Category Archives: Development

ANC Round Up: Pinstripes Edition

Last night the ANC met for its first hearing of the new year. And there’s no need to beat around the bush: the proposed bowling alley was front and center.

Pinstripes

A representative of Vornado attended the meeting to present his company’s plans for the mall, generally, and the bowling alley, specifically. The presentation was interesting for GM since it was the first time in a long time that Vornado has said anything publicly at all about the project (particularly the interior elements).

The plans for the bowling alley call for a company called Pinstripes to operate it. Pinstripes is a company founded in 2006 by Dale Schwartz in suburban Chicago. Mr. Schwartz was on hand last night to present his vision.

The phrase “high end” was used a lot.

Specifically the phrase “extraordinarily high end wine and food coupled with a bowling and banquet experience” was used. Moreover, the food promised is going to be “Four Seasons” and “Ritz Carlton”-level quality. In a bowling alley. Yeah, GM’s skeptical too.

But unbelievably audacious promises of food quality were not the primary focus of the discussion. That was instead the issue of noise.

Physically, Pinstripes would be located on the southeast corner of the building. You would enter the top of two floors along the canal just south of the old firehouse (soon to be the Frye Company).

On the top floor would be some restaurant and bar space as well as some banquet rooms (more on that later).

Downstairs would have the bowling lanes themselves, along with more tables and bar space and a bocce court. There will be twelve lanes.

Continue reading

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Bowling Coming to Georgetown?

Last Friday, Martin Austermuhle of DCist had a major scoop about Vornado’s plans for the Georgetown Park mall: the developer was planning on bringing in a bowling alley.

Austermuhle wrote:

The plans envision a restaurant on the mall’s first level—fronting Wisconsin Avenue—that seats 100, the 12 bowling lanes and three bocce courts. A second floor would include banquet rooms and two more bocce courts. Each game at Pinstripes’ other locations cost $5 not including the $4 for shoes, while entrees range from $17 to $27.

Intimating that the plans might be controversial, he also noted Vornado’s preemptive strategy:

Seemingly prepared for some pushback from local residents, the proposal tries to downplay the bowling element, saying that only 20 percent of the restaurant’s square footage will be dedicated to the sport and that less than five percent of its clientele are expected to partake. “The primary focus of the establishment will be on its food,” says the proposal, which cites menu items such as filet mignon, maple glazed salmon jumbo lump crab cake and “other fine-dining items.” Continue reading

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Jackson School Subject to Unsolicited Bid

 

Yesterday, GM wondered out loud why exactly the Jackson Art Center was on the ANC agenda. He found out. As he suspected, the matter relates to the lease between the artists and the city.

The Jackson School was used as an elementary school by the District until 1971. In 1980, the space began being used as artists studios. It has been used that way ever since, although the city still owns the building.

The lease between the art center and the city was apparently being negotiated recently when a third party came in with an unsolicited bid to buy the building from the city (presumably to convert the building into condos). This bid brought the lease negotiations to a halt. Continue reading

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More Details of Georgetown Park Mall

GM came into possession of a flyer that Vornado is circulating to retail brokers whose clients may be interested in opening a restaurant in the renovated Georgetown Park Mall. The flyer is the first relatively concrete document GM has seen that reveals what is likely going to be the shape and makeup of the mall; and it’s not pretty. (GM reached out to Vornado for confirmation of the information contained in the flyer, but did not receive a response).

The flyer is requesting proposals for two restaurants to be located along the canal. The first would be along the southeast corner of the building, near the Wisconsin Ave. bridge, and the other would be at the southwest corner, adjacent to Dean & Deluca. Both spaces have a ton of potential (particularly the second one) but that’s not the thing that jumped out at GM the most.

The flyer confirms what GM has been hearing for a long time: that a primary tenant in the new mall will be the budget clothing store T.J. Maxx. The flyer also shows that the space will be shared by HomeGoods, which is a sister store of T.J. Maxx that sells budget home wares, like sofas and rugs.

The store will have an entrance along M St. but will primarily be below grade (much like the Bed Bath & Beyond in Gallery Place). Continue reading

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Jack Evans Backs Park Use for West Heating Plant Property

This doesn’t come as a huge surprise, but it’s certainly a nice boost to Friends of the Georgetown Waterfront Park: Jack Evans has written to GSA-head Dan Tangherlini to support the public park-use of the West Heating Plant property.

As discussed here before, the Friends of the Georgetown Waterfront Park are lobbying GSA to put some sort of a restriction on the West Heating Plant property before selling it that would require the future owner to maintain the south half of the property as a public park. This could involve a division of the lot, an easement, or some other restriction. (While some have wistfully proposed the demolition of the plant itself, that is not likely to happen. For what it’s worth, GM thinks it’s a beautiful building and would oppose any demolition).

As GM also mentioned in that other article, the elevation of Dan Tangherlini to the head of GSA has been seen as a fortuitous event for the efforts to secure the parkland. Tangherlini is a well respected, long-time DC resident who previously served as the head of DDOT and WMATA and was Fenty’s City Administrator. Many Georgetowners hope that those District ties will endear Tangherlini to their position and a letter from Evans will certainly help. Continue reading

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100 Acres Where?

GM forgot to mention last week that this Thursday, the ANC will hold a special meeting to discuss the agreement on the GU campus plan. So if you have questions or concerns, come out to Visitation this Thursday at 6:30.

GM sort of glazed over it last week, but one item probably deserves some more discussion (or at least some baseless speculation!). The agreement says that so long as relations go well, the parties will start discussing in 2018 the long term goals listed on Exhibit A of the agreement. And one of the goals listed under GU’s goals is “identify and develop next 100 acres”.

