After years of pitched fights over the future shape of the Georgetown waterfront, the first phase of Washington Harbour, the controversial $200 million condominium, hotel and office complex on the Potomac River, is finally opening for business.
With 32 of the 38 high-priced condominiums in the project sold and more than 70 percent of the office space leased at top-of-the-market rents, the developers already are crowing about the project's success.
"I really think we have gone all out on building a quality building, and that is why we're leasing well," said Herbert S. Miller, president of Western Development Corp. of Georgetown, the lead developer for the project.
"We're convinced that the office user and people looking for a special residence want more than bricks and mortar."
While Western has arguably given the city much more than bricks and mortar in this massive mixed-use project, the Georgetown activists who fought for more than five years to block construction of the complex say they are concerned that Western will not live up to its promise to give them the one thing they wanted for the riverfront: a park.
After a protracted war that included numerous rounds before the federal Commission of Fine Arts, the D.C. historic preservation officer, the National Capital Planning Commission and several different levels of the court system, there is one remaining bone of contention between the activists and Western: a promise Western made to contribute $1 million to convert a city-block-sized parcel just to the west of the complex into a park.
Miller said the company will honor its commitment, but some citizen activists aren't so sure.
Washington Harbour has, from first conception, been an unusual blend of attractions for the general public on one hand and the most private, elite of Washington on the other.
The project sits within the boundaries of National Park Service property along the riverfront. Arthur Cotton Moore, the architect of the complex, said that the ground level, which has stores, restaurants, a spectacular fountain and a public boardwalk along the edge of the water, was designed "to be a very egalitarian space," while the upper floors, including the condominiums and the office space, were designed to be "as exclusive a neighborhood as you could find in the city.
"Even though all the construction on the promenade is not finished yet, there are people already fishing out there and walking up and down," Moore said. "It is the only project along the river that connects with the river, gives people a place to walk down to the water, and people like that."
The first phase of the seven-story project, with two semi-circular, turreted buildings facing each other, stands nearly complete. Construction teams are putting in the last of the windows, laying marble floors in the condominiums -- located on the top three floors of the west building to take advantage of the spectacular views of the Potomac -- and working on the 24 pages of computer instructions that will operate the complex $2 million "water dance" fountain.
The first phase, which, in addition to the condominiums, includes 500,000 square feet of office space, six restaurants and a handful of small retail shops, has been built by Washington Harbour Associates, a joint venture of Western; CSX Resources Inc. of Richmond, the real estate arm of the Chessie-Seaboard Railroads; and KanAm Realty Inc. of Atlanta, the U.S. division of the German investment firm KanAm International.
Rosewood Hotels Inc., a chain of luxury hotels financed by the Caroline Hunt Trust Estate, is building the second phase of the complex on the parcel between Washington Harbour and Rock Creek. The Rosewood complex will include a 120-room, four-star hotel connecting to a 106,000-square-foot office building.
In exchange for an agreement with the National Park Service over the lifting of a 20-foot height limitation for the Rosewood hotel, Rosewood also has promised to spend at least $1 million to landscape and reinforce the creek bank, providing public trails along the creek and restoring an old canal lock near the property.
The National Park Service, however, has said it will not give Rosewood clear title to its land until Western provides the Park Service with a letter of credit confirming that the developer will spend a full $1 million for the park to the west of the buildings already built. The D.C. city government, which originally owned the parcel, turned title over to the Park Service last year. Rosewood, which has been waiting for several years to get started on the hotel, cannot break ground until it gets clear title.
Miller said Western Development is planning to meet with the Park Service next week, but that "we have given them what we think is correct." Miller said the company already has spent "several hundred thousand dollars" of the $1 million, including work excavating historical artifacts from the site, leveling the plot and designing the landscaping.
Donald Shannon, past president of the Citizens Association of Georgetown and now a member of the board, said the $1 million originally was promised for the landscaping, not preparing the site for landscaping.
"The $1 million was supposed to be for beautifying the park," Shannon said. "Miller has continually promised the same thing over and over, but the money never comes through."
Miller, however, said the company already has spent between $6 million and $7 million on the public spaces in the complex.
For the office tenants, who are paying annual rents ranging from $29 to $42 a square foot, the lush detailing and exclusive environment were strong attractions.
"We took this space for a number of reasons," said Randolph H. Waterfield Jr., managing partner for the Washington offices of Arthur Young & Co., the international accounting firm.
"Naturally, the location was a drawing card and, in addition, the architecture is spectacular, taking full advantage of some of Washington's most scenic views." Arthur Young took two full floors of the building, including a domed conference room with a 180-degree view of the river.
Another tenant is the D.C. public relations firm Gray & Company Public Communications International Inc., which recently agreed to be acquired by JWT Group Inc., the giant New York communications holding company. Gray & Co. will be merged with Hill & Knowlton Inc., a public relations subsidiary of JWT.
Michael Deaver, the controversial former White House aide whose public relations activities are now under investigation, leased space in the complex several weeks ago. Gerald Holcombe Co., an investment firm, and Herman Miller, a furniture designer, also have leased space in the building.
The exclusive condominiums have ranged in price from $400,000 for a two-bedroom with a view of the Whitehurst Freeway and an earful of its noise to $4 million for a double-unit complex with roof terraces overlooking the river and a marble-floored circular living room 40 feet wide and ringed with windows.
While the units vary in detail, most of them come with separate service entrances, marble fireplaces, mahogany kitchens and gold-plated bathroom fixtures, including bidets and whirlpool tubs.
In addition to the high cost, condominium fees at the project range from $690to $2,700 a month. The rooftop swimming pool will be "the most exclusive" swimming club in the city with only 36 family members, said Beatriz Fakler, the real estate agent handling sales of the condos for Washington Harbour.
There are six units left for sale, including one priced at $1.95 million that has a large living room, a music room area, broad views of the river, two bedrooms, 4 1/2 bathrooms and a room for a maid. The cheapest unit on the market is priced at $475,000 and overlooks the freeway, with two bedrooms and two small roof terraces.
While most of the names of purchasers of the condos have not been disclosed, Washington Harbour Associates said that Georgetown real estate agent Vicki Bagley, Peoples Drug Store board Chairman Sheldon Fantle and Seagram Liquor Chairman Edgar M. Bronfman have purchased units. None of the purchasers could be reached for comment.
New York restaurateur Warner LeRoy, who is building a 1,000-seat restaurant called Potomac on the ground floor of the complex, said this week he is planning to hold a grand-opening $175-a plate benefit for Children's Hospital in mid-July.
The restaurant, which features a brass model train running around the railing of the balcony, an 800,000-piece crystal and glass lace ceiling and 24 chandeliers -- each with 75 lights and weighing 3,000 pounds -- will open to the public at the end of July or the beginning of August.
A Japanese sushi and tempura restaurant, Hisago, is already open, and several other restaurants are expected to open sometime this summer, including Alhambra, a French Moroccan restaurant, and the Pink Pearl, which will feature Hunan-style Chinese curries.
The retail shops, which will include a chocolatier, a jewelry store, a clothing boutique, a Riggs National Bank branch office and a drugstore, are expected to open later this fall.