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Apple targets historic Carnegie Library for downtown flagship store

At left, the Apple flag flies outside its Regent Street store in London. At right, the Carnegie Library in downtown D.C. (Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg and James A. Parcell/Washington Post)

Representatives from Apple have proposed opening a flagship store and events center in one of the District’s most prominent and historic buildings, the Carnegie Library in Mount Vernon Square.

Negotiations between the company and the District’s quasi-independent conventions agency, Events DC, began earlier this year after the group began seeking ideas for re-use of the 113-year-old building, according to officials involved in the discussions. The negotiations have not been previously reported.

“Apple would be a huge attraction,” said D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who represents downtown. Evans said he first heard about Apple’s idea for the store earlier this year and that the addition would accelerate momentum for an area that is quickly adding new apartments, shops and office buildings just south of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

“In that part of town we have a lot of people living there now. So I am a big fan of the idea and I hope that it happens,” Evans said.

An Apple spokesman declined to comment. The company already has a store in Georgetown and developers of CityCenter DC were optimistic enough that they could lure Apple downtown that they designed a prominent space for the company, a move that has yet to pan out.

But Apple is targeting the Carnegie Library with something different in mind said officials, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had signed non-disclosure agreements.

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They said the proposed store was reminiscent of the location Apple opened in May on San Francisco’s Union Square, which in addition to the company’s products includes a plaza with outdoor seating, public Wi-Fi and events space where the company hosts concerts, forums and children’s events.

In entering top cities recently, Apple has also eschewed glass-box designs for locations retrofitted into prominent, historic buildings including in New York’s Grand Central Terminal, on Regent Street in London and in a 130-year-old former bank in Paris.

“We have a deep commitment to the cities we work in, and are aware of the importance that architecture plays in the community,” said Jonathan Ive, Apple’s chief design officer, in announcing the San Francisco store. “It all starts with the storefront — taking transparency to a whole new level — where the building blends the inside and the outside, breaking down barriers and making it more egalitarian and accessible.”

Landing a retail outpost of the country’s largest tech company would add to a boom in the east end of downtown D.C. that has attracted restaurants, luxury condos and shops including Gucci and Louis Vuitton.

However the 63,000-square-foot Carnegie Library is publicly owned and it is operated with taxpayer dollars raised through hotel occupancy taxes, so any deal is likely to draw scrutiny from city officials.

The library is also considered one of the most historically important in the capital. One of thousands of libraries built nationwide with funds donated by steel tycoon and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, it opened in 1903 as the first desegregated public building in the city.

Its protected status, however, has made it difficult to re-use. A stint as local history museum lasted barely a year. A planned music museum there never opened. And the International Spy Museum initially planned to move in but opted instead for L’Enfant Plaza after its plans were turned away by the city’s historic preservation panel.

Gregory A. O’Dell, president and chief executive of Events DC, declined to discuss Apple specifically. Events DC currently rents out the building for weddings, receptions and other events.

“We have received inquires as we look at possibly redeveloping Carnegie Library. And there are multiple inquires about creating a new type of experience there. So we are entertaining multiple folks, one of which might be a technology company,” he said.

But O’Dell said any organization interested in the building is “going to have to be very sensitive and address” the historic issue. Added Max Brown, board chair for Events DC: “We’ve been approached by a number of different institutions, entities, and we’re looking at those proposals and making sure that we do our proper due diligence and come up with something that’s best for the city.”

If Apple does ink a deal for the building it will have the Historical Society of Washington D.C. as a neighbor, as the non-profit leases office space there on a deal lasting through 2098.

John Suau, the group’s executive director, said he hoped any remaining space in the building could be dedicated to uses that will engage the community and grow the crowds coming to Mount Vernon Square.

“Now that we see CityCenter, the convention center and lots of residences being buit around us, we see ourselves as sort of the last frontier of development in downtown D.C.,” Suau said. “We’re really interested in seeing the square come back to life.”

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz