Georgetown Current

New Skating Rink Adds Amenity to Waterfront

November 28, 2012

By Katie Pearce
Current Staff Writer

The Washington Harbour has a prominent new centerpiece this winter: an outdoor ice rink, the largest in the city and one of few in the region.

The 11,800-square-foot rink opened to skaters last Monday and will celebrate its formal grand opening Saturday.

The seasonal feature, set against the Potomac River in Washington Harbour’s lower plaza between 3000 and 3050 K St., is expected to draw new crowds to an area that’s more known for its warm-weather appeal.

Nick Cibel, whose family owns both Nick’s Riverside Grill and Tony and Joe’s at the complex, said he’s already seen an impact from the rink’s first week. “It’s a festive atmosphere,” he said. “People are coming down here at times that they wouldn’t have normally come down.”

The holiday weekend brought “lots of business,” said Marissa Marwell of Rink Management Services Corp., which oversees operations of the rink and runs a new skate-rental shop and locker room.

“Typically this area doesn’t have a lot going on in the winter,” Marwell said. But the rink “drew some attention … and hopefully it will continue.”

Beth Miller, an architect who helped design the rink for the Gensler firm, said this effect is why the rink exists. Washington Harbour “is a very public, very vital space in the summer. …  But in winter, it’s sort of a dead zone.” By adding the rink, she said, “we anticipate that that space is going to become very energetic pretty much all year.”

A week after opening, the rink was serenely quiet around lunchtime this Monday, as the restaurants nearby started to open. A sole skater had the sunny patch of ice to himself.

As he untied his skate laces later, Capitol Hill resident John Hillebrand said this was actually his second time skating that day. The first had been at Gardens Ice House in Laurel, Md., where he trains in competitive ice dancing.

But his visit to Washington Harbour, Hillebrand said, “was for fun.” He said it was a nice contrast to go from “skating indoors in a warehouse” to gliding outdoors “with a gorgeous view of the river, and the Kennedy Center, and the bridge.”

As Hillebrand left, a group of teenagers took to the rink with wobbly legs, while a few tourists in the upper plaza above snapped pictures.

Cibel said his restaurants have responded to the rink with a few changes — offering hot chocolate and cider, for example, and accommodating more patrons who want to stay outside.

The rink already brought a lot of outdoor customers last week, he said. “We were packed. Every table outside Nick’s was full.”

Cibel has added outdoor furniture and blankets to Nick’s, and later this winter plans to update the outdoor bars at Nick’s and at Tony and Joe’s to include heating elements.

Farmers Fishers Bakers has also installed heaters to warm patrons at a dozen or so outdoor tables by the rink, while it offers winter drinks like hot toddies inside.

Asked whether the rink could inspire any new businesses or concession stands, Joe Sternlieb, executive director of the Georgetown Business Improvement District, said he thought the existing network already works well. On the plaza’s upper level, he pointed out, “you’ve got the Starbucks, you’ve got a gelato place, you’ve got a sandwich place” — casual options for visitors who don’t want to sit down to eat.

Sternlieb said the idea is for the rink to be “like Rockefeller Center … where people stand above and look down if they’re not skating.”

The rink — which is actually larger than the one at Rockefeller — was part of a $22.5 million makeover of the Washington Harbour complex. The project was conceived after MRP Realty and the Rockpoint Group purchased the mixed-use site in June 2010.

Complications came in the form of a major flood that swamped the lower plaza and parking garage in spring 2011, forcing some restaurants to shut down and requiring extensive repairs.

About a year and a half later, that renovation is now nearly complete, according to Washington Harbour spokesperson Joshua Lynsen. The remaining work will address a few small details as well as the opening of a new restaurant.

Even before the flood, the ice rink was a central part of the vision for the lower plaza. The owners asked architects to revitalize that space, Miller said — considering its significance not only as an anchor for Georgetown, but also as a highly visible neighborhood spot.

The rink was imagined as a cold-weather replacement (roughly from Thanksgiving to cherry blossom season) for the plaza’s central fountain. At the start of each winter, workers will deconstruct the fountain, leaving its tower intact, and a truck will arrive with a kit of parts to build the temporary rink.

