Developers of the Southwest Waterfront held a showy groundbreaking ceremony with D.C. officials Wednesday, kicking off a 42-month construction project that will turn the sleepy strip of restaurants into a boardwalk with apartments, offices and hotels.

The project, called the Wharf, has been in the works since 2006, spanning the terms of three mayors and requiring the approval of dozens of local and federal government agencies with oversight over the 27 acres of land and 50 acres of water in the Washington Channel.

Many of the project’s stakeholders came to see it launch. Packed into a white tent to stay out of the rain, they listened to more than 90 minutes of speeches from project investors, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and three members of the D.C. Council who are running to replace him.

Gray, who won his first election, to the council, in 2004, said it was the largest crowd he had seen at a groundbreaking, and the ceremony may have been the longest. The Wharf is beginning after developers PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette landed at least $220 million from a Canadian pension fund manager. PN Hoffman, led by chief executive Monty Hoffman, was part of a team selected for the project in 2006.

Plans for the first phase include apartments, condos, ­offices, three hotels, a movie theater, a jazz club, a piano bar, a country-western bar, an Irish pub and a 6,000-capacity concert hall to be run by the owner of the 9:30 Club. Hoffman and his partner are seeking approval to adorn the nearby Francis Case Memorial Bridge with LED lighting by the firm that decorated London’s Tower Bridge during the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Hoffman thanked Gray, former Mayor Anthony Williams (who did not speak) and council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), all of whom have supported the project on the council. Hoffman was joined on stage by his father — a builder whom he credited with inspiring him at a young age — and Oliver T. Carr Jr., patriarch of a family real estate empire that plans to build an Intercontinental hotel as part of the project.

Officials thanked Hoffman for sticking with the project through the real estate bust, during which he says he operated his company at a loss for five years to keep the Southwest project afloat.

Victor Hoskins, Gray’s deputy mayor for planning and economic development, said it was a testament to perserverence. “This was not an easy project,” he said.

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