Georgetown Current

Georgetown BID Urges End to Restaurant Cap

November 25, 2015

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

The Georgetown Business Improvement District has voted in favor of abandoning the neighborhood’s moratorium on liquor licenses for restaurants, and the advisory neighborhood commission plans to vote on the proposal on Monday.

The BID’s proposal advocates for removing the existing cap that limits Georgetown to 67 restaurant licenses, while adding new protections on restaurant behavior.

The proposal asks the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to review its settlement agreement template for legal efficiency, in order to ensure that new restaurants comply with community members’ preferences for noise control, trash maintenance and hours of operation. The recommendation also calls for a mandatory BID meeting every six months to ensure that the community remains satisfied with business operations in the neighborhood.

Georgetown’s liquor license moratorium was first established in 1989. In addition to restricting restaurant licenses, the current restrictions, expiring on Feb. 3, prohibit any new tavern and nightclub licenses.

“The conditions for which the moratorium was created no longer exist in Georgetown,” BID president and CEO Joe Sternlieb said in an interview Tuesday. “At the same time, there are folks in the residential community who don’t want to give up all their influence and control over who comes in and how.”

The BID’s proposal, drafted after collaboration with the neighborhood commission and Citizens Association of Georgetown, doesn’t recommend any changes to the tavern and nightclub license restrictions.

In a previous interview, Sternlieb said community members had been “meeting regularly to see what types of things we can do together to discourage” negative consequences from restaurants, while encouraging high-quality establishments.

“We’ve come up with a pretty good scheme to do that,” he said.

In Glover Park two weeks ago, the neighborhood commission there voted unanimously to support removing its comparable moratorium on restaurant licenses. If the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board upholds that proposal, Georgetown’s moratorium would be the only one of its kind remaining in the city, according to Sternlieb.

Georgetown neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels said last week that stakeholders have been having a “good dialogue” about the future of the moratorium. He said the groups are looking toward a solution that will allow in more new restaurants but place key restrictions on hours and noise. “It’s time for a new chapter here,” he said.

Starrels expects that the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board will be receptive to the current proposal, though he said there’s been informal talk of extending the moratorium by 60 days if an agreement can’t be finalized before it expires.

“We would hope that they would embrace what we’re planning here,” he said. “If there’s something they’re not embracing, we’ll deal with it.”

Sternlieb also believes the alcohol board is likely to weigh in favor of his group’s proposal, especially because the restrictions on restaurant hours wouldn’t differ greatly from the existing situation given that so many Georgetown restaurants already close well before midnight.

If the alcohol board does relax the moratorium as proposed, the focus for all parties will be on drawing new businesses to the community. Starrels cites celebrity chef José Andrés as an example of the kind of culinary talent the neighborhood hopes to lure. Sternlieb also mentioned D.C.’s Passion Food restaurants and the Georgetown taco joint Chaia as models worth emulating.

This article appears in the Nov. 25 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Logan Commission Backs GU Plan for Franklin

November 18, 2015

By Kelsey Knorp
Current Correspondent

A plan to convert the historic Franklin School downtown into a satellite arts building for Georgetown University earned unanimous support from the Logan Circle advisory neighborhood commission last week, in a recommendation to the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

The proposal by Georgetown and development firm Thoron Capital was one of four presented last Thursday at a special meeting of the commission. Two other competitors floated ideas for turning the building into a hotel, while the third pitched an incubator-type co-working space.

The neighborhood commissioners ultimately agreed that the Georgetown plan seemed most sustainable, but they said a proposal by Friedman Collaboration for the Arts (one of the two plans incorporating a hotel use) would be a viable second preference. They recommended the development office request best and final offers from both redevelopment teams, as well as community benefit agreements, before making its decision.

All four teams are vying to redevelop the Franklin School site at 13th and K streets NW from the District, following Mayor Muriel Bowser’s decision earlier this year to nix a plan that would have turned the building into a contemporary art museum. The bidder selected from the latest process will submit to a lease term between 50 and 99 years.

The university would retain much of the original interior design of the 1869 school building, including restoring staircases, trusses and the third-floor Great Hall, which would host performances and other public events. “We are essentially bringing it back to its purpose-built function as an educational and cultural institution,” said architect Chris Graae.

Georgetown professor Anthony Cook described the proposed institution as a place that will encourage innovation and offer technological education as well as traditional engagement with the arts. In addition to hosting arts programs, Georgetown hopes to provide space for tech innovation, much like the start-up accelerator firms commonly found in Silicon Valley.

