The District’s sleepy Southwest quadrant is set to be jolted awake this fall by concertgoers arriving on water taxis, diners noshing at buzzy restaurants and pedestrians strolling a new European-inspired cobblestone promenade.
Eleven years after Monty Hoffman won development rights from the city, he is delivering the first half of his ambitious 3 million-square-foot development proposal for the Southwest Waterfront, the Wharf.
Hoffman-Madison Waterfront’s 24-acre neighborhood comprises $2.2 billion worth of apartments, hotels, offices and retail along a new boardwalk on the banks of the Washington Channel. Four new piers, a new yacht club and 500 boat slips are planned to enliven the harbor. The $60 million Anthem, a 6,000-person indoor concert venue operated by the owners of the 9:30 Club, is to be among the first completed buildings to open in October. Another set of buildings are slated to open in quick succession between October and spring 2018.
The second half of the project, another 1.15 million square feet of office, hotels and residential, should start construction in mid-2018 and be complete by 2021, developers estimate.
The city has invested $198 million in the project’s infrastructure, covering everything from sewers to the 60-foot-wide cobblestone promenade, which can be closed off for events like the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
The public investment comes as city leaders seek to reinvigorate the economy in Washington’s smallest quadrant, which has lagged behind the boom seen in areas such as 14th Street and Shaw. PN Hoffman came to the Wharf having developed several condominium projects that contributed to the revitalization of Logan Circle and the 14th Street corridor.
“The waterfront has been the back door of the city for the longest time,” said Shawn Seaman, senior vice president of development at PN Hoffman.
The Wharf team wants to change that perception.
Stanton Eckstut, a principal at master planner and architect Perkins Eastman, said he created a network of small roadways and tiny interior streets to make the large development feel less monolithic. The buildings pair with two public parks, four piers, the boardwalk and sidewalk cafes to create new pedestrian experiences along the mile-long stretch.
“The more places there are, the more reason people will come,” Eckstut said.
The 400-foot District Pier, the first of its kind in the city, offers views of Washington’s monuments and Southwest’s sprawling new neighborhood.
“It’s pretty spectacular,” Seaman said.
Though PN Hoffman won in 2006 the redevelopment rights for the Southwest waterfront, the Wharf did not break ground until 2014. The Wharf was slowed by normal forces like zoning and permitting, but also by the fallout of the financial crisis, which hurt potential partners.
Then there was the property’s unique location along a federal city’s shoreline, which is largely owned by the federal government. Local and federal agencies disputed land and water rights for the new development. The project ultimately went through more than two dozen agencies for approval and required Congress to pass three laws.
Hoffman poured in millions of his own money to keep the project afloat. He previously described the years between winning the project in 2006 and breaking ground with new partner Madison Marquette in 2014 as a “lonely” time.
“I have a lot of friends now,” said Hoffman, who believes his risky endeavor has paid off.
Not counted among those friends is Sunny White, the owner of several of the businesses at the historic fish market at Maine Avenue.
The Wharf includes a new fish market that will retain many of the existing tenants, including White’s rival vendor, Jesse Taylor Seafood.
White brought a lawsuit against the Wharf developers, alleging the developers have harassed him and are trying to force out his businesses. The developers contend that White does not have proper permits, may hold outdated leases and owes rent. The case has yet to be resolved.
Legal disputes are not the only complication for the development.
If The Wharf delivers on its promise of being a destination neighborhood for residents and tourists alike, it will have to manage how well those people are able to get to and from the waterfront.
A two-level, 1,300-car parking garage spans the length of the development below the ground, providing more than the required spots under the District’s zoning regulations. The garage has posed its own complications, having been built above Metro’s Yellow Line.
There will be water taxi service to destinations such as Alexandria, Georgetown, Nationals Park and, perhaps in the future, Reagan National Airport. The Wharf’s residences and businesses will fund a shuttle to and from the L’Enfant Plaza Metrorail station, which is less than a 10-minute walk from the Channel Apartments, the largest residential building of the bunch, with 500 units. There will be four Capital Bikeshare stations and dedicated bike lanes that connect with the Anacostia River Trail.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Andy Litsky, who has lived in Southwest for more than three decades, said there has been concern among some in the community about the traffic impacts of thousands of new residents. But he said it would be unfair to single out the Wharf as the problem.
“Come on down to Southwest. You have a crane on every block in addition to what’s happening at the waterfront,” Litsky said.
Litsky credits Hoffman for treating the surrounding community as a partner and to working with neighborhood leaders to address concerns as they arise.
“That is something that most developers don’t do,” Litsky said.
Though a six-month-long grand-opening period is planned filled with ribbon cuttings, holiday ice skating and spring cherry blossom festivities, the Wharf team is already diving into the less glamorous work of its second phase.
The team developers recently announced the 11 architects who will design the remaining office, residential and retail buildings. As they did with the first phase, the project team sought out a range of talent and styles to prevent the project from taking on a uniform appearance.
“Every building will have its own identity,” said Eckstut, the master planner.
The project will go before the Zoning Commission in the next year for review of the new architects’ work.
Even if Hoffman and his team are charging ahead, the nearby community is eagerly awaiting the Oct. 12 opening.
“What is coming to fruition on the waterfront is what the great majority of people in Southwest have wanted,” Litsky said.
They will reclaim the waterfront, enjoying new parks, restaurants and the water itself.
“I moved down to Southwest with a kayak but never had a place to put it in,” Litsky said. “Now I need to get another one.”