- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

H&M;, a specialty retail chain, is bringing life back to the historic Woodward & Lothrop building after years of vacancy and failed negotiations with numerous retailers.

The trendy Swedish clothier today is scheduled to open a 28,000-square-foot store on the first two levels of the 116-year-old building on 11th and F streets NW. It is H&M;’s second location in the District.

“We’re thrilled to become a part of the historical downtown D.C. Woodward & Lothrop building and hope to be an asset to the revitalization movement in this business community,” Karen Belva, public relations manager, said in a statement.

It’s been a long time coming. Retailers such as Macy’s, Lord & Taylor and Wal-Mart have expressed interest in the site, but no deals came to fruition.

“It’s been a five-year effort,” said developer Douglas Jemal, who bought the building from the Washington Opera in February 1999 for $28.2 million. “If you stick with it, things work out for the best.”

After spending more than a year courting Macy’s, Mr. Jemal turned his attention to H&M.; After about two years, Mr. Jemal finally met with H&M; officials and the deal took about 30 days to finalize, he said.

“I didn’t think it was going to take that long [to find a retailer] but it’s a developer’s dream to do a building like that,” Mr. Jemal said. “I’m elated to have a lead retailer start there. H&M; is unique.”

The retailer, which markets its own brand of clothing with 95 in-house designers, sells apparel from updated classics to clothes that reflect the latest international trends for women, men, teenagers and babies. H&M; opened in the District in May with a store at the Shops at Georgetown Park. The company has more than 875 stores worldwide — 57 in the United States.

The 513,000-square-foot downtown building, which has been vacant since Woodies folded in 1995, will have 150,000 square feet of retail on the basement level and first two floors. Offices will occupy the eight floors above the retail.

Mr. Jemal said he is talking with retailers such as Bed, Bath & Beyond, Crate & Barrel, Ann Taylor Loft and Brooks Brothers to fill the remaining retail space.

D.C. officials said securing H&M; is the boost Washington needs to help attract other retailers.

“There’s truly a sense of excitement because we have this anchor tenant that will get more people to shop and bring more tenants [downtown],” said Chris Bender, a spokesman for D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. “It’s going to re-energize the city.”

City officials, including Mayor Anthony A. Williams, have been actively offering the Woodies’ site for years at retail events such as the International Council of Shopping Centers annual convention in Las Vegas. Since Mr. Williams took office, the District has made a push to bring quality retail back to the city.

“We want downtown to feel like Fifth Avenue in New York,” Mr. Bender said.

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