Image courtesy of WCP.
Renderings of the proposed West Heating Plant condo project were released yesterday (these come via Aaron Weiner at the City Paper). The images come the day after the group behind the project held a public meeting to unveil their plans for the building. GM unfortunately couldn’t make it to the meeting, but between the City Paper, Carol Joynt, and the Current (see your front steps for the link), it seems to have been sufficiently covered.
So by all means read those articles. But one theme they missed is how much this public relations effort has a bit of gamesmanship to it. Here’s why:
The Four Seasons group wants to tear the building down. Period. It wants to do so because that is the only way they can make back a good return on the $19.5 million they paid for the property. Trying to repurpose the building without tearing it down would require either massive amounts of money, or a decision to use the space for something other than condos. Once that $19.5 million is out the door, those options largely disappear.
And that’s the rub.
GM has spoken to some who plan to protest the plans, and here’s their argument (and GM is not saying he necessarily agrees with it, but here it is): Every bidder on the property was made aware by the government before they bid that any plans for the building would have to preserve the exterior. The competing bidders accepted that and bid less. If the Four Seasons group decided to base their $19.5 million bid on the assumption that tearing down most of the building was going to be allowed, that’s their mistake. Further, they’d argue that it would be unfair to the other bidders to allow the economic infeasibility of preservation–an infeasibility created by the large bid–come into the consideration of whether to preserve the building or not.
Now that they’ve won the bidding, all arguments are going to be directed towards convincing everyone that tearing down the building (save for the 29th st. facade) is essential. Also, they’ll argue that the building is ugly anyway, so why preserve it? The funny thing about that argument is that the proposed design explicitly mimics the old building. (GM personally believes that what people find ugly about it is its hulking size, which is the primary trait that the Four Seasons group wants to preserve. And for the record, GM doesn’t agree at all that the building is ugly.)
The park is also part of the effort. The proposed designs are lovely, and they’ve certainly won over some to support the project. But (again, this is the preservationists talking, not necessarily GM) not building a park was never really an option given the zoning restrictions applied to the land by DC. So nobody should be bribed by a park into supporting the project.
There’s a lot of money riding on this. A lot. And if the Old Georgetown Board ends up rejecting the proposal, GM predicts it will be appealed to the Mayor’s agent. The last high profile case of preservation of an unloved building resulted in that building getting torn down. We may be on the same path.