Both the cooling of the ice and storage of the Zamboni ice-resurfacing machine presented puzzles for architects, Miller said. They ultimately found way to refrigerate the rink through above-ground pipes and store the machine within the fountain tower.

This Saturday’s “grand opening” — which will include performances, a parade and artistic lighting — will take place from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Public skating hours are from noon to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, with expanded times on the weekend (including hours until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). Among other options, the facility offers skating lessons and a “Rock ’n’ Skate” event on Saturday nights.

More details are available at


This article appears in the Nov. 28 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Georgetown History Meets Holiday Carols in ‘Civil War Christmas’ Production

November 21, 2012

By Alix Pianin
Current Staff Writer

Abraham Lincoln shares a drink with his cabinet at a War Department Christmas party. A Union soldier struggles with his religious beliefs in the face of battle. An escaped slave and her daughter follow the constellations to a new life in Washington. Robert E. Lee spends a bitterly cold night on the ground with his troops.

No, it’s not a sequence from the new Civil War historical film “Lincoln.” It’s just a handful of the many stories that weave through “A Civil War Christmas,” a musical theater production currently running at Georgetown University.

Set in D.C. on Dec. 24, 1864, “A Civil War Christmas” follows dozens of historical and fictional characters as they reflect on their lives in wartime against a backdrop of traditional American hymns and classic Christmas carols. The show is full of recognizable D.C. landmarks — but director Nadia Mahdi sought to bring the story even closer to home.

Mahdi, a performing arts professor at Georgetown, ventured to connect the school’s own Civil War legacy to the production. With the help of university archivists, dramaturge and assistant professor Nina Billone Prieur, and student and faculty crew members, the production team found countless artifacts and firsthand accounts of the school’s rich wartime history.

“Once you start looking, you find so many allusions to the Civil War,” Mahdi said.

At what was then Georgetown College, Northern and Southern culture collided. Considered the uppermost point of the Confederacy, Georgetown had 1,500 students and alumni who were of military age when war broke out, and 1,141 fought — 216 for the North and 925 for the South. The officially neutral college continued to hold classes for its Confederate-leaning campus while simultaneously providing lodgings and hospital care for Union soldiers. Even the school colors, blue and gray, commemorate Georgetown’s division during the Civil War.

University librarians helped Billone Prieur and the crew find letters, photographs, art collections, manuscripts, rare books and banners from the Civil War-era campus. Scenic designer Robbie Hayes dove into his image archive to identify the photo that would become an icon for the play — one of Union soldiers looking across the Potomac River to the Georgetown campus.

The materials all served as cues for the show’s lighting, technical and costume designers and producers, and added a layer of Georgetown-centric history to the final production, said Billone Prieur.

What started with a play has become a larger campus retrospective. Billone Prieur and the crew collaborated to transform the university’s Gonda Theatre lobby into an interactive, multimedia exhibit. Cast members played tapes of themselves performing letters and memoirs of 1860s Georgetown students and faculty. Students from a Georgetown costume history class submitted informational recordings about historical figures featured in the show. Patrons are being encouraged to submit their own reactions to the issues prevalent in the production.

It provides a historical context for the show, Billone Prieur said, while also highlighting how inequality and violence persist today. The goal is to “ask harder questions about our living history,” she said. “This isn’t a play about sitting in hopelessness, but it needs to have an active edge.”

With so many moving parts — the show features a 16-member cast and a five-person orchestral team — Mahdi made sure to slot in a few history lessons.

Mahdi and Billone Prieur encouraged the students to consider their own connections to the show’s characters.

Some cast members had relatives who fought in the Civil War; others shared accounts of their parents’ experiences living through more recent wars. One student had found out that her family home in Pennsylvania was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The cast later recorded their comments, and the tape is part of the lobby exhibit.

“The idea behind the show is that in the midst of war, there are pockets of peace … windows of quiet and reflection,” Mahdi said.

