Sunday, May 23, 2010

How the District Could Botch the Dupont Underground Redevelopment - Again

Much has been written recently about the opportunity and growing impetus to redevelop the so-called "Dupont Underground," the abandoned trolley tracks beneath Dupont Circle. The last attempt--to develop it as an underground food court in the mid-90s--was a dismal failure, and closed within a year. The space has been vacant ever since.

Recently however, the District released an RFP to redevelop the nearly 100,000 square feet of space. Among the ideas put forth for the space is of a massive arts space, where exhibitions could be held and artists studios could exist, along with classrooms, theaters and a cafe. In short, the vision is to transform the dilapidated space into a world class arts venue that would attract artists, businesses, residents and tourists.

While it all sounds like a splendid concept, there is still a tremendous opportunity to botch the project, something that University of Maryland architecture professor Roger Lewis argues the city is doing.

The problem, as Lewis explains in an op-ed in today's Washington Post, is that the requirements put forth in the District's RFP are far too stringent, and place far too much of the burden on the private developer. As Lewis writes:

"...the city hopes that a well-qualified development team will come up with an inspiring, economically viable concept -- and all necessary design and construction funding -- to reanimate part or all of the tunnels, which in total contain about 100,000 square feet of floor area.

[To] be acceptable, a proposal not only must set forth a credible idea, but also must show sufficient financial capability, identify specific funding sources and point to a track record of doing similar work. Given this unprecedented, highly risky project with countless unknowns and certain to cost many millions of dollars to implement, the city's RFP requirements and criteria are especially unrealistic."

Drawing analogies from New York City's famed "High Line" park project, and San Antonio's River Walk, Lewis argues that sans an adequate level of investment and assistance, the Underground project's future does not appear encouraging. Both New York's and San Antonio's projects were unique in size and scope, and were dependent upon significant funding and support from their respective cities in order to be successful. At this point, bidders for the Dupont Underground project stand to benefit from neither.

To raise money for the project, the nonprofit Arts Coalition for Dupont Underground is attempting to raise money to advance the project. Additional details about their plan and efforts can be found on their website.

Responses to the RFP are due to the District by Monday, May 31, after which the District will review all proposals submitted to determine which--if any--meet the criteria set forth in the RFP. According to the timeline posted in the RFP, the District will select the winning submission sometime during the summer of 2010. Whether there will be a winner given the RFP's constraints, however, remains to be seen.

Flowers on Fourteenth Moving...Down the Street

Via Borderstan, longtime 14th Street purveyor of plant reproductive structures, Flowers On Fourteenth, is moving their operations down the street to the space formerly occupied by Cafe Salsa.

Cafe Salsa abruptly shut its doors a couple of weeks ago, leaving a vacancy near a corner (14th and R) due for significant revitalization in the coming years. The decision by Flowers On Fourteenth to move down the block helps ensure that at least one longtime neighborhood fixture will remain. Retail continuity along 14th Street is increasingly a concern, as longtime businesses have either closed or may soon relocate.

At the same time, a host of new businesses are set to enter the scene, as long-awaited furniture retailer Room and Board progresses towards a summer opening, and JBG gets set to begin work on their massive project between S and Swann streets.

Flowers On Fourteenth has been operating on 14th Street for years. The 14thandyous have occasionally purchased flowers from them, to mixed results--my last purchase, for Mrs. 14thandyou's birthday, resulted in the premature death of about half the flowers within a day's time. I promptly returned the bouquet, which FoF was more than happy to fix. Thus, while the PITA factor was high, we eventually got a bouquet that was quite lovely, until, that is, the 14thandyou cats turned it into salad.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Out and About: DC SCORES Annual Inspired Arts Benefit

If you're looking for an opportunity to meet local artists in a fabulous setting while supporting a worthwhile organization, you'll have an opportunity to do just that tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, May 19 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, local after school nonprofit DC SCORES is hosting their annual benefit, the Inspired Art Gala, featuring works by numerous local artists. Artists submitted work for auction that was inspired by the creative writing output of DC SCORES students, as well as pieces that compliment poetry provided by the students. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of the artwork will benefit DC SCORES.

