It’s freezing in the dust-and-concrete lobby of the Anthem, the new music venue under construction on Washington’s Southwest waterfront.
Not that this, or the sound of jackhammers pounding away at our eardrums, does anything to temper Seth Hurwitz’s enthusiasm.
The co-owner of the 9:30 Club and chairman of concert-booking group I.M.P. regularly fills a half-dozen of the city’s big music venues. But this one is something else.
“Do you know what those are?”
He points upward excitedly, at a handful of windows. They look like skylights, offering little more than a yawning glimpse of blue sky.
But by October, when the 6,000-capacity concert arena opens, they’ll look right into the glass-bottomed swimming pool of a chic pool club that’s going in up above.
Concertgoers will get a music performance — and another sort of show entirely: a prime view of backstroking bodies.
Several years ago, when the 9:30 Club, his beloved black-box club in Shaw, turned 30, Hurwitz told Washington Post readers in an online discussion that perhaps he could replicate the formula that had worked so well. “But then,” he wrote, “it wouldn’t be the 930 . . . not really.”
The $60 million Anthem is definitely not the 9:30 Club. Nor is it trying to be.
The Shaw club is in a cavernous, boxy brick building from the 1940s. There’s no large sign announcing the place. It has a tiny plexiglass ticket window.
The Anthem, on the other hand, will boast a large, free-standing box office on the waterfront, as well as a marquee. Bartenders will sling drinks at seven bars strung out over the venue’s three levels. And concertgoers can pony up for what have already been branded “super excellent seats,” for which Hurwitz is seriously considering using real love seats — making them the rock-and-roll equivalent of flying first class.
The Anthem will be operated by I.M.P. but is being built by the developers of the Wharf, the long-planned re-envisioning of Southwest Washington. The Wharf promises to do for this corner of the city what Nationals Park and Yards Park have done for Southeast, and what a seemingly overnight influx of restaurants has done for 14th Street: enliven the streets, encourage home buyers, fill out empty storefronts and pad the city’s pockets with tax dollars.
The Anthem has a role to play in all this, bringing people here who might otherwise go to Eagle Bank Arena in Fairfax or the Fillmore in Silver Spring. But it’s also about imbuing this manufactured place with a sense of cool.
The Anthem is not simply at the Wharf. It’s on the ground floor of a 505-unit luxury apartment building. Will residents see it as an amenity — or a nuisance?
Not far from the Anthem, banners hawking new apartments encircle the Southwest waterfront like velvet ropes outside an exclusive club.
“Discover what’s new on the water’s edge,” they proclaim.
A group of developers, led by PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette, are sharing in the multibillion-dollar redevelopment of the prime parcel looking out over the Washington Channel.
Washingtonians used to trek here, to Maine Avenue or Water Street, mostly for bushels of blue crabs or whiting peddled at the historic fish market, or for margaritas at the beachy Cantina Marina.
Touristy dinner cruises set off from the docks here, and just across Maine Avenue, the glittering, revamped Arena Stage opened in 2010, drawing hundreds each night. But there’s little to keep them after the actors take their bows. As for the rest of the waterfront, it has been a drab and unloved place, caught between messy federal vs. city wrangling.
Phase 1 of the Wharf project, stretching northwest from near Seventh Street SW almost to 14th Street, is scheduled to open in mid-October, with apartments, restaurants, a pair of modern hotels and the Anthem.
But similar master-planned, glass-and-steel attractions haven’t exactly received a warm reception from urban dwellers. Just outside the city in Maryland, National Harbor seems to exist mostly for conventioneers. And locals have largely shunned CityCenterDC, a dense block of ultraluxury retail shops, restaurants and high-end housing in the middle of downtown, the price tags on its Hermès bags perhaps too high for the average government serf.
Monty Hoffman, chief executive of PN Hoffman, is keenly aware of what he views as the missteps those developments made. They “were formulaic,” he says.
The Wharf, on the other hand, “is very urbane.”
He points to the cobblestone streets where workers are laying down gray brick. Parking garages won’t mar the sightlines here; they’ll be below ground. The columns surrounding the Anthem’s entrance? “They’re made to look like they’ve been here a hundred years,” Hoffman says.
If its architectural features mean to evoke the old, the Anthem itself represents a new approach to building concert sites. Music halls almost always operate at a safe remove from residential areas, often in far-flung or commercial neighborhoods. It’s no mystery why: Take a look outside the 9:30 Club or Echostage on show nights. Fans sometimes line up hours before a concert. People stand outside and smoke. An early business to venture into Shaw, the 9:30 Club has operated for years without many neighbors. Only recently were some of the city’s highest-priced rentals built adjacent to it.
When Hoffman secured development rights to the waterfront in 2006, they came with a stipulation to create space for the arts.
“I think in the city’s mind, they were looking at a museum or something like that,” Hoffman says. He convinced officials that a music space fit the bill. As he shopped for a promoter to run it, Hurwitz asked for a meeting.
Hurwitz had been looking for years to build something bigger than the 9:30 Club. Just a few dedicated arenas in the region — Merriweather Post Pavilion, Jiffy Lube Live and Verizon Center — can pack in 20,000 or more. The 9:30 Club, the Howard, Warner and Lincoln theaters and the Fillmore can handle capacities of 1,000 to 2,000.
In the middle — the kind of halls commanded by artists who have landed a Grammy nomination or a radio hit — there’s not much for the music fan to love: Bender Arena and DAR Constitution Hall weren’t built with guitar amps in mind.
“It’s one thing to take a warehouse and turn it into a nightclub,” Hurwitz says. “To create a concert venue of this size, that’s a big piece of property. For years, we’d go look at places, and every time we’d find one, it would get bought by a speculative developer type.”
In Hoffman, he found a partner.
But given the high cost of land, Hoffman says, “a stand-alone concert hall wouldn’t be viable.” And so the Anthem won’t be just near residences — it will be part of them.
Rather than pit condo owners against what’s sure to be a boisterous music venue, particularly when 6,000 bodies flood through its doors, the developers are putting apartments above the Anthem. Many are “microunits,” the new term for the $2,000 studio apartments favored by the kind of people who are never home enough to care much about square footage. And ringing the Anthem, Hoffman says, will be the Wharf’s more “energetic” restaurants.
Beneath the audience’s feet and above their heads will be a two-inch buffer, installed to the tune of $2.2 million, to contain vibrations that could otherwise disrupt the sleep of work-weary couples upstairs. That’s on top of the extra-strength soundproofing.
For now, however, the structure is little more than walls and concrete floors covered in dust and stray nails. But there are hints of what’s to come: The Anthem has the high ceilings of a concert hall, like the Lincoln, also operated by Hurwitz. Seats that ring the second level stair-step down, not unlike the vertiginous rows of chairs in Verizon Center, making it feel a bit like an arena. Eventually, the stage will move forward to make the room look full with an audience of 2,500, or move back when 6,000 people show up.
When a reporter searches for the word to describe it, Hurwitz interrupts.
It’s a “concertorium,” he says, beaming. A funny mash-up of a word that describes everything he has wanted. And is getting, because this time, he’s building it.