For 34 years, 10th and I streets NW has been an imaginary place, a point of hallowed political ground under the carpeting — and then rubble — of the old Washington Convention Center.
Six blocks from the White House, it’s the spot where then-candidate Bill Clinton secured the endorsement of the nation’s largest teachers unions on his way to the presidency. It’s where 19,000 swayed to an African protest dance and listened to Nelson Mandela a few months after he was released from prison. And it’s where Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan proclaimed then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry a “repentant soul” worthy of reelection despite an ongoing trial for possession of crack cocaine.
It has also been a roadblock in the city’s grid — a place that drivers had to steer around.
Last week, for the first time since the old convention center imploded in a cloud of dust nine years ago — and, for that matter, since Ronald Reagan was a new president — 10th and I returned to the grid. With the construction of CityCenterDC, the spot has been rebuilt to form an intersection.
If you’re Don Ford, make that a “beautiful” reincarnation of city asphalt.
On Friday morning, Ford slowed his slate-gray Nissan Murano to a stop at 10th and G, just south of the new stretch. He glanced at his dashboard and broke into a toothy grin, clocking the couple of minutes the path might shave off a bad morning commute.
“Oh, it could definitely get me there faster,” said Ford, 57, stepping on the gas at the next green light to motor on to his IT job in Virginia.
Downtown, where every inch of asphalt is increasingly a battleground for commuters, bicyclists and people looking for a place to park, 10th and I has something for everyone: 1,000 feet of new pavement, bike lanes in every direction and about 30 parking spots along the curbs.
Although no sign marks the road as the site where an estimated 20 million attended speeches and conventions over the years, the glass-and-steel buildings that flank the spot are a monument to a new era in Washington.
The two streets bisect like pizza slices at CityCenterDC, a $1 billion development that is an emblem to the effort by developers to reshape downtown not just into a place for tourists and conventioneers but those willing to pay Manhattan-like rents and mortgages to live in the city.
The first handful of renters moved into CityCenter’s nearly 700 apartments last week, where luxury units with rooftop dog parks and decorative moss gardens average $4,400 to $5,200 a month for two bedrooms. The development’s two-bedroom condos, going for $1.2 million to $1.5 million, are 70 percent sold. A half-million square feet of office space and 40 retail shops are slated to begin opening next year.
Even the reconstituted intersection isn’t a conventional roadway. The 15 ground-level inches of asphalt and rock base are the roof of a 1,500-space parking garage that extends 50 feet, and four levels, beneath CityCenter.
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray last week called the opening a “momentous occasion.”
“With the reopening of 10th and I streets and the completion of the condos and apartments, we are seeing a transformation in the downtown area,” Gray (D) said.
For now, what Washingtonians may notice most is the road. For the first time since 1980, commuters can cut south along 10th, uninterrupted between Rhode Island and Constitution avenues. East to west, the new block of I offers a way to cut corners to New York Avenue and H Street.
Google and Apple map tools do not recognize the spot, but drivers stuck in traffic around Mount Vernon Square have started to notice it.
“I was just sitting there and kept looking for a way out,” said Doug Bachman, a Virginia driver who stumbled upon the new stretch Friday after dropping off his wife for work and then getting stuck in traffic north of CityCenter.
After more than three decades of hitting a dead end at New York Avenue, commuters heading south into downtown are conditioned to turn east or west. Bachman looked ahead and saw an empty road.
“I never come this way,” he said. “I had no idea. I’m glad it was here today.”