Although it's been two years since the D.C. government revived its plan to lease the vacant streetcar tunnels under Dupont Circle, developers who submitted proposals still are anxiously awaiting the awarding of the contract.
The twin tunnels on either side of the Connecticut Avenue underpass were opened in 1949 to relieve traffic congestion on the city's busiest streetcar line. They have been closed since Washington's streetcar era ended in 1962.
For a brief time, the tunnels served as fallout shelters, but vandals broke in and stole the emergency food supplies.
A recent tour of one of the tunnels showed that little has changed since D.C. Transit stopped running the streetcars 22 years ago.
The streetcar tracks, tiled walls and stairwells to the streets around Dupont Circle are intact. The air under the tunnels is stagnant, and the area is dank and dark and filled with cobwebs. Below ground, one hears eerie echoes of the city traffic above on Dupont Circle.
Nine years ago, the city selected architect Arthur Cotton Moore to develop the underground area as a retail mall, but he was unable to obtain financing.
In 1982, the city solicited new leasing plans and received three proposals -- for a health club, a produce market and a columbarium, a repository for cremated remains.
Jose Gutierriez, the director of the D.C. Department of Administrative Services, said a decision is pending on the development of the tunnels.
"I have not focused at all on the Dupont tunnels since I took over the department in March," he said. "After I examine the files, I could decide on one of the three proposals or return the down payments and seek new ideas."
In September 1982, a three-member task force of city officials had recommended the health club proposal, but the decision was criticized by Dupont Circle residents and rival bidders who said the task force acted without citizen participation.
Later, City Auditor Otis Troupe said the department failed to follow its own procedures in considering the bids and should start the selection process all over. The local Area Advisory Neighborhood Commission urged the city to form a new panel with some community representatives.
Claude Roxborough, a D.C. attorney, and partners Harlene Cohen, Paul Hirsch and Jay Lamont envision the underground area as the Dupont Trolley Market, a specialty food and produce retailer similar to Eastern Market on Capitol Hill.
Roxborough said the market would have vendors at 20 or more stalls selling fresh produce, fish, flowers and health foods.
"A city report said our area needed more retail food space, and we wanted to make it the central focus of the community," he said. "It would be a gourmet kind of place."
Roxborough said he had some commitments from retailers, "but I don't know if they're still interested after two years."
Under the Dupont Trolley Market plan, the city would receive annual rent of $1 a square foot, but the company would get a $5-a-square-foot credit for its capital investment of more than $200,000. After the loan was paid off, the city would receive $6-a-square-foot rent, and the rent would be renegotiated every three years.
William Fitzgerald, president of Independence Federal Savings and Loan Association of Washington, submitted a proposal on behalf of Dupont Recreation Corp. to construct a health club. That proposal originally was recommended for selection by the task force.
The facility would have squash courts, exercise machines, a pro shop and a snack bar. The company would pay the city $50,000 a year or 4 percent of annual sales, whichever amount was greater.
John C. Pappas, a real estate developer and broker, wants to turn the vacant tunnels into a columbarium.
In a recent telephone interview, Pappas said he had written a letter to the D.C. corporation counsel last summer, complaining of "bureaucratic inaction" on the issue. He still is awaiting a reply.
"Our bid was the highest offer made and projected 10 times more in revenue than the other proposals," he said. "We would like to be awarded the contract."
Pappas said he put down a $10,000 deposit with his proposal, and the city is holding it in a non-interest-paying account. The other potential developers also submitted down payments.
Under Pappas' plan, the city would receive $60,000 a year for a 110-year lease, with rent renegotiated every 10 years. The niches would be sold like cemetery plots.
Bob Storey, a spokesman for the Department of Administrative Services, said that the department will recommend one proposal to City Administrator Thomas Downs and/or Mayor Marion Barry for a final decision.
"There are several factors -- including the social and political -- considered in selecting a developer," he said. "Which one will benefit people in the area? How will they affect traffic movement?
"Revenue enhancement for the city is a major factor in selecting a developer," Storey said, "but not the overriding one."