“We conceptualized this project as a ‘Y-Combinator-meets-Juilliard,’” Cook said. “This is a space where technology, entrepreneurship, arts and media can all come together … in an exciting, innovative space.”

The school’s fourth floor would consist primarily of art studios, lit naturally by a lengthy skylight overhead. Lower floors would include classrooms for tech incubator purposes, as well as for community-based Georgetown classes that the public could audit. A courtyard at the building’s rear would become a year-round multipurpose space, with retractable roofs to allow for outdoor exposure. Publicly accessible restaurants and exhibit space for students and local artists would be included on the ground floor as well, with views overlooking Franklin Square Park.

The Friedman proposal is similarly preservation-conscious but seeks to accommodate a wider variety of uses. Developers would outfit the building’s middle floors with 15 hotel rooms, while the third-floor Great Hall would house a restaurant and art gallery. The fourth level would become a partially outdoor space for social gatherings and event rentals. A youth center for culinary education would be installed on the ground floor, and remaining space throughout the building would be converted to rentable offices or used to accommodate spa and fitness amenities.

Friedman’s funding model would have visitors purchasing different levels of membership to access the various building amenities. The group did not give specifics but told commissioners that certain events and activities would be restricted to higher-level members, while features like the gym would be available at a lower cost. That strategy lost points with neighborhood commissioners, with some worrying that membership tiers may be too exclusive or prove fiscally unsustainable.

Aria Development Group presented a more traditional hotel scheme, augmented by a restaurant and bar. Dantes Partners, in collaboration with UberOffices, proposed a facility for co-working and small business incubation.

This article appears in the Nov. 18 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Jackson Center Artists Pursue Long-Term Lease

November 11, 2015

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

As recently as March, the Jackson Art Center in Georgetown faced uncertain prospects.

The nonprofit has for years managed space for affordable artists’ studios in a former public school at 3048 R St. NW. But its lease with the city was set to expire in June 2016, and the historic building was showing signs of disrepair inside and out.

Now, following a concerted effort to reach out to the D.C. government and the surrounding community, the center is in a far more stable position for the future, according to several members of the nonprofit’s board of directors. The city has extended the lease until 2018, and negotiations are underway for a much longer lease of 10 or 20 years.

Members of the art center have said the risk of a lease expiring not only would put in question their place in the community, but also would make it difficult to make long-term investments in the aging building. Artists who work on projects or teach classes in the building have dealt with floods, squirrels in the attic and faulty boilers. Renovations over the past few years included replacing parts of the roof and a boiler, installing a safety alarm system and repairing nearly all of the building’s windows, according to board of directors member Simma Liebman.

“Fortunately, we’ve been able to use rent credits to pay for most of the work, but there is still a lot to do,” Liebman wrote in an email. “We are proud of our stewardship so far, but it’s been a struggle.”

Liebman is in the process of moving to Maryland’s Eastern Shore with her husband, leaving the studio behind after 27 years. She said she’ll miss the support of her fellow artists.

“It was my sanctuary, very conducive to painting. In fact, last year when we renovated all the windows in the building, I was awed by the exquisite light that I never realized I was missing,” Liebman wrote of her studio. “And I will always cherish the JAC artists who were as committed as I was to making JAC a vibrant center for working artists.”

The art center has occupied the old Jackson School building since the 1980s, when city officials opted to lease the building to local artists as studio space. The artists banded together to form the nonprofit Jackson Art Center collective in 2000.

The process of securing the building for the long haul has brought the center’s artists closer together, board of directors member and artist Nancy Siebert Murphy said in an interview.

“We’ve gotten more cohesive and feel more like a true arts center,” Murphy said.

Reed Smith lawyer Gary Thompson, who’s working with the Jackson Art Center on the lease issue pro bono, said the city ought to extend the center’s lease as a demonstration of its commitment to the arts.

“Right now Jackson is a wonderful, quiet place that adds to the arts in D.C. in a very rich and valuable way,” he said. “The community does not want to see that replaced with a large multistory condominium development that would add parking and density to the neighborhood.”

Thompson said the extension effort has received letters of support from the Citizens Association of Georgetown and the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission.

Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans’ office declined to comment about the lease process.

Now, with the future set for the time being, the artists are gearing up to welcome visitors Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. for their biannual Open Studios event, an open house for members of the public to look at and potentially purchase the artists’ finished products. One table will showcase donated artwork for sale, with proceeds going to the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, an organization that nurtures D.C. children in temporary housing programs.

Such community outreach is key going forward, according to board president Karen Ruckman.

“We’re very good for the city,” Ruckman said. “We give back and we’re very grateful to have this wonderful building.”

This article appears in the Nov. 11 edition of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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