. The Metropolitan Bank Building and the Albee Building, which face across 15th Street toward the U.S. Treasury Building may have to be torn down, he said. He said these buildings could be preserved at an additional cost of $5 million, which might be obtained from a foundation or other source.
Carr said the project will include on 80,000 square foot two level shopping mall, a 365-room hotel 350,000-square-feet of office space and an underground garage for 500 to 700 cars. Garfinckel's could remain as an anchor store for the retail mall, Carr said.
Inside the complex, which would rist to 130 feet of the maximum allowed under the zoning regulations, there would be an open court with plants and fountains, Carr said. Shoppers would enter the complex either through the hotel, through Garfinckel's or through walkways on G Street.
However, Newman said plans fro the development are not final and will ultimately depend on the extent to which the city and citizens desire to retain the two historic landmark buildings on the 15th Street NW.
Carr said that in any case he hopes to attract a variety of high-quality clothing stores and restaurants to the complex. He said Garfinckel's was advising him on the type of tenants that would make up a successful shopping mall.
W.C. Detwiler, president of Garfinckels, said the store is "very excited" about the proposed complex.
"We're very, very positive about downtown," Detwiler said. "If this flies . . . it's going to be very exciting for the downtown area."
J. Kirkwood White, the city's assistant director of municipal planning, said the proposal "fits very well" with overall plans for the development of the old downtown area. He said the plan indicates Garfinckel's is interested in remaining at its present site and that this in itself is "encouraging."
White said the city would like to see the historic facade along 15th Street preserved, but did not suggest where the money to accomplish this would come from. He said the developer would achieve some federal tax relief in preserving the historic buildingns on 15th Street. If citizens object formally to the buildings being torn down, they have recourse to federal and city agencies that could hold up developments for nearly year and cost Carr a good deal of money.
Carr is one of the most active developers in Washington. He is putting up International Square on K Street NW in the city's "new downtown" that lies about a half-mile to the northwest of the Garfinckel's block, and is leading the broad effort of many developers to revitalize the city's rundown west end that lies just east of Georgetown.
Leila Smith, a spokesperson for the Washington preservation group called Don't Tear It Down, praised Carr and said that he has "a growing reputation for attractive buildings.
"We knwo he can do an attractive building on this block, one which will make a statment on it's own and include the important existing buildings on the block," Smith said.
Project manager Newman said the Carr organization has drawings of the proposed development on the site, but declined to offer them for public view until additional renderings are completed to show what the block would look like with all the historic buildings preserved.
Newman said that the Oliver T. Carr Co. already has signed contracts to purchase the holdings of threw major tandowners on the block and is negotiating contracts with two others. Newman declined declined to disclose the purchase prices in these contracts or the sources of Carr's financing, although he said the land costs were included in the $40 million development costs.
He said the contracts are with:
National Permanent Federal Savings and Loan Association, which owns about one-fourth of the block. This land has a parking lot and small building on it, Newman said. National Permanent vice president Vincent Mohler said yesterday that officers who would know about the deal were not available for comment.
The Cafritz Co., a real estate management company, which owns the Albee Building. Cafritz executive vice president Martin Atlas confirmed that the company has signed a contract to sell to Carr. calling the area "an outstanding location, unique."
American Security and Trust Co., which owns a vacant building on F Street, the Old Ebhitt Grill, Rhodes Travern and the Metropolitan Bank Building. James F. Rogers, American Security's senior vice president for public relations, confirmed the sale.
Newman said Carr is negotiations a contract with Washington Federal Savings and Loan Association, which owns its building on F Street. James Harris, the firm's president, yesterday confirmed this and said, "there are no problems we can't overcome." He said that under the terms of the contract, Carr would agree to relocate the savings and loan in another part of the complex.
Newman also said Carr is negotiating with American Federal Savings and Loan Association, which owns its office of 12th Street. American Federal officers could not be reached for comment last night.