Georgetown Current

41-Foot-Tall Sculpture Eyed for Georgetown Waterfront

July 5, 2016

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

Whenever the New York-based Ark Restaurants firm significantly renovates one of its eateries, its CEO Mark Weinstein ensures that the new design is inspired by modern art. Due up next is one of the company’s two D.C. restaurants — Sequoia, in Georgetown’s Washington Harbour complex, 3000 K St. NW.

“As opposed to having a restaurant and just putting a painting on a wall, we really now look at it the other way: Here’s the art; we’re going to build a restaurant around it,” Weinstein said in an interview. “Sequoia gave us an opportunity, because of the outdoor space, to find a significant piece to put outside.”

Specifically, Weinstein plans a colorful, 41-foot-tall, abstract sculpture by prominent Belgian conceptual artist Arne Quinze, which would dominate the restaurant’s riverfront outdoor seating.

But Sequoia falls within the federally protected Georgetown Historic District, which subjects even the slightest outdoor changes to rigorous federal review. The Old Georgetown Board, part of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, will consider the plans tomorrow after offering some preliminary feedback last month. Meanwhile, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) and some nearby residents have voiced strong objections.

“It was too bold, too big — it made no sense for the area,” ANC 2E member Bill Starrels said in an interview. “It’s too large in every respect of the word, and the waterfront area there is more or less a gateway from Georgetown to the Potomac — it would also be visible from the Kennedy Center’s vista toward Georgetown.”

The Old Georgetown Board reviewed a concept last month in which the same sculpture was even taller — 45 feet — before the restaurant shaved 10 percent off the proposed height. Tom Luebke, secretary of the Fine Arts Commission, said board members at the time had been mainly concerned about the height and also asked about changes to the colors.

“It’s sort of a very expressive sort of design with lots of little pieces on it, lots of little colors,” said Luebke. “The concern is literally the impact of this — the combination of the height and the character.”

Luebke added that riverside sculptures have come up in the past, albeit at perhaps half this proposed height, and noted that the Washington Harbour and nearby buildings are modern replacements for Georgetown’s historically industrial waterfront. “It’s not the immediate context of where there’s a lot of contributing historic stuff,” he said. “The biggest impact is on the Potomac waterfront generally: What will it look like when seen from a distance? What does it look like in the whole context of the historic district?”

Weinstein told The Current that Thursday’s presentation to the board will also include a model that shows the sculpture in the Washington Harbour setting, to help members visualize the project. His impression of last month’s meeting was that at least one board member was excited about the project, and he praised the board for focusing on height and location rather than trying to be art critics.

“I sort of discount anybody’s eye with relation to art,” he said. “They were smart enough to know this is an internationally acclaimed artist ... and to give an opinion on the artwork itself was not appropriate.”

ANC 2E member Starrels acknowledged Weinstein’s service as a patron of the arts. “It’s very well-intentioned, but it just didn’t fit the area,” he said of the proposed sculpture. “It would have to be completely different.”

Nearby resident Stephen Crimmins expressed even stronger objections, telling The Current that he suspected a hoax the first time someone told him about a planned 41-foot-sculpture.

“I was worried, but thought it couldn’t possibly be for real,” he wrote in an email. “How about a four-story apple on the roof of the Apple Store on Wisconsin Avenue? A rotating dollar-sign on the top of PNC’s gold dome? As long as they’re ‘artistic’ enough, the sky’s the limit.”

Weinstein said Ark Restaurants’ artwork has a history of successfully enlivening its spaces. “What is proposed, I think, is spectacular — I think it will become a focal point in every positive way in making Washington Harbour a more interesting place to visit,” he said.

The planned sculpture would be part of a large-scale reconfiguration of Sequoia’s indoor and outdoor areas, which would close from January until sometime in April to accommodate the renovation, Weinstein said.

The exterior work — simplifying the seating area and adding new landscaping, among other changes — also requires Old Georgetown Board review but is less dramatic and has faced little resistance. This aspect, too, is being designed by Quinze, in collaboration with an architect: “The idea is this whole outdoor space, which is some 500 seats, that will really be reflective of his sculpture and his sensibility,” Weinstein said.

