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Proposal would bring museum, performing arts center and condos to U Street area

(Courtesy of Sorg Architects)

A proposal to construct a new cultural hub on the U Street corridor — complete with a museum, performing arts center and condos — is under the review of District Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who will decide whether it would proceed.

In his final hours in office, former Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) announced that the city had selected Roadside Development and Sorg Architects to redevelop the former Grimke School at 1923 Vermont Ave.  NW, as well as an adjacent lot at 912 U St. NW. Bowser said she will be reviewing Gray’s 11th-hour announcements, including this one, before issuing her approval.

Under the proposal, the former Grimke School would be transformed into a cultural hub. In addition to creating a permanent space for the African-American Civil War museum, the building would be home to several performance groups, including Step Afrika!, CityDance, Dance USA and Imagination Stage.

Seven townhouses (with a total of 14 residences) and a 30-unit condo building would go up on the adjacent lot on 9 1/2 Street NW, a half-block-length street just south of U Street NW.

“This collection of arts groups, along with the museum, will have a dramatic impact on the community,” Richard Lake, founding partner of Roadside Development, said in an interview. “We couldn’t be more thrilled. It’s an absolutely gorgeous building with a lot of history.”

D.C.’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) issued a request for proposals for the site last summer. Early in its planning process, Roadside was approached by Step Afrika! and CityDance.

“We fell in love with their vision, and the opportunity of what they could bring back to the U Street community,” Roadside Development’s Jeff Edelstein said in an interview.

“Historically, this whole corridor was really about the arts and about music,” Lake added.

The groups would share space throughout the building, which would include a black box theater, rehearsal space, classrooms and other infrastructure that would allow for summer camps, children’s programming and evening events. Sharing the costs would reduce overhead for the non-profit groups, noted Lake. Aside from Imagination Stage, which is Bethesda-based, the site would serve as headquarters for the dance groups.

“What these groups are doing will attract other exciting groups to follow,” added Edelstein, “and will bring daytime life back to the neighborhood.”

Lake estimates that doors would open at the new Grimke School in two years.

Concurrently, the development team is planning the residential portion, which would be new construction on an existing lot. Townhouses would line the street, while a 30-unit condo building would face 9 1/2 Street NW. The ground level would accommodate 3,500 square feet of retail space fronting U Street NW.

Sorg Architects is designing the residences.

“We tend to like designs that are of our period,” said Lake, “not trying to mimic another period.”

The condo building would be “efficient, clean and sleek,” said Lake, while the townhouses would complement the existing rowhouses along 9 1/2 Street NW, which are simple, two-story homes. While Roadside and Sorg’s initial plans included four-story townhouses, the designs would transform as the development team works with the Historic Preservation Office, which must approve the plans.

Roadside Development’s portfolio includes several other historical redevelopment projects. Recently, it transformed Shaw’s crumbling O Street Market into CityMarket at O, a mixed-use site at 7th and O Streets NW that now includes 650 residences and a 182-unit hotel alongside a Giant supermarket, a portion of which sits inside the revamped historic market building.

Previously, the firm turned a vacant, 1941-built Sears building at 4500 Wisconsin Ave. into Cityline at Tenley, a $105 million project with 204 condos and a mix of retailers, including a Whole Foods market.

 Shilpi Malinowski is a freelance writer.