The Federal City Council, a civic group concerned with community development issues in the District, will ask the National Capital Planning Commission July 7 to approve plans for a $215 million U.S. International Cultural and Trade Center at the waterfront end of L'Enfant Plaza.
The plan envisions a complex that would act as a magnet for international activity for both foreign and domestic tourists and a showcase for Washington as an "international" capital city.
Council planners, working closely with city officials and federal agencies, expect to include space for a wide range of international activities, from bazaars and changing exhibits to offices for international organizations and space for trade, diplomatic and travel-oriented federal agencies.
The complex would cover 2.7 million square feet in a sprawling series of low-rise, terraced buildings along the north side of Maine Avenue from Seventh to 11th Streets SW.
Arnold J. Prima, Jr., vice president of Mariani & Associates, Inc.--the council's architectural consultants--said the design is an attempt to blend the concrete structure into the residential town house and high-rise development to the east and into L'Enfant Plaza to the north.
"The idea was to maintain the vistas from both the hotels at L'Enfant and from the residential community to the water," Prima said.
Council executive vice president Kenneth R. Sparks said the current idea is to develop the ambitious project through a quasi-governmental corporation that Congress would have to establish. "That legislation," he said, "would also allow us to finance the project with bonds."
To begin the ambitious undertaking, the Council and the District government went to the Commerce Department last December for a $75,000 planning grant from the agency's Economic Development Administration (EDA). This year, EDA chief Carlos Campbell agreed to up the planning grant ante to a total of $250,000.
"This was an environment waiting to be captured," Campbell said of the waterfront area that is now graced by few amenities. "With the original $75,000, nobody had a firm handle on what the scope of this was going to be. By increasing the funding, we gave them a lot of time to move the project forward."
Save for the grassy five-acre Interior Department property used for little more than brown-bag picnics at the southern end of L'Enfant Plaza, the area is now largely a collection of parking lots divided by the fast-moving, multi-lane Maine Avenue SW. Congressional approval of the project will have to include provisions allowing Interior to transfer its park land to the quasi-governmental entity. So far, Interior has agreed to discuss this proposal.
Besides Interior's parcel, the rest of the four acres of the development will be on an adjacent 500-space commercial parking lot controlled by the District's Redevelopment Land Authority. John G. Parsons, associate director for land use coordination for the National Park Service in Washington, said he was "excited at the prospects of the project. So far, we have National Park Service director Russell Dickenson's approval to talk."
A small portion of the recreation field for Jefferson Junior High School will also be used. In that land shuffle, the shape of the school's playing field would be altered, but new tennis courts would be added--if District authorities agree, Sparks said.
Although council planners say they haven't tested Capitol Hill sentiment yet, an aide to the Senate Public Works and Transportation Committee attended a press briefing on the project. In addition, the plan is endorsed by the General Services Administration, which would be responsible for the federal space in the buildings, including construction management for the 1.6-million-square-foot office building and trade center and the 1,850-space parking garage.
GSA Public Buildings Commissioner Richard O. Haase explained that the concept was "unequivocally one of the best ideas we've heard of."
"This type of idea is exactly the philosophy that the administration is trying to promote," Haase said. "It provides rented federal office space with a reversionary clause: The buildings, at the end of the debt period, would be returned to the government ownership."
Haase said it is a goal of GSA Administrator Gerald P. Carmen to relinquish as much leased office space as possible and transfer employes to government-owend space. In this case, GSA will be paying rent for the 20- to 25-year bond period but will then own the building.
"Now, at the end of a 20-year period, all we end up with are rent check stubs," Haase said. "What this will also mean is that federal offices now spread all over town will be consolidated."
Residents in the area have participated in numerous meetings with the council's representatives to make sure that any concerns would be tended to early. Donald A. Brown, the developer of the Four Seasons hotel and the head of the council's task force on the center, said it is doubtless that some residents will object, but "as best as is possible, we are trying to meet the concerns of the community."
Council planners say in an "impact analysis" that the project would generate 3,000 new permanent jobs and it is estimated that 30 percent of the employes would be District residents. In addition, 550 new construction jobs would be associated with the project for the four-year, 1985-1988 time frame.
Retail sales and garage rents, the analysis states, "would generate $3.1 million in new income and sales tax in the District annually."
However, an environmental assessment and especially that assessment's study of traffic patterns in the area won't be ready for several weeks, Sparks said.
With more than 3,000 federal employes possibly working at the facility, in addition to the 3,000 new jobs, the already congested 14th Street bridge access at L'Enfant Plaza could become an even bigger parking lot than it now is in the evening rush hour.
"We just don't have those details available now," Sparks said.
As laid out by Mariani and Associates, Inc., the project will include four basic components:
* A "World Exposition Center," which would include a 300,000-square-foot permanent exhibition center and three auditoriums, including a 1,500-seat theater for traveling international cultural events.
An "International Trade Center," which would include chancery offices of foreign governments, a 150,000-square-foot trade exhibit area, a centralized passport and visa office and what amounts to storefront offices for any international organization that wants--and can afford--the estimated $22-a-square-foot space.
* An "International Education Center," which would include the State Department's Foreign Service training facility plus federal offices associated with foreign trade and export issues, including a part of the U.S. Information Agency and possibly parts of the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration or its U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration.
* An "International Bazaar" of foreign-government-sponsored specialty retail shops mixed with local retailers who offer specialty, internationally oriented wares.
Although not directly associated with the project, the development of international Smithsonian museums at the Quadrangle on Independence Avenue will be an additional drawing card for foreign visitors. Council planners say they envision a people mover of some type along the 10th Street L'Enfant promenade to bring people the five blocks from the Quadrangle museums to the center.
In addition, the Park Service's recent closing of nine holes of the 36-hole golf course on Hains Point is indirectly tied to the project. Sparks said that there are plans to have international sporting events on that tract along with other types of open-air bazaars. The property, which is separated from the waterfront by Washington Channel, would be accessable--they hope--by a commercially run ferry that would take people from Georgetown to the Waterfront to the Hains Point Park and to Alexandria's Old Town.
"We're just beginning to get the approvals and clearances necessary," Sparks said. "The first real stumbling block we have to overcome is the Planning Commission, which will have to agree to amend the urban renewal plan" to allow the development.