The agreement doesn’t give context for the goal. Given the timing, GM guesses the purpose of this new 100 acres is to relocate the hospital and medical school. But regardless of what purpose this 100 acres would serve, the bigger question that jumps to GM’s mind is: where the Hell is GU going to find 100 acres!?

For reference: GU’s main campus is 100 acres. There aren’t many available parcels close by that are that large. But there are a few:

St. Elizabeth’s

St. Elizabeth’s is a historic psychiatric hospital located across MLK Ave. in Ward 8. It has 350 acres spread over its west and east campuses. At one point the hospital served 8,000 patients. Nowadays it serves only a very small group of patients, primarily those determined mentally incompetent to face trail (including Albrecht Muth).

In 2007, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to consolidate its many offices around the DC area onto the west campus of St. Elizabeth’s. The District kept the east campus, and is planning to redevelop it. The east campus is 170 acres itself. So there’s definitely room if GU wanted to be an “anchor tenant” of the development. The city would probably be happy to make a deal with GU if it meant the construction of a top notch hospital square in the middle of the city’s poorest ward.

An alternative thought is this: DHS has dragged its feet actually moving to the west campus. GM has spoken with a senior DHS official who told him that they doubted the move would ever happen. It’s remotely possible that DHS might be looking to back out of the deal, and GU could step in. Continue reading

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Would a TIF Make Sense for Georgetown Park?

Photo by Mr. T in DC.

Buried halfway through this week’s Current, the paper ran an article reporting that both Mayor Vincent Gray and Council Chair Kwame Brown believe it might be a good idea to use tax incremental financing to lure a high end tenant to the mall.

Tax incremental financing (or “TIF”) is a process whereby the city issues bonds to raise money for a particular project. Typically this involves giving the funds to a private developer. A portion of the taxes from the project that gets funded by the financing are directed towards paying off the bonds. The idea is that the city will take the taxes that arise from the incremental increase in property and/or sales taxes from the now improved property to pay back the money.

The city has used TIFs in the past. For instance, the city used a $74 million TIF to help the Gallery Place development along. It used a $46 million TIF for the Madarin Oriental hotel. And it used a $7 million TIF for the Spy Museum. Each of these projects was successful and they even paid off the bonds ahead of schedule.

But TIFs only work when there’s an increment to be found. In other words, they work when they’re used in areas that will likely see a big improvement from the public investment. If there’s no increment, then the only way to pay off the bonds is to cut into the taxes that would arise from the property without the public financing. In that case all you’ve really done is give free public money to a private developer. Continue reading

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Fewer Zoning Restrictions Doesn’t Mean More Government

GM noticed a letter in the Current yesterday discussing the topic of the Office of Plannings historic rewrite of the zoning code. Linda Schmitt of Chevy Chase writes:

Our neighborhood in Chevy Chase D.C. is low-density–single family homes with room for kids, the elderly, friends, dogs, lots of birds, gardens and a general war on crabgrass…The D.C. Office of Planning thinks we need to be fixed. Low density is apparently too low. Modest homes are wrong. The officials think we need homes that are higher, wider and deeper…Why? Well who knows? As one neighbor put it, this mandate is turning her into a tea party advocate for less government. [emphasis added]

This displays a fundamentally flawed understanding how zoning works. The zoning code doesn’t mandate that certain sized buildings get built or that buildings get used in a certain way. It permits buildings to be built or buildings to be used in a way. If no one wants to build a building allowed under the zoning code, no building will get built. If no one wants to open a store in your neighborhood, no store will be opened.

Allowing larger buildings to be built or stores to open is “less government”. Wanting the code to mandate that everything stays exactly the same is advocating for more government. So long as everyone in Chevy Chase D.C. agrees with Schmitt that everything should stay exactly the same, it will. But if someone wants to do something different, the current code says they can’t. If there’s a “tea party” position here, it’s against the current system.

Schmitt ends her letter insulting renters saying they can’t engage with the community like homeowners. As someone who wrote a neighborhood website for years and became Secretary of the neighborhood citizens association all before owning a house, GM obviously thinks this is a rather uninformed position.

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Mall Moves Ahead With Radical Reshaping

Photo by Mr. T in DC.

The Washington Business Journal reported the other day that Vornado and Angelo Gordon are moving forward with the radical reshaping of the Georgetown Park mall:

The D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs awarded mall co-owners Vornado Realty Trust and Angelo Gordon & Co. demolition and interior renovation permits March 9 to break down the large sections of the mall’s mid area, according to public documents.

It’s interesting that the developers are moving ahead with interior changes despite the fact that their requests to change the exterior have proved fruitless, so far. Last year they tried to get approval to build large windows along M St. on the west end of the building. OGB rejected their plans. No further applications have been made since.

Vornado has been notoriously tight-lipped about its plans for the mall. In particular, they have not released the names of what tenants they’re hoping to bring in. But apropos to the internal construction, GM has heard that the approach Vornado is taking is to “de-mall” the mall. In other words, gut out the the interior space and create long shoe-box shape stores that go from M St. back to the canal. Continue reading

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Construction Finally Begins on Waterfront Fountain/Ice Rink

Construction has finally begun on the plaza at the Washington Harbour complex. As you may know, MRP Realty is planning to completely overhaul the fountain. For the warm months, they are building it to provide a waterworks extravaganza. Charlie McGrath, Senior Vice-President at MRP, told GM that the model they apparently are gunning for is the Bellagio fountain in Vegas:

They likely won’t have music or be quite as extravagant, but the idea is that they will be more dynamic than your typical boring fountain. Continue reading

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