The view to the north from the District Building is likely to change significantly with the next five years - maybe even sooner.
For openers, the historic Willard Hotel, recently acquired by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp., is scheduled to be restored and an adjacent site redeveloped into commercial space on the avenue. The corporation, which was created by Congress, has advertised for proposals and will eventually sign a contract with a private developer.
The Oliver T. Carr Co., which has been highly active in downtown and West End development is interested - among others.
Meanwhile, proposals also are being sought by the corporation, which was set up to plan and guide the redevelopment of the historic avenue, for the 123,000 square feet of commercial property fronting Pennsylvania between 13th and 14th streets NW. This site includes the aged Munsey Building, the adjacent National Theater, a parking garage and several commercial properties.
Other than the restoration of the Willard, a major thrust of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp. is evident in the block bounded by E, F, 13th and 14th streets. Included is the old Loews Palace theater, a section of which is about to razed to make room for a 12-story office building that Quadrangle Development Corp. plans to start this summer at 13th and E.
To the west of that new building are the National Theater and Munsey Building, plus other commercial properties. More than six months ago, it was reported that the National Press Club (a landmark office building at 14th and F for more than 50 years) was planning with architect-developer John C. Portman Jr. of Atlanta to create a $100 million, hotel-office complex in stages.
That plan assumed the use of the ground along E Street and eventual razing and rebuilding of a building on the Press Club site after a new facility was created below it. But that's only one part of that story.
In its redevelopment leadership, the PADC recently advertised the availability of 123,000 square feet in the southwest sector of the block for development proposals.Joanne Newhouse of PADC said that more than 40 prospectuses have been sold at $25 a copy to developers and architects.She described it as "considerable interest."
The John Akridge Co., a relatively new Washington development firm, has become interested enough during the past year to make an outright purchase of leasehold agreements for the Munsey and National Theater sites from a group headed by Edmund and David Dreyfuss. Additionally, the Akridge group has agreements to buy all but one of the other properties along E. Street.
"We regard the National Press Club and the National Theater as the two prime elements in this block," said the 31-year-old Akridge. "Our approach and the proposal we will make are based on creating a new media building with the NPC as the owner and also in retaining the present National Theater or rebuilding it there.
"But that's just the beginning. Unlike the Portman-NPC approach, we do not plan a hotel. Rather, we see the total site as a prime place to develop 1.4 million square feet of modern office space, plus 200,000 square feet of retail area that incorporates mall and atrium concepts. Also, there would be parking for 1,200 cars."
Akridge said that the Washington architectural firm of Weihe, Black, Jeffries & Strassman is working on plans that will "respond to the size of the site and the opportunity for exciting retail facilities in a multi-level center. "The same architectural firm, whose designs are evident in a number of newer downtown office buildings, created the plans for Akridge's 1015 15th Street, an office building built partly over an existing alley that is under way at the northeast corner of 15th and K NW.
While noting that the Press Club admittedly favors the Portman plan for a big hotel that would generate 24-hour use of the site, Akridge said that he has had "good conversations" with both the NPC Building Corp, and the National Theater interests. "I think we could work with both with mutual satisfactions," he said.
What will happen to this prime downtown site is scheduled to be decided in upcoming months. Proposals are due July 5 and a decision on the development plan likely in October. With additional time seen necessary for the working out of details and changes, it is possible that construction could begin early in 1979.
If the Akridge proposal is selected, it would represent recognition of a new developer talent in town. The downtown office building scene has witnessed fairly broad developer participation in the past decade in the area between 15th and 23rd streets. However, much of the new construction has been done by the Charles E. Smith Companies, the Oliver T. Carr Co., Quadrangle, Swesnik & Blum, Blake Construction and Marshall Coyne.
Until 1974, Akridge was with Quadrangle and the allied firm of Gladstone Associates. He came here after growing up in Knoxville, Tenn., (where his parents are in real estate), studying mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, serving in the Army in Vietnam and getting a master's in business at Harvard.
Akrdige said that he formed his own firm here with risk capital backing but now uses area investors and an equity partnership agreement with Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co. of Philadelphia. Late last year he completed a small new office building at 1627 K St. NW, where his own office now is located.
The firm also acquired the site for the former H. L. Rust Co. building and nearby properties for the 1015 15th Street building, which will have more than 150,000 square feet of office and commercial space.
If those seem to be scant development credits, they are impressive to downtown office leasing professionals who work with developers. One downtown specialist said that Akridge is impressive because he does what he says he will do and also has an ability to be "knowledgeable without being arrogant."
In conversation, Akridge is much more at home talking business than self. For instance, he not only specializes in downtown property development but he also sees the likelihood of future private development moving north and east from the Willard and National Theater toward the Metro Center at 12th and G NW.
"Location is supposed to be the name of this game and that's the way I see it now," he said. "Downtown is coming back. And Metro and a lack of dirt to the west have changed our patterns."
On height limits and the fact that a special District dispensation has been granted for a few blocks on Pennsylvania Avenue, including the site in which he is interested, Akridge has a somewhat surprising view for a developer.
"I do not like skyscrapers," he commented. "I'd like to see Washington stay as it is."
The Akridge office is small and unprepossessing. Likewise the staff. Only recently did Akridge take on Henry E. Bowden, 33, a vice president. Like Akridge, he is a southerner who formerly worked for Quadrangle.