Title to the historic Willard Hotel on Pennysylvanis Avenue will pass today to the U.S. government and the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp., which is expected to ensure the hotel's renovation and reopening.
The once elegant hostlery at 14th Street and the Avenue, which has fallen into disrepair since its closing in 1968, will be purchased by the government-sponsored corporation with a 'good-faith' deposit of $4.55 million. The eventual full purchase price will be decided in negotiations with the Willard's private owners.
The U.S. Court of Claims ordered the purchase a year ago, and the agreement on the initial payment was filed last week with the court. Title is expected to change hands formally today in a real estate closing procedure.
With the closing and the subsequent transfer of the title the development corporation will be able to ask developers for bids to renovate and operate the hotel. 'Our intention is not to sit on this property, but to get it back into actibe use, said PADC director William A.Barnes.%TPADC officials said a developer could be selected as soon as six months from now, which might allow reopening of the hotel within two or three years.
Once lavish lodgings where presidents lived and history was made, the hotel encountered financial difficulty in the 1960s and finally was closed in 1968. The hotel escaped scinstead its contents and decorations were auctioned off. Since then, vandals, time and weather have taken a further toll on the building, which stands three blocks from the White House.
On Jan.26, 1977, the Court of Claims rulthat the United States government was, in effect the owner of the hotel because it had 'so impeded and restrained the (private owners) as to deprive them of any reasonable use of their property.'
Among other things, the owners had wanted to tear down the building and consttuct a modern office building at the site andhad been prevented from doing so.
Owners Charles B.Benenson and Robert H. Arnow had filed a cliam asking for damages in excess of $8 million for the government's alleged wrongful taking of the hotel. The ourt said a trial judge must determine the effective date of taking by the government and how much compensation is due the owners.
Negotiations are continuing over how much money the government must pay for the hotel. The $4.55 million deposit agreed to by the parties is 'an estimate by PADC alone of the current fair market value of the Willard Hotel property, exclusive of all interest, costs, expenses and damages' claimed by the owners, the agreement filed with the courts said. Earlier the parties to the usit ahd agreed to July 1, 1974, as the date the government in effect, took the Willard.
According to the agreement, if the amount of compensation ultimately determined by the court is more than the $4.55 million, the government will pay the difference plus any interest awarded by the court. If the final the private owners will return the difference and any interest awarded to the government. The owners paid $3 million for the hotel, and have said they have lost $300,000 annually on it since 1968.
The agreement calls for the money to be deposited with the title company making settlement and for the PADC to pay closing costs including title examination, notary fees and others.
Among the reasons for the settlement, the papers filed in court note that all parties agree that it is in their interest and in the public interest 'that further deterioration of Willard Hotel be stopped' by conveying to PADC the title and allowing redevelopment of the hotel to begin.
The corporation will take immediate steps to physically secure and protect the hotel, a PADC spokeswoman said. Among the steps that PADC officials have mentioned is putting a tarp over the roof to help prevent water damage. Such damage could undermine the building's structure and sharply increase the ocsts of restoration, they said.
Three development groups have expressed interest in renovating the hotel and operating it. The cost of acquiring and renovating the hotel has been estimated at about $22 million. The PADC is considering a variety of proposals for helping a developer to meet the costs of renovation.
In another development yesterday, the National League of Cities announced that it will move its head-quarters from the more fashionable in-town area west of 15th Street to Washington's old downtown. League officials said the organization qoudl become chief tenant and a partner in a $17 million, 12 story office building next to the National Theater at 13th and E Streets NW.
Tome Moody, mayor of Columbus, Ohio, and president of the league, said that the organization will lease a third of the building, the first non-governmental office building to be built under the Pennsylvania Avenue redevelopment plan. The building will be developed by Quadrangle Development Corp. of Washington and Vector Realty of New York with the league as a partner with a 10 per cent interest.
The league also has an option to buy the building in 15 years, which it expects to exercise, said Moody.
'We're delighted to see them do it,' said John Fondersmith of the city's planning office. 'It's the first national orgaization coming to Pennsylvania Avenue. We think other national organizations and corporations will want to come, too.'
Announcement that National League of Cities will move its headquarters to new building at 13th and E Streets NW is made by, from left, William A. Barnes, executive director of Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp.; NLC President Tom Mood, and D.C. Council Chairman Sterling Tucker.