- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2000

The District of Columbia will investigate new uses for the Washington Convention Center building, prime real estate that is being eyed by developers and activists who want more housing downtown.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams is scheduled to announce tomorrow the formation of a task force to study potential uses for the site at 900 Ninth St. NW, according to Tony Robinson, spokesman for the Washington Convention Center Authority.

Construction of a new, larger convention center began in 1998 and is expected to be completed in 2003.

City leaders have said they are uncertain what to do with the current convention center, a two-level building with 800,000 square feet of space, once the new center is built. The current center sits on a 10-acre lot framed by New York Avenue, Ninth Street, H Street and 11th Street in Northwest.

"It is a prime site. It is in an exciting neighborhood that has become much stronger in the last few years," said Mary Petersen, research chief for Cassidy & Pinkard Inc., a D.C. commercial real estate brokerage.

Mr. Robinson said the task force that Mr. Williams will assemble will study possible uses for the property, which the city owns. In recent years, city leaders have discussed keeping the center intact to host small conventions or transforming it into housing and retail space.

In 1998, the Federal City Council, a civic group led by top D.C. business executives, said the center should be used to house the proposed National Music Museum.

The group also recommended constructing a 1,500-room hotel, 250,000 square feet of underground convention space and 2,000 parking spaces at the site. A second hotel with 300 rooms or market-rate housing and 150,000 square feet of retail space was also suggested.

City officials never formally considered the proposal. Kenneth R. Sparks, executive vice president of the Federal City Council, said the plan is a good use for the property, adding that he will urge the task force to consider it.

Some community activists said they will fight any proposals to build office space at the site.

"Our neighborhood is starving for retail," said Tip Kendrick, past president of the Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association.

If the property is redeveloped, the association wants a supermarket and restaurants to be built there, Mr. Kendrick said.

D.C. developer John E. Akridge III said he may be interested in redeveloping the convention center, but only if the city would allow him to build housing at the site.

Proponents say the lack of housing costs the District millions of dollars in lost tax revenue each year. The city is also criticized for lacking a sense of community because it has so many office buildings.

"We need more people living downtown," said Mr. Akridge, who is planning a project at nearby Gallery Place that will mix 325,000 square feet of retail space and 175 apartments.

The new convention center is being built on a 16-acre site one block north of the existing center. It will feature 2.1 million square feet of space, including 44,000 square feet for shops and restaurants.

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