The District of Columbia's West End, a Northwest neighborhood that not long ago was an ignored and decaying part of town, has witnessed an economic revitalization in recent years that has brought with it more than two million square feet of new office and hotel space.
Once an area that developers wrote off as being too dangerous to risk any money in, the West End now has had hundreds of millions of dollars in new construction projects poured into it during the last five years by investors eager to take advantage of its convenient location.
Today, the 99-acre neighborhood sandwiched between the downtown area and Georgetown, is nearly filled, with only a few remaining parcels yet to be developed.
"I believe there's a success story there," said D.C. planning director Fred Greene.
While most West End developers agree with Greene, others, especially long-time residents, criticized the building boom for not including more residential projects. Neighborhood leaders claimed that the development, which has been limited to mostly huge office and hotel complexes, is ruining any residential character that survived over the years.
Christine Garner, a retired District school teacher who has lived at 1136 25th St. NW for 46 years, said the West End "was once a nice peaceful place. Now you can hardly see the sky" because of the glut of tall offices and hotels.
Garner, whose 100-year-old row house is on the last remaining residential streets in the West End, fondly recalled the days when her neighborhood was a mix of black and white residents and "where everybody knew each other. . . . Today, there's not the spirit like there used to be."
Directly north of Foggy Bottom, the West End, extending northwest of Washington Circle, is bounded by Rock Creek on the west, New Hampshire Avenue and 22nd Street on the east, N Street on the north and K Street on the south.
With downtown land prices skyrocketing and land becoming more scarce in recent years, some of the city's major developers began flocking to the West End, an area they deemed was just right for rebirth. Within the last five years, at least eight major office and hotel projects totaling more than two million square feet of space have been completed. Currently, five more office and hotel projects are under way, and an additional four are slated to begin later this year.
The hotels have become a major ingredient in the West End's rebirth. Seven upscale hotels are now situated within four blocks of each other, some on streets that only five years ago were mostly off-limits to tourists after dark because of crime.
The intersection of 24th and M, where three new luxury hotels are located, has been dubbed "hotel corner" by some in the area. The Grand Hotel, a 263-room facility with rates ranging from $165 to $1,200 nightly, opened in 1984. Last December, the 416-room Westin Hotel opened its doors with rates similar to the Grand. And in less than two months, the Park Hyatt is scheduled to begin operating its 233-room facility. Rates there will range from $175 to $1,750 nightly.
"The West End is becoming more and more attractive," said John Donovan, vice president of leasing for Oliver T. Carr Co., which has constructed more than one million square feet of space in the neighborhood. Carr's three office buildings in the West End, like most other projects in the area, are 100 percent leased -- a statistic that many buildings in other redeveloping sectors of the District cannot boast.
Donovan attributed the community's draw to the area's revitalization and the cheaper rates charged for leasing new office space. The annual rents of $28 to $34 per square foot are about 6 percent to 10 percent cheaper than rents in the downtown area.
Over the last three decades, the central core of the West End had deteriorated into an urban wasteland, composed of decrepit industrial buildings, abandoned warehouses, auto shops and parking lots. Surrounding that area were mostly row houses and mid-rise apartment buildings. By the mid-1970s, vacant land and parking lots accounted for nearly 40 percent of the area.
In 1972 and 1973, the District issued two reports detailing the problems of the neighborhood and recommendations for its revitalization. Part of the plan called for rezoning much of the neighborhood, stressing residential development.
"To cover the area with office buildings would be a mistake," said the 1972 report "New Town for the West End." Consequently, in 1974, the city approved an unusual mixed-use zoning pattern for the area that, officials reasoned, would encourage new housing as well new office construction in the blighted neighborhood.
The city's dream a decade ago of bringing new offices to the West End has clearly been realized. In 1973, only 408,000 square feet of office space existed in the neighborhood. Now there's five times that much and more is on the way.
Developers "have pretty well filled up the area in the last four years," said Mary Mottershead, the development director for Kaempfer Co., a developer that is currently constructing a 230,000-square-foot office and retail building at 1250 24th St.
Other large-scale commercial projects under way include the Columbia Hospital Professional Building at 25th and M streets, One Westin Center, an Oliver T. Carr building at 2445 M St.; and 2300 N St., a joint venture between Boston Properties and U.S. News and World Report.
A number of other buildings are also planned for the area, including 1227 25th St., owned by the Bureau of National Affairs, a publishing company that has owned property in the West End for 50 years; 1255 22nd St., a joint venture project by TASEA Investment Co., developer Richard Cohen and restaurateur Ulysses G. (Blackie) Auger; 2301 N St., another joint venture between Boston Properties and U.S. News, and 2200 N St., which was recently sold by the Carr Co. for $11.4 million to a Chicago development firm and Embassy Suites, a subsidiary of Holiday Corp., formerly Holiday Inn.
But the city's plan to build new housing in the area has, for the most part, failed. Critics of the lack of new housing in the West End point to the District's inclusion in the 1974 zoning laws of hotels in the residential category.
As a result, hotel construction has flourished, with actual residential building limited to only a handful of projects during the last decade.
Robert W. Lowe, a board member of TASEA Investment Co., said, "You just can't build residential projects down here. It's not economically feasible."
Ralph Rosenbaum, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative for part of the West End, said he is upset that the area has become home to so many hotels, which he said only gives the area "a transient population that's not really interested in supporting a neighborhood."
But all three managers of the 24th and M Street hotels disagreed with Rosenbaum.
"I cannot think of one negative thing" about the development of the West End, said Thomas Gurtner, Westin's general manager.