Georgetown Current

Pokémon Smartphone App Sends Northwest On The Go

July 19, 2016

By Brian Kapur
Current Staff Writer

At first, a seating area at the Georgetown Waterfront Park was empty. But a few taps of an iPhone was all it took on Thursday evening to quickly fill the area with roughly 30 aspiring Pokémon trainers of various ages.

The Exorcist steps are popular for catching the digital characters. (Photo by: Brian Kapur/The Current) The Exorcist steps are popular for catching the digital characters.

Using the Pokémon Go app, The Current had created a lure module — a setting that attracts the game’s characters to predetermined locations called Pokestops. The object of the game, which has seen various iterations since its debut in 1995, is to catch the digital creatures (called Pokémon) and build up their strength. Pokémon Go scatters these Pokémon around real locations, which players find using their phones’ GPS. Once you locate the digital creature, you can use the “augmented reality” feature to see the Pokémon in a real-world location using a phone camera.

“When I come home from work every night, we go out and we drive around, walk around, bike around and go where he wants to go where there are hot spots,” said Brendan Owen, who came to the park with his young son, Luke.

Members of the crowd chatted up strangers about where they found which Pokémon and confirmed the rumor that a Hitmonlee — a powerful, fighting-type character — could be found at the base of Georgetown’s “Exorcist steps.”

Players also told The Current that the game has boosted their activity levels as they travel the city to fulfill the game’s objectives: to be the very best, like no one ever was, by catching ’em all.

This article appears in the July 20 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

Click here to share your thoughts.

ANC Gives Nod to EastBanc Project

July 13, 2016

By Cuneyt Dil
Current Correspondent

The eastern gateway into Georgetown through Pennsylvania Avenue currently features a Valero gas station, perched above the Rock Creek Parkway.

Now, the sometimes-controversial plan for a five-story mixed-use building at the 2715 Pennsylvania Ave. NW site is heading for the Zoning Commission, with the support of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith).

The 60-foot-tall brick building with inset balconies, designed by Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura, would feature seven apartment units above a ground-level restaurant.

The project would also bring park benches, plantings and other public space improvements to the site.

“The proposed structure represents an improvement to the Georgetown cityscape in comparison to the unruly appearance of the site’s existing gas station at the threshold of the historic district,” ANC 2E wrote in its resolution of support to the Zoning Commission.

Opponents have criticized the building’s design in the past, calling it inappropriate for such a prominent spot. The architect has tweaked aspects of it since its first conception, and the changes were enough to win ANC 2E’s support.

The Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing on the development on July 21.

The project has faced obstacles because of its small, unusually shaped lot. Developer EastBanc is following the planned-unit development process, which adds public amenities in order to win zoning exceptions, but such projects ordinarily need a lot size of at least 15,000 square feet. The Georgetown site is half that, and developers are asking the Zoning Commission to waive that lot size requirement in this case.

On Monday, the D.C. Office of Planning submitted its recommendation for approval of the project, with certain conditions. The recommendation is subject to EastBanc working with the city for public space improvements and with the National Park Service for “long-term maintenance of the park land to the west,” according to the agency.

The agency also asked the firm to work with the Department of Housing and Community Development “on their contribution to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund,” — a fund in which Mayor Muriel Bowser has vowed to invest $100 million a year. The project does not feature affordable housing, but under the current proposal developers have agreed to contribute $359,604 to the trust fund.

Describing the public benefits the development offers, the Office of Planning notes plans for an improved street environment around the site, “including wider sidewalks, native plantings, and outdoor cafe seating.” Renderings envision a Capital Bikeshare station on Pennsylvania Avenue, with new trees, benches and bicycle racks around the area.

The project remains subject to the approval of the Old Georgetown Board and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and additional review by the National Park Service. The Old Georgetown Board reviewed multiple iterations of the proposal last year and expressed support for the general concept of replacing the gas station with a mixed-use building of this scale.

This article appears in the July 13 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

3 Comments   Click here to share your thoughts.

41-Foot-Tall Sculpture Eyed for Georgetown Waterfront

July 6, 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.

Click here to share your thoughts.