One artist who is participating is U Street-based Isabelle Spicer, who originally hails from Paris but now spends her days studying at the Torpedo factory and painting urban landscapes, many of them in and around the U Street and Logan area. More information about Ms. Spicer, as well as a portfolio of some of her work, is available here.

In all, more than 50 local artists are participating in the $200-per ticket gala. Additional information about the event can be found here. To learn more about DC SCORES and their unique after-school programs for DC youth, please click here.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

New This Summer: the U Street Movie Series

I hope everyone is outside enjoying an absolutely splendid Saturday afternoon--it's hard to believe weather can get much nicer, which is certainly great news for local businesses and the 14th and U farmer's market.

And while we're on the subject of nice weather, this seems like a good time to share news of an exciting, new event in the U Street area this summer: the U Street Movie Series. Once a month this summer, starting in June, movies will be screened for free at the Harrison Recreation Center Field on V Street between 13th and 14th. As an added touch, complimentary popcorn will be provided to the first 100 attendees each night.

The Movie Series is a project by the Friends of Harrison Recreation Center, and is supported by numerous community groups, including the U Street Neighborhood Association, Meridian Hill Neighborhood Association, ANC1B and the Mid-City Business Association.

The first movie--Michael Jackson's "This Is It"--will be shown on Tuesday, June 8. The rest of the season's schedule, included below, all features a music theme, in keeping with U Street's legacy as a center for music in DC.

Donations and sponsorships, all of which will benefit the Friends of Harrison, are encouraged. Additional information can be found at

U Street Movie Series 2010 Schedule:

June 8: Michael Jackson’s This Is It (rain date June 15)
July 13: Buena Vista Social Club (rain date July 20)
August 10: The Soloist (rain date Aug 17)
September 14: Duke Ellington’s Washington and Soul Power (rain date Sept 21)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Tensions Rise in Masa 14 Negotiations at ANC Meeting

Is it a conflict of interest for an ANC commissioner tasked with negotiating a voluntary agreement with an establishment to also be serving as a witness for a group of residents protesting the establishment?

That was one of several issues to arise during a tense ANC1B meeting on Thursday evening at the Reeves Center. The commissioner in question is ANC1B commissioner and Liquor Licenses Committee Chairman Peter Raia, who has been leading negotiations on behalf of the ANC for an expansion of popular 14th Street restaurant Masa 14. Masa is seeking to open a rooftop deck, which has created a not insubstantial amount of concern amongst neighbors concerning the potential for noise emanating from the establishment at late hours.

In his position as Liquor License Committee Chairman, Raia has been tasked with negotiating the revised voluntary agreement with Masa. At Thursday's meeting, fellow ANC1B commission Brianne Nadeau raised the point that Raia, in addition to his ANC position, has also agreed to serve as a witness for a group of residents protesting the expansion. Masa 14 exists within Raia's single member district. 1B Chairperson Anderson Holness pointed out that nothing precludes Raia from serving in both roles, provided it is clear that he is acting only as a resident--and not as an ANC commissioner--when serving as a witness for the group of resident protestants.

Things became increasingly testy when Andrew Kline, the attorney representing Masa in the negotiations, came before the ANC to discuss the status of the negotiations. Kline claimed that he was assured by Raia that Raia would support operating hours of Masa's rooftop deck of 1 AM on weekdays and 2 AM on weekends. Raia claimed no such promise was ever made, to which Kline responded "Are you calling me a liar, Mr. Raia?"

At this point, Chairperson Holness intervened and warned both Kline and Raia against bringing personal disagreements before the ANC. After additional discussions, Raia put forth a motion for the ANC to accept Masa's outdoor operating hours of 11 PM on weekdays and 12 AM on weekends, hours which Kline indicated Masa would find unacceptable. That motion failed.

