Georgetown Current

Slated Georgetown Project Struggling to Find Retail Tenants

May 17, 2017

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

A planned Georgetown commercial building that won zoning and design approval two years ago continues to remain in limbo as no tenants have yet signed a lease for the project.

Currently the site of a surface parking lot, the property at 3220 Prospect St. NW is envisioned as two stories with 28,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and office space above an underground parking garage. Those plans won approval in 2015 from the Board of Zoning Adjustment and the Old Georgetown Board.

But the development hasn’t yet received financing, because lenders want 65 percent of the retail space pre-leased before providing construction loans, according to a recent zoning filing. The project has thus far fallen short of that mark — despite extensive work with nearly 100 prospective tenants, none has officially signed on.

The zoning board granted a two-year extension of its approval for the project on May 3 with minimal discussion. But developer McCaffery Interests’ written zoning filing spells out the firm’s interactions with a host of prospective tenants. Several businesses are in lease negotiations for the site — multiple restaurants, an upscale hardware store and a women’s clothing store — and numerous others have expressed interest.

However, the filing was also candid about why many other businesses weren’t interested. Some were reluctant to add locations. Others were more attracted to other destinations, frequently the new CityCenterDC development downtown; Georgetown’s own Cady’s Alley and M Street; and suburban Virginia.

“Tenant is not interested in Georgetown,” reads the entry for a fast-casual restaurant. “Feels there is a lack of daytime traffic.” A French accessories shop was “doing deal in City Center. Georgetown not correct fit.” A beachwear shop: “Tenant would like to know who anchor tenant is before responding.” A women’s clothing store: “Not comfortable with the sales projections in Georgetown.” A computer company: “Very cautious on future expansion plans.”

Despite the issues, McCaffery senior partner Juan Cameron told The Current his team remains optimistic about the project. “It’s just the overall malaise of retail throughout this country, throughout the world — nothing to do with this area,” Cameron said. “We believe it’s still a vibrant area.”

Jamie Scott, economic development manager for the Georgetown Business Improvement District, conceded that Georgetown’s customer base is increasingly distributed among multiple upscale locations, and that online shopping has also taken its toll on some brick-and-mortar businesses.

“At the same time we see that the Georgetown retail market is still fundamentally strong,” Scott said. Citing e-commerce giant Amazon’s recently announced bookstore slated to open near Georgetown’s former Barnes & Noble, he told The Current that “while there are certainly other neighborhoods where retailers are also considering, there are a lot of brands that still want to be in Georgetown.”

Scott said that without knowing the lease rates and building layout of the 3220 Prospect project, it was hard to be certain why retailers have been hesitant. But even beyond that, Scott said, he wasn’t concerned by the tenants’ selectivity. “There are some businesses where Georgetown isn’t as suitable for their business model, but I don’t think that’s an indictment on Georgetown in general,” Scott said.

Scott also pointed to expanded commercial activity on Grace Street NW as an indication that businesses can thrive outside of Georgetown’s busiest commercial corridors. Meanwhile, the area boasts a large number of residents, students, tourists and office workers, he added. “I think the market can sustain and absorb more square footage of retail space,” Scott said.

The Prospect Street project — formerly dubbed Prospect Place and not yet renamed — will ideally include three to four retail/restaurant tenants of varying sizes in addition to some second-floor office tenants, Cameron said. Underground, 96 parking spaces would replace about 84 spaces on the existing lot.

The project went through a lengthy Old Georgetown Board design review to ensure the building would fit in with its historic surroundings, and also needed Board of Zoning Adjustment approval to construct commercial space with no loading dock. A condition of that review states that the project can’t include a restaurant or other tenant with intensive loading needs in the first three years, but Cameron believes the project team could work with the D.C. Department of Transportation to provide an acceptable loading plan.

Asked whether the project team was considering residential space in the project, Cameron replied: “We’re looking at everything right now.”

