Howard University is planning to build an enclosed 30,000-seat domed stadium as part of an ambitious project that would include office space, stores and as many as 1,200 apartment units on 20 acres of blighted land along Georgia Avenue NW, according to university officials.
The "Howard Plaza" project, which would include the only domed stadium in the area, "will probably cost in excess of $150 million," according to a university official. The project has the support of city officials, who view it as the eastern anchor for the Shaw neighborhood, assuring redevelopment of the fraying community between the new municipal office building on 14th Street NW and the ailing Georgia Avenue corridor.
In November, university officials invited city officials and some of Washington's business leaders to the Howard Inn to see a model of the project and hear a presentation. Construction of the first part of the project, a shopping mall, could begin late this year, according to a consultant who helped draw up the proposal. The consultant asked not to be identified.
To build the project, in the area generally bounded by Georgia Avenue on the east, Barry Place on the north and Florida Avenue on the west and south, the university must first determine how it will be financed and meet a number of city requirements. Officials also are considering whether to hire a private developer for the project.
Howard University owns 95 percent of the land included in the proposal, an area now scarred by empty buildings left vacant since the 1968 riots destroyed businesses along the corridor.
"The Howard Plaza project would go a long way in helping to enrich an area from Florida Avenue to Catholic University," said Roger D. Estep, vice president for development and university relations. He said city officials and community residents who have viewed the plans have been "very enthusiastic about it."
City Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), whose ward includes the area, said, "I consider it to be a very significant development project which will contribute to the longevity of the Howard Inn the university-run hotel and act as a catalyst for further activity along the Georgia Avenue corridor."
Council member Frank Smith (D-Ward 1), whose ward borders the university and its environs, said, "I think this is the only way the lower area of Georgia Avenue will be developed."
"The city assisted Howard aggressively in acquiring the old junk yard which is included in the area proposed for development . We would very much like to see Howard University do something about that property," Smith said.
The largest problem may be financing the building of the stadium, a domed complex where football and basketball games could be played, the project consultant said. The stadium, expected to cost at least $75 million, is a particularly ambitious undertaking for a school with an athletic program that has attracted crowds averaging only 4,000 to 7,000 in the past.
University officials have created the Howard Foundation, "a separate legal entity set up by the university in 1984 to be responsible for off-campus real estate development," said Dr. William A. Davis Jr., the foundation's interim executive director. The foundation is studying financing, parking and traffic issues related to the project, officials said.
Davis said the multimillion-dollar proposal is the recommendation of "architects, engineers and legal counsel hired by Howard to study what might be developed on land owned by the university."
The proposed stadium would be one of the largest indoor sports facilities in the area. The Capital Centre in Landover seats 20,000, and the new Patriot Center at George Mason University in Fairfax County seats 10,000.
Compared with other U.S. domed stadiums, the proposed Howard facility would be fairly small. The Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., seats 80,000, and the Superdome in New Orleans seats 71,000.
Howard's proposed stadium, which would draw crowds and traffic to the area, is expected to be the most controversial feature of the redevelopment plan.
"I personally don't see why a stadium should be sitting on Georgia Avenue . . . in the center of the city," said Theresa Brown, president of the LeDroit Park Preservation Society.
"What kind of impact is that going to have on the traffic?" Brown said.
"I've heard about Howard Plaza, but I don't know what it is. They haven't discussed their plans with us. Howard has already sneaked in and bought houses, supposedly for development, and then let them stand until they fall down," she added.
Smith said, "I have suggested that Howard University circulate the plans for necessary community input. Howard has been assembling single-family housing in LeDroit Park for years and the property has fallen into disrepair."
However, the People's Involvement Corp. (PIC), a longtime antipoverty agency that is getting into development in the Georgia Avenue area, has become a partner with the university in the proposed development, PIC officials said.
PIC joined the development because it owns a building along Georgia Avenue that sits in the project area, the consultant said.