Design board rejects aspects of mall plan

Photo by Bill Petros/The Current
The Old Georgetown Board objected to a two-story window proposed for this corner of the Shops at Georgetown Park.
The Old Georgetown Board objected to a two-story window proposed for this corner of the Shops at Georgetown Park.

By Elizabeth Wiener...Current Staff Writer...

The long-anticipated redevelopment of the Shops at Georgetown Park hit another stumbling block last week, as the Old Georgetown Board rejected several major elements of a plan for larger store windows and doors to attract shoppers into the underused mall at 3222 M St.

Members of the design review panel, which guards over exterior changes in the Georgetown historic district, were especially critical of a plan for a roll-up metal door to cover the mall’s loading dock, which opens onto one of the neighborhood’s busiest blocks. “On M Street, you can’t have a big blank roll-up door,” said chair Stephen Vanze.

After several changes in ownership, prolonged litigation and multiple design reviews, Vornado Realty Trust is now trying to make the vacancy-plagued mall more welcoming to major and upscale retailers. Plans discussed at the board meeting last week seem designed to provide more exterior entrances to individual shops, a scheme used -- for example, at Mazza Gallerie in Friendship Heights -- to get away from the outmoded era of enclosed shopping malls with store entrances tucked away inside.

But the details, presented by architect Jon Eisen, disturbed the three members of the panel, all distinguished architects themselves. The same board required multiple reviews and revisions before approving a glassy new Apple Store on Wisconsin Avenue two years ago.

Of particular concern this time around was a proposed two-story glass window near the northwest corner of the mall, designed for “a larger format tenant, up to 100,000 square feet. Whoever that tenant may be, they would want a presence on M Street,” Eisen said. Vornado has not revealed major tenants, but there is much speculation that Bloomingdale’s or perhaps Target might come to the site.

Of the big expanse of glass, member Anne Lewis said flatly, “no second-story storefront. It’s not appropriate for this facade, or for Georgetown.”

Along the western side of the mall, facing the Dean & Deluca cafe, Eisen suggested a variety of new show windows and entrances, some with bays, and one with doors sticking out of a window bay. “That’s four different conditions, and four different solutions,” Lewis said. “Openings in bays are problematic,” she added, noting that the doors could bang into sidewalk traffic.

There were also drawings that showed windows added to the tower on the mall’s southwest corner, as well as entrances to the mall itself filled in with windows and doors for individual shops.

“That’s your approach -- introducing nothing but randomness,” criticized board member David Cox. “Considering the economic conditions Georgetown Park has found itself in, you want to give each tenant what they want, and extend the square footage.”

Board members and others noted that the mall itself is not an architectural masterpiece. “Not that we’re trying to protect this non-historic building,” said Tim Dennée of the city Historic Preservation Office. “But it should be compatible with the neighborhood.”

And then there was the proposal for a metal roll-down door in the middle of the M Street facade. It would cover an open loading dock, and Eisen said it is needed “to get better control of trucks” and to shut off the loading dock entirely when the building is closed.

“There’s a way to do gates, or roll-up doors,” said Dennée. “But this makes me think of a riot gate. It’s not the kind of thing you want to see on the main street of Georgetown.”

There was no formal vote, but the board urged Eisen, as Cox put it, “to rethink your approach.”

Vornado Realty Trust has been close-lipped about its plans for the mall, which it will manage for New York firm Angelo, Gordon & Co.

Mark Semer, a New York-based spokesperson for Vornado, said, “We won’t be able to comment” on potential tenants or the Old Georgetown Board review.

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

0 Comments For This Article

Simon Jacobsen

We should all plant a great big kiss on the members of the Old Georgetown Board for standing up to developers who do not have our architectural history in mind. Georgetown Park was no home run architecturally when it was built and it remains that way today, just even more dated. This mall will not define Georgetown's history if it survives, or not, but the developers who are pressing for these changes are viewing our (in their case someone else's) history through a paper towel tube to serve their own best interests, and the proposed plans reflect that. It is as if they are knocking on the door of a club that they neither care about or want to join.

We need to stand behind the OGB and remind them that they are doing a good job and the Georgetown community doesn't take for granted the efforts in the defense of our village. I propose Superman capes for all of them.

Anonymous

Really Simon? I hope you are not being serious with that comment. In case you have not noticed, Georgetown's retail economy is struggle and much of the M Street storefronts are vacant.

Anonymous

It is a shame Anthony Lanier is not driving this bus. Anthony understands that Georgetown should feel like a European village not a Lifestyle center in central Oklahoma...... A Target! How can anyone even put Georgetown and Target in the same sentence, much less on M Street.
But they don't live here and I guess that if the money is right (for the developers) we may get a Walmart on one end, a Target on the other, and a Best Buy in between.
Georgetown residents, wake up. The mall is bad now but at least it is innocuous. If we can not have better why have anything?

I for one do not want to live next to a lifestyle center. Thanks OGB

Anthony.....help.

Anonymous

I am in total agreement that The Shops, in it's current form at least, has the feeling of a village of small boutiques that Georetown has always exemplified. It's clear that the mall needs some work and updating to address things like the ventalation, leaking ceilings, and an abysmal food court and common areas. But it seems that each new owner has come in with an "all we need to do is wipe everything out to make it all modern and new" mentality, without bothering to go to the heart of the matter to figure out what's wrong with The Shops. There has never been an advisory board of mall tenants and local residents to give the owners input from those who work and shop in the mall. There's no one to speak to about how to improve the mall internally. It seems that the owners have done absolutely nothing to invite potential customers into the mall - for example during the Christmas holiday season there is no effort to invoke the holiday spirit with 20 foot Christmas trees in the open areas and train sets running throughout common spaces and photo ops with Santa. No matter how nice the street-front shops are, they just can't capture that classic holiday shopping experience in the same way that the mall can.

Despite its shortcomings there are a lot of really great things about the mall - including some the unique boutiques - that the owners should work to preserve. Georgetown is unique and any mall there should emote that uniqueness - in otherwords a cookie-cutter exterior facade, filled with chain retailers just doesn't seem right.

Maybe when the owners and the architects go back to the drawing table, they'll do it right this time...