Though Christmas and the Civil War may seem incongruous, Billone Prieur said she thought the play captures what holidays are about — storytelling. “It’s the time of year when we feel a connection to a larger community,” she said.

“A Civil War Christmas,” written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and D.C. native Paula Vogel, is the latest installment in this year’s “Season of War and Peace” at Georgetown’s Davis Performing Arts Center. On Saturday, “A Civil War Christmas” opened to a sold-out crowd. It will continue through Dec. 8.

Performance times are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Dec. 1. Tickets cost $15 to $20; call 202-687-2787 or visit


This article appears in the Nov. 21 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Glover Park Residents Push for Variety of Parking Fixes

November 14, 2012

By Deirdre Bannon
Current Staff Writer

In Glover Park, advisory neighborhood commissioners say scarce parking continues to be the No. 1 complaint they hear from residents.

Improving the neighborhood’s public transportation options and adjusting the hours of enforcement for resident-only parking were among the recommendations the community had for the D.C. Department of Transportation at last week’s commission meeting.

“If you work late or if you come home after 10 p.m., you can’t find parking,” one resident told Angelo Rao, the department’s parking manager. “But public transportation is limited at night — it’s almost suburban out here — so there’s actually an incentive to drive if you live in Glover Park.”

Last year’s elimination of the N8 bus route and cuts to the D1 and D2 bus lines — as well as the neighborhood’s exclusion from proposed new streetcar routes — left many at the Nov. 8 meeting feeling “ignored” by the city’s transportation agencies, they said.

“Infrastructure and parking are tied together and need to be addressed together,” said resident J.P. Montalvan. “The Circulator bus should go all the way up Wisconsin, to link us with Tenleytown and American University and points further north like Van Ness.”

“We’ve been begging for it for years,” advisory neighborhood commissioner Brian Cohen emphasized to Rao. “We need a comprehensive approach that makes parking easier by making mass transit easier.”

Cohen and others said the worst time to find parking in parts of the neighborhood is on Sunday nights, when resident-only parking is not in effect. There’s a similar impact on weeknights, when many return from work after resident-only parking ends at 8:30 p.m. Part of the problem, Cohen says, is the number of out-of-state cars that park in the area overnight.

“At least 30 percent of cars parked on the street aren’t registered to people who live in Ward 3, and that’s a concern,” he said.

Community members proposed to Rao that resident-only parking be expanded to include Sundays and later hours during the week. They also want stronger enforcement for out-of-state cars that consistently park on the streets.

With access to Metrorail limited, Glover Park residents railed against recent comments on Cleveland Park and Woodley Park neighborhood listservs suggesting that parking near Ward 3’s Metro stations should be limited to people who live in those neighborhoods.

“We would revolt,” said Cohen. “We pay taxes in Ward 3 just like they do, but we don’t have a Metro station — Glover Park residents rely in part on going to those neighborhoods to take Metro.”

One Wisconsin Avenue resident said vendors like plumbers and other repair companies refuse to service residences on that street, saying they have no place to park their trucks and don’t want to get ticketed.

Some expressed a desire for the city to establish public parking garages, like the one in downtown Bethesda. Rao said his agency is starting to look into whether privately owned garages would be willing to partner with the city to open spaces to the public overnight.

Concerns also came up about visitor parking, with some saying that if residential parking is expanded, short-term parking for guests could be squeezed out. According to Cohen, a 2011 survey the commission conducted revealed no consensus on a visitor parking solution that would balance varying needs.

To attend to the city’s growing pains, the Transportation Department is processing feedback on parking from residents and business owners throughout the city as officials consider changes to parking rules. Over the past several months, the agency has held six “parking think tank” meetings and one online chat, and posted a survey (now closed) on its website. The department is also assessing pilot programs for visitor parking permits and enhanced residential parking permits.

The Transportation Department will hold a parking summit on Dec. 4 from 6 to 9 p.m. at One Judiciary Square, 441 4th St. NW, to present its findings. Rao said the department doesn’t expect to have solutions ready at that point, but will instead highlight the issues respondents believe are most important.

To submit feedback on parking, contact Rao by email at


This article appears in the Nov. 14 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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