Meanwhile, the restaurant’s interior — which does not require public review — would be inspired both by the outdoor sculpture and by work from two other modern artists that would be installed inside.

This article appears in the July 6 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Waterfront Eyed for Bike Upgrades

June 28, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

The roadway and sidewalks adjacent to the Georgetown Waterfront Park are slated for various safety, accessibility and aesthetic upgrades over the next few years, according to plans presented by the Georgetown Business Improvement District at a walkthrough event Saturday.

The business group has been working for the last six months with the D.C. Department of Transportation and Toole Design Group, using a $60,000 grant from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, to develop plans for improved infrastructure for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists along K and Water streets NW. The project aims to connect the Capital Crescent Trail west of the park with the Rock Creek Trail to the east, resolving what the BID’s Joe Sternlieb calls a “very awkward interface” between the two.

The first of two phases will add a dedicated bike lane from the end of the Capital Crescent Trail down Water Street, improve crosswalks along Water and K streets, and establish an aesthetically appealing trailhead at the western end of Water within the next year. (Water Street is an alternate name for the section of K Street west of 33rd Street NW.) Plans for this “interim” phase also call for a traffic circle turnaround at the intersection of Water and 34th streets NW, in order to indicate to motorists traveling west on Water Street that there’s no outlet farther down that stretch.

Sternlieb estimates that costs for the interim stage could exceed $100,000, but he declined to provide a specific figure until the designs are closer to completion.

The second, “optimum” phase will launch sometime after the District extends a planned streetcar line to Georgetown — which won’t happen for several more years at least. Much of the roadway on K and Water streets NW will be taken up by the streetcar, forcing the bike trail’s move to an expanded pathway in the waterfront park. This phase also enhances the turnaround.

Street parking on Water near the Capital Crescent Trail is most likely to be affected by the plans, but the exact number of spots that will be removed is still in flux, Georgetown BID transportation director Will Handsfield said. Options such as garage parking to replace the affected street parking are being explored, he said.

The existing bike path from the Capital Crescent Trail sends cyclists onto the narrow sidewalk that runs between the park and the roadway. Handsfield said most cyclists avoid that sidewalk altogether, and a dedicated lane on the road will streamline the confusion that riders often face when they exit the trail and arrive in Georgetown.

On the Rock Creek side of the park, the interim phase includes expanded sidewalks at the trail entrance, and the optimum phase includes a pedestrian and bicycle bridge that would hang from the eastbound Whitehurst Freeway off-ramp to southbound I-66 and connect users coming from K Street to the Rock Creek Trail.

Handsfield said motorists traveling on K and Water streets are not required to stop at any point west of Wisconsin Avenue. Bulb-out additions to the sidewalks at intersections will reduce the amount of time pedestrians spend in the street and make them more visible to drivers, he said.

Meanwhile, the turnaround will prevent drivers from clogging the area near the Capital Crescent trailhead, he said. And the handful of attendees at Saturday’s walkthrough saw firsthand that the sidewalks on the southern side of K Street, with periodic poles blocking parts of the way, can be cumbersome to navigate.

Most stakeholders at Saturday’s event agreed that the street under the Whitehurst Freeway needs improvement. “It does seem like this area’s been kind of forgotten,” a resident said during the tour.

But not everyone agrees on the best approach for the area, which involves balancing competing interests among motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians. One nearby resident said Saturday that she thinks sidewalks should be a higher priority than parking spaces. Yet all of the current available parking spaces along Water Street were taken during Saturday’s walkthrough, indicating that they’re in high demand.

Georgetown advisory neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels attended Saturday’s walkthrough and said he liked the plans. But he thinks the funding might be better utilized addressing immediate issues rather than scheduling a project that could be delayed for years if the streetcar takes longer than expected.

In particular, he suggests widening the westbound lanes of K Street between 27th and 29th streets NW and adding more “dramatic lighting” to reduce safety concerns below the Whitehurst. He also thinks reducing available street parking could cause negative impacts.