Commissioner Nadeau followed with a motion of her own, recommending that the ANC accept operating hours of 1 AM on weekdays and 2 AM on weekends; that was later amended to midnight on weekdays and 2 AM on weekends. That motion passed 6-1, with Raia being the only "nay" vote. Kline indicated that this compromise would likely be acceptable, which brings that matter nearer to a close.

The tense discussions highlighted the constant struggle within ANC1B to successfully handle the volume of liquor licenses within the commission's boundaries. Raia has been chairing meetings of the ANC's liquor license committee, which have met with some controversy in the past regarding who can attend, and what kind of business gets conducted there.

In October, Mid-City Business Association Vice President Jean Homza wrote a letter to all ANC1B commissioners regarding the meetings, claiming that she was essentially kicked out of the Committee's October meeting, with Commissioner Raia telling her that "that only residents could participate in the committee." This was in apparent contradiction to the statement on the ANC's website, which stated "members of the community are encouraged to join and participate in the work of this committee."

Homza raised concerns regarding the type of business conducted at the meetings, which included discussions about the "thoughts of the community on our current [liquor] licenses," particularly in light of the fact that the meeting was apparently not open to all members of the community.

Since then, the Committee's meeting times have been posted to the ANC's website, and have been open to all members of the community. The next meeting will take place on Thursday, May 19.

As to the ongoing saga of Masa 14's license, the ANC's vote on Thursday helps bring the matter closer to completion. Still outstanding, however, is the resident protest, of which--as noted above--Raia will be serving as a witness. A hearing on the license is scheduled for June, which will take place should the parties be unable to reach agreement.

LGBT Center Moving Out, JBG Moving In

Via MetroWeekly, it was announced last week that The Center, the organization whose mission is "to celebrate, strengthen, and support community among the LGBT residents and organizations of Metropolitan Washington, DC" will be moving out of their temporary offices on 14th Street in June.

The reason? JBG Cos. is getting ready to demolish the building, located at 1810 14th Street NW, in order to begin work on their much-anticipated project on that block.

The Center entered into a short-term lease agreement with JBG in January, understanding that the move would be temporary. With JBG's announcement last month that they planned to break ground on the project this fall, The Center's time at the location was up.

The location had become a community center of sorts for DC's LGVT community, hosting such organizations as Bet Mishpachah, the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (CAGLCC, aka the chamber), the DC Agenda/Washington Blade, the DC Community AIDS Network, Helping our Brothers and Sisters, and the Latino GLBT History Project.

It is not yet known where The Center will relocate. Prior to landing at their current location, they had been renting space at 14th and L.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sneak Peek: Cork and Fork

A new wine retailer is about to open along 14th Street.

Gainesville, VA-based Cork and Fork, wine merchants who specialize in "some of the finest wines, beers, and cheeses from around the world not available at your local grocery store" will be opening to the public on Saturday, May 8. This evening, they held a soft opening, where we were treated with a tasting of some of the wines they will be carrying (and at least one beer), along with some light hors d'oeuvres.

Co-owner Dominique Landragin will be managing the store which will be located near the corner of 14th and Church streets, next door to the Homemade Pizza Co. In addition to the Gainesville location, Cork and Fork also has an outpost in Bethesda.

Landragin discussed the idea behind the store, which will include a lot of tastings, as well as wine-and-food pairing events that will introduce people to wines they may not be aware of, as well as some hard-to-find beers. (The one they were tasting tonight, a Spanish beer called Estrella, was a lovely, light wheat beer that reminded me a bit of Allagash White.)

While there, I asked Landragin what, to me, seemed to be the obvious question: are there any concerns with being mistaken for the guys a couple of blocks up the street? "Not at all," he said. "People will know that there is a difference between us."

Time will tell, I suppose. The official opening will take place this Saturday. Those wishing to learn more may do so at

Sunday, May 2, 2010

ANC Meetings Galore: Thaitanic on the Docket, New Restaurants in Shaw

For those of you into this kind of thing, the ANC2F meeting (that would be Logan Circle and environs) is meeting this Wednesday to discuss things like street closures and DDOT projects. But for those of you who frequent a certain Thai place on 14th Street, there is a bit of interesting news for you.