The property is currently generating comfortable revenue from the parking lot, and the owners — Georgetown’s long-established Weaver family — don’t want to redevelop it prematurely, according to Cameron. “We’re working diligently, talking to a lot of different players and the family that owns the land to make sure we put together the best lineup that we can,” said Cameron. “They’re looking at this as a legacy asset. ... The Weavers have been in Georgetown for over 200 years, and they want to be there for another 200 years.” 

This article appears in the May 17 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


Click here to share your thoughts.


Neighbors Seek Pause on Ellington Construction Project

May 11, 2017

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

After complaining for more than a year about problems associated with the renovation project at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, neighbors are now looking toward more decisive action.

Residents who live near the Burleith campus at 35th and R streets NW say they’ve made repeated requests for relief from construction hassles like contractors parking illegally on their streets, loud noise at inconvenient times and debris left behind in their otherwise picturesque residential neighborhood.

Last week the ad hoc Duke Ellington Transportation/Management Committee took a further step: asking Sigal Construction and the D.C. Department of General Services to shut down the project until the concerns are ironed out.

The Ellington committee was formed at the outset of the arts school’s renovation to connect community groups and residents with the project team. Committee member Ed Solomon — who is also a member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) — delivered the shutdown request in a May 4 email to Sigal and relevant D.C. officials.

A meeting between stakeholders and Sigal executives is now scheduled for today, and neighbors plan to once again relay a litany of grievances.

“Shutdown is a measure of last resort,” Solomon said. “The contractor is working hard and hiring more people. We want the project completed soon as possible. But I have to balance that against the complaints of the community and get some resolution.”

Representatives from Sigal did not return requests for comment in time for publication.

The massive renovation, scheduled to wrap in time for students to start there this fall, is expanding Ellington’s arts facilities with a new theater, additional classroom space and other upgrades. The project’s current budget of $177 million has exceeded the original estimate by nearly $100 million.

Finishing the project on time has high stakes — Ellington students have been occupying temporary space at the Meyer Elementary School campus at 11th and Clifton streets NW since fall 2014, but that facility is scheduled to host Hyde-Addison Elementary students beginning this fall for two years during that school’s renovation.

To meet that oncoming deadline, the Ellington project has recently increased the number of construction workers on site, according to Jackie Stanley, spokesperson for the General Services Department.

One of the latest community frustrations stemmed from an after-hours permit granted on April 27 to contractors for Sunday work that can take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from May 5 to June 4. Solomon and other community stakeholders say they received no notice that contractors were seeking a permit, nor a concrete explanation for why they needed it.

Other issues have reportedly worsened from earlier conditions. According to information provided to Solomon by Sigal Construction, more than 300 workers come to the site each day, including approximately 200 drivers. Several residents have been in repeated contact with the Metropolitan Police Department and the Department of Public Works to urge a crackdown on parking enforcement — to little avail, they say.

According to Stanley, Sigal is shuttling workers from off-site locations, but neighbors say problems persist. Eric Langenbacher, president of the Burleith Citizens Association, said he’s started receiving more complaints about the project during the last three weeks. “When you have hundreds more cars on the streets, there’s a ripple effect through the neighborhood,” he said.

The issues also extend to the nearby Washington International School, located at 1690 36th St. NW right behind Ellington. Dale Temple, the school’s director of facilities and operations, said pickup and dropoffs at the primary school campus have been disrupted by the presence of as many as five construction trucks waiting to unload on the street. In general, when the school has complained to Sigal, the problems have gone away temporarily, only to return in full force, Temple said.

“There doesn’t appear to be a plan for how these trucks arrive, where they deliver, how they’re being directed,” Temple said. Litter and dust have also been issues for the school, he said.

Neighbors also predict the construction impacts may start bleeding south of Burleith into Georgetown as the project races toward its conclusion. Citizens Association of Georgetown president Bob vom Eigen told The Current he has recently seen contractors parking on 35th Street NW near the Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School field. Dan Herlihy, a 35th Street neighbor of the school, said he’s seen them on 34th near Q as well.

