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.


Mackenzie said...

Just to be clear, it failed last time when the developer ran off with the investors' money. Yes, they sued him. And then they settled. And then he transferred the money to an offshore account and never paid them back.

(heard from one of the investors)

Paul said...

I think there are a major difference between the DuPont underground and the High Line. First the High Line was blight people could see. It clearly had negative influences and was holding back the community's ability to reach it's potential. The Dupont Underground on the otherhand is MOSTLY out of sight out of mind.

Secondly, the idea for a park at the High Line was a sure winner. There was little doubt residents of the concrete jungle would fully embrace more parkland. I haven't see one Dupont Underground idea put forth that doesn't seem highly questionable as to whether it would be embraced by the public and ultimately successful. Also, the most prominent ideas (art gallery, bike station) serve a niche community.

I don't want to see the city pour alot of money into this project just because without it we may have nothing in the tunnel. I don't see much potential in the tunnel. I mostly see risk for failure. I'd rather see the city invest money in making a few central parks (perhaps Franklin Park and Mount Vernon Square) more like Bryant Park and Madison Park by making major upgrades and programming the spaces with new uses. That's low risk and the payoffs would be reaped by everyone not some niche segment.

convexhull said...

I envision a giant underground parking lot. A sure money maker! Parking is expensive in the city and a greater supply of spaces would be appreciated. A set percentage of the spaces should designated monthly parking so that residents of the area could get some relief to the high price of car ownership.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but my first thoughts about an underground space in Dupont AGAIN, makes me think, smelly, homelessness, drug deals, cruisy bathrooms and health hazard Chinese Fish Deli's (14th & P Street).
I'm sure it would be a hit with the underbelly of the gay community, the homeless Dupont Circle crowd, the P Beach/Trail cruisers that want weather proof climate and the quick pass-off drug dealers but for us upper crusties let's leave it alone and focus on the betterment of what's above ground.
I prefer good thoughts about our community but revitalizing the Dupont Underground doesn't seem to provoke ANY.