Monday, August 23, 2010

The Whitman-Walker Project: A Preview of What's to Come

Anyone who follows the pace of development around Logan and Shaw knows that the past couple of years has witnessed a tremendous slowdown in terms of new projects in the area. Several high profile projects, such as the Utopia at 14th and U, the Nehemiah Center redevelopment a few blocks north of that, and the U Street Hotel Project, have ground to a halt, with no immediate signs of progress.

This environment, in part, is what makes the forthcoming groundbreaking of JBG's mixed-use development at the former Whitman-Walker Development at 14th and S Streets all the more interesting. Spanning the length of a full block between S Street and Swann Street NW, the project will see 125 residential units and over 18,000 square feet of retail added to the corridor, the area's largest project in several years. Recently, 14thandYou had an opportunity to sit down with James Nozar, JBG's project manager for the development, to pick his brain about the project as well as his thoughts on what's to come along the 14th Street corridor.

Timeline: Demolition of most of the buildings on the block (save for the historic Whitman-Walker building at the corner of 14th and S, which will be incorporated into the project) will commence within the next two to three weeks, as the final permitting issues are being worked out. Demolition will take approximately one month, after which time foundation work and other pre-construction activities will begin. At this time, Nozar is anticipating that the project will deliver in Spring - early Summer 2012.

The close-to-final rendering of the building is shown above, with only a few minor tweaks remaining (such as the color of the terra cotta--yes, that's terra cotta on the front, not brick).

The Project: The development, which does not yet have a name ("We're working on that," says Nozar. "We'd like to have a name for the project within the next month or so.") will be one of the largest projects to go up along 14th Street in recent years. All told, the building will house 125 condo units, approximately 85% of which will be efficiencies and 1 BR units. The project will also feature over 18,000 square feet of retail, fronting both 14th Street and S Street. Although no tenants have signed yet, Nozar has some ideas. "We've been approached by many potential commercial tenants," he said. These include everyone from small, independent boutiques, to local and national chain furniture retailers and a variety of restaurants, including "practically every major chef and restauranteur in the region."

Although the exact retail size specs are still in flux, Nozar indicated that the project will most likely feature two restaurants--one larger, full-service establishment, and a smaller, casual cafe-type of space. (And to those clamoring for a bagel shop: James has heard your pleas, but can't promise anything yet.) A smaller space could also see an arts-related use, Nozar said. However, as much as they would like to ensure that local retailers are included in the project, there is no mandate for it. "We want retail that represents a best use for the neighborhood and the space, regardless of whether it's a local business or national retailer--but our preference is for local shops."

Condos or Apartments?: Nozar indicated that the residential units in the building would likely be condos, rather than apartments, although a final decision wouldn't be made until approximately 12 months before delivery. Why condos?

"Our analysis showed that there are not many condo units remaining in the 14th Street/Logan area, particularly the smaller units--studios and one bedrooms," he said. "The ones still on the market tend to be larger, more expensive units. The smaller units are selling much more quickly and are in higher demand." The term "smaller" is key here, because the units in the Whitman-Walker project are going to be smaller than the typical units available throughout the city. The average one bedroom will clock it at around 650 square feet, which is approximately 100 square feet smaller than the typical unit elsewhere. Two bedroom units would come in at around 1000 square feet. To compensate for the smaller square footage, JBG has contracted with a layout and interior designer Cecconi Simone to develop the layout for the space.

"I believe that most people, when comparing one of our floorplans to the floorplan of a slightly larger unit, would actually think that ours is the larger unit, simply because of the way the unit is laid out." Of the 125 residential units, six will be located in the historic Whitman-Walker building that is being preserved as part of the project, including one "premier unit" that will include over 2,000 square feet of space and two rooftop decks.

Although pricing still needs to be finalized, Nozar indicated that most studios and one bedrooms would be retailing in the "$300k - $400k range."

What's next?: Nozar lives in the Logan Circle neighborhood, which he feels is the "most exciting neighborhood in the city."

"Do you think we're ahead of a place like Georgetown now?" I asked him. "Well, Logan and Georgetown are two distinct neighborhoods, and difficult to compare" he replied. "But I can tell you that I hardly ever venture into Georgetown to shop or eat, and most people I know don't either--Logan and U Street seem to have come up more organically, and it's more interesting here. We've got a great diversity of retail, restaurants...we've got the "furniture row"-thing going. It's a really great place to be."

I asked if there were any other projects in the pipeline that he could tell us about.

"Not that I can tell you," he laughed, although he did indicate that JBG is currently looking at "several" other locations in and around the neighborhood as a potential location for a new project. As for JBG's proposed U Street Hotel project, Nozar doesn't seem to think we should be holding our breath for that one anytime soon.

"In addition to the problems with securing financing for a hotel project--which is very difficult these days--there is the issue of finding an acceptable location for the Rite-Aid (located at 13th and U)" he said. In other words, that one could be a ways off.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for the wrecking crew at 14th and S, as the next chapter of 14th Street's redevelopment continues.

For more information about the Whitman-Walker development, visit JBG's website.

1 comment:

makati condo said...

Stunning photos of the building you have shared. Great project you have. Good luck in everything.

Deirdre G