More isolated incidents involve contractors behaving inappropriately near residences, according to neighbor accounts. “I had guys sitting there smoking a joint in front of our house a couple months ago,” Herlihy said. “It’s just been one thing after another.”

Solomon and others maintain optimism that their request for a shutdown will yield results. Neighbors still want the project to succeed, Solomon said.

“We’ve tried to address every request they’ve made,” he said of the construction team. “When they go ahead and just do one more thing such as the Sunday work without notifying us … we felt that was the tip of the iceberg.”

This article appears in the May 10 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


Click here to share your thoughts.


Dumbarton House to Reopen After Renovation

May 4, 2017

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

When the Dumbarton House was struggling with an aging and trouble-prone air conditioner, staff at the historic home and museum knew it was time for a mechanical upgrade.

But in a building that was constructed in 1799 and holds collections of antique furniture, artwork and other items, a seemingly simple replacement wouldn’t do. In addition to everyday concerns about cost and energy efficiency, Dumbarton needed to balance the humidity and temperature requirements of the building with those of its artifacts, while also ensuring comfort for visitors and staff. Meanwhile, changes to the ductwork had to be done with great care to avoid disturbing the historic rooms, which were designed long before such considerations were necessary.

All in all, executive director Karen Daly told The Current, the planning alone took three years. Actual installation has kept Dumbarton House from allowing general admission since October. But the work is paying off, and the 2715 Q St. NW museum announced Friday that regular public admission will resume June 1 — with many improvements. “We look forward to welcoming the community and visitors to Washington, D.C., back to reconnect with this piece of American history,” Daly said.

When the public returns to the Dumbarton House, visitors will also notice programmatic changes the staff made during the seven-month closure. Notably, some space on the second floor no longer replicates the historic look of old guest bedrooms, but now hosts exhibit areas with galleries and interactive materials for visitors to learn about the house and, more generally, the early days of Washington, D.C.

The changes will allow visitors to take self-guided tours armed with more information than a paper brochure, Daly said. Meanwhile, docents will offer a modified tour that focuses on the stories of people and events connected to the property. Joseph Nourse, the first occupant of the northern Georgetown house, worked as the first register of the treasury for the new federal government. Daly called him “America’s first civil servant,” and said that other members of the household — including paid servants, indentured servants and slaves — are also featured.

“We date back to 1799, and of course that was right as Washington was about to become the new nation’s capital — so it was a period of uncertainty here and for the country, and one that today a lot of visitors don’t consider,” said Daly. “We look back and take it as a given that our experimental democracy would be a success and revered throughout the world, but at the time these were untested waters.”

The exhibit space will also host a series called “The Exchange,” presenting original-source documents. When the home opens, the series will feature a rare original printing of the 1777 Articles of Confederation (and a second edition of The Federalist Papers from 1818, according to a news release).

Also concurrent with the HVAC work, Dumbarton House made repairs to its non-original windows — and discovered that one window, located at the attic level, in fact did date to the home’s original construction, Daly said. Even more curiously to the staff, it showed signs of surviving a fire that curators didn’t know had occurred at Dumbarton. “We’ll be turning researchers’ attention to that next,” Daly said.

Dumbarton House had initially planned to reopen in April. Daly said that although the HVAC work was mostly done by then — some fine-tuning of the settings remains — the museum is still in the process of bringing back the house’s contents from climate-controlled storage. “We’re not behind schedule per se, but we have clarified the reopening activities to focus on the first week of June to have a little fanfare when the collection was moved back in and reinstalled,” Daly said.

The timing also coincides with the Dupont-Kalorama Museum Walk on June 3 and 4, which will offer free admission at Dumbarton and four other nearby museums.

A reopening reception will take place from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. June 1, with tickets costing $40 per person. A free community reopening celebration will take place at noon June 3. General operating hours will be 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays once the museum reopens, with admission for most patrons costing $10 per person. Visit dumbartonhouse.org for more information.

This article appears in the May 3 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


Click here to share your thoughts.