Thaitanic is looking to expand to a second floor and remain open until 2 AM seven days a week. This has caused some, er, concern amongst the neighbors, and the matter comes before the ANC Wednesday, as attempt to work out a voluntary agreement with the establishment.

Those interested in learning more can visit ANC2F's website.

Over at the ANC1B meeting on Thursday evening, they'll be discussing, among other things, two proposed new restaurant/lounges in the Shaw/Howard U. area. One is the proposed Gll Restaurant and Lounge, located at 2632 Georgia Avenue, which is looking to bring an American cuisine-style restaurant with live jazz to Georgia Avenua. The other is a coffee house/bar/lounge dubbed The Independent (as opposed to the partisan), which will be located at 7th and Florida. Both places are fairly good size, but the Independent stands out in particular, with a total occupancy of 235 and a summer garden with an occupancy of 90. They're looking to be open until 2 AM Sun- Thurs, and until 3 AM on Friday and Saturday. Good luck on that one, boys.

Also of note: a discussion regarding the proposed expansion of the African-American Civil War Museum.

For more details, visit the ANC1B website.

Random Neighborhood Thoughts, Pt. 2

The latest in a continuing series of posts that are basically a series of disconnected thoughts. Best for those of us with ADD.


OK, I get that people enjoy dining al fresco, particularly when the weather is nice. But is dining outside along 14th Street really that enjoyable of an experience? Between the noise and fumes emanating from the Metrobuses, the general cacophony of 14th Street traffic (particularly motorcycles and EMS vehicles) and random people approaching you for a "friendly chat", let's just say that I've dined outside in better places.


It will be a nice day once Metro is able to update its fleet of buses and get everything running as quiet as, say, the G2 along P Street. The 50 line buses can sound like a jet engine taking off when they accelerate--which is amplified when the Metrobus driver stops and accelerates a dozen times in the space of a single block.


Speaking of buses, I meant to write earlier about the story from a few weeks back noting that the District was stepping back from Circulator expansion out of concern that it was competing with the Metrobus system. My question: why is that a bad thing? If people gravitate towards a system that offers greater frequency and reliability, a simplified route and fewer stops (meaning you get to your destination faster), that should say something to the Metro powers-that-be. Your job should be to present District residents with the most dependable and reliable public transit possible; if Metrobus is failing in that regard, fix it. Don't cut back on Circulator expansion simply because it's perceived to be stealing riders from Metrobus.


Switching gears a bit...I'm impressed with how the Room and Board building is coming along. I'll be the first to admit that the prospects of yet another furniture retailer along 14th Street didn't exactly send me rushing into the streets with giddyness. But they're doing a fantastic renovation on that building, and the customer traffic they will bring into the neighborhood can only serve to help the other local retailers. It's also nice to have a new business enter the neighborhood that doesn't provoke some kind of alcohol-fueled controversy.


For all the talk about how DC's homicide rate continues to plummet (and that is a *good* thing), why no talk about how gun crimes are going up through the roof? It's good that the triggers aren't getting pulled as often, but for anyone on the wrong end of a gun robbery the experience can be traumatizing. Yeah, DC's something like a thousand times safer than it was 20 years ago, but let's maintain some perspective.


OK, seriously, WTF is with all of the tagging going on in the neighborhood? We raised this back in February, with assurances that it would be addressed. Yet, near as I can tell, the volume of tags has only increased. The Verizon building next door to Cafe Salsa got hit sometime last week.


I noticed that the 11th Street streetscape project is finally wrapping up. A mere 10 months over schedule. And people wonder why business owners get nervous whenever a streetscape project is announced? To see what a *really* messed up street looks like, head over to H Street NE. That one is a real mess.


And finally...yes, the Caps loss to Montreal is beyond disappointing, yes Bruce Boudreau should be brought back, and no, Jaroslav Halak is not the second coming of Patrick Roy or Dominic Hasek. He just played like it.

Now I've been reduced to rooting for my other favorite team: whoever is playing Pittsburgh.