“We have to, at least, get DDOT to take a step back and make sure that all interests are being weighed more or less evenly when they’re looking at these larger ideas,” Starrels said.

Meanwhile, Erik Meyers of the Potomac Boat Club told The Current at the walkthrough that his group has concerns about losing dedicated parking spaces near the Capital Crescent Trail, as well as the prospect of bringing a high volume of tourists to the improved trailhead. He plans to suggest amendments to the optimum plan as it progresses. “It’s all compromise,” he said.

This article appears in the June 29 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Glover Park Hotel Debuts with Upgrades

June 21, 2016

By Mark Lieberman

Current Staff Writer

The former Savoy Suites in Glover Park reopened as the Kimpton Glover Park Hotel last week, boasting renovated accommodations and a new Italian restaurant, Casolare.

Kimpton Hotel Group took over management of the former Savoy Suites at 2505 Wisconsin Ave. NW in April 2015, with the goal of adding to the group’s D.C. portfolio of 10 hotels by incorporating many of its signature services into the Glover Park location.

Internationally regarded artist Michele Oka Doner had a hand in designing the hotel, including the mural on the side of the building — inspired by the 3,000 acres of parkland donated to the city by Charles Glover, for whom the neighborhood is named.

Hotel manager Jennifer Harris said the feeling of the building is “very light and airy and crisp, just like if you were walking through the park.” The suburban atmosphere of Glover Park makes for a pleasing blend, Harris said.

New amenities include a partnership with City Bikes for guest rentals; telescopes in the rooms to allow views of downtown; a nightly evening wine service with entertainment on Wednesdays; a custom tea blend crafted by local producer Capital Teas; and periodic activities for kids, like a caricature artist or a photo booth. The 2,000-square-foot gym will be open to guests and local residents.

Area residents will get 15 percent off when staying at the hotel by using the discount code “glover,” said Matt Wexler of Foxhall Partners, representing the developer at Thursday’s meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3B (Glover Park, Cathedral Heights). Wexler noted that the hotel’s community room, kitchen and gym have all been improved.

On the Glover Park listserv, ANC 3B chair Jackie Blumenthal said she’s excited by the prospect of a hotel making a concerted effort to fit in with the neighborhood. “We should be pleased to have our community recognized by the hotel’s name and be sure to patronize it,” Blumenthal wrote.

Meanwhile, the 156-seat Southern Italian restaurant Casolare will be open to the public and for room service at the hotel beginning in July. Restaurant owner Michael Schlow previously worked with Kimpton to open The Riggsby in Dupont Circle’s Carlyle Hotel last year. The group reached out to him about collaborating again in Glover Park. Schlow said he eagerly committed, sitting down for meals in the neighborhood and surrounding areas to get a sense of possible voids in the local restaurant scene.

He noticed a significant presence of Italian food, including nearby restaurants like Black Salt and Al Dente — but none of them offered the Southern Italian flavors he often craves. The new restaurant does just that, with an emphasis on seafood, fresh vegetables, citrus and olive oil-based foods.

Schlow said developing that concept proved a challenge in a hotel that doesn’t share the Southern Italian theme. He also wanted to ensure that the restaurant stays away from mere niche appeal, reaching for a customer base as broad as possible, including both hotel guests and neighborhood residents.

The restaurant’s “rustic” interior — with a centrally displayed pizza oven, handmade tiles and woodwork finishing, as well as artwork designed by Schlow’s wife, Adrienne — aims for a balance of refinement and broad appeal, he said.

Inspirations for dishes range from Capri, Sardinia, Positano, Sorrento and Naples, among others, Schlow said. Seasonal changes will accommodate fresh vegetables. “There’d be something for everybody,” Schlow said. “I don’t think anybody would walk in there and say there’s nothing to eat.”

In addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, Casolare will offer a robust smoothie and pressed-juice program, a wine menu largely comprised of Italian specialties, and catering for private events.

“I’m a chef by training, but I’ll be the first one to tell you I think service is more important than food,” Schlow said. “I’m just really excited to be in the neighborhood.”

This article appears in the June 22 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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