- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

The District's city planners this month will present a short list of candidates to develop the existing convention center site downtown. Six development teams are vying for the project, which calls for about 1,000 units of housing, 300,000 square feet of retail, a major library and concert halls.
The District will demolish the existing convention center immediately after the new facility is opened. Officials will select a developer for the site in June, and construction could begin by the end of the year.
The Washington Times spoke with Stephen Green, a special assistant in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, who is working directly on the project.

Question: Talk about this project and why it's important, and particularly how it ties in with D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams' goal of attracting 100,000 new residents to the city.
Answer: For us, the goal is to make something that's economically viable, but at the same time adds something to the District.
It's more than just a commercial real estate project, it's the creation of open space that's active. It's a place Washingtonians can feel is theirs, a place where you can hang out, have some coffee, watch the people go by. It's a place to see some music, hopefully, as well as a place that will have restaurants and shopping. In addition to that, part of this is having a big residential component.
Our [request] asks for 600 to 900 units, but we're not married to that. Right now the residential market is strong, so it matters less to us whether there's 900 or 1,200 units. I think there's a residential component that's strong. By also having a place where people can have a good experience, where people can shop and have amenities it makes a place where people will want to live in the area.

Q: The District plans for this site call for a new central library to replace the nearby Martin Luther King Memorial Library. Talk about the library and its role. Obviously, by itself, a library is not a revenue-producing aspect.
A: Not all of the pieces are revenue-producing. Retail produces sales tax, but when you think about rent and from a commercial point of view it's very hard to make work. So there are varying things that have varying degrees of economic capacity to them. An office building may be part of this. Parking will be a revenue producer. So the library is one of a series of components. But they say every great city has a great library, and this is an opportunity to create a very unique building that attracts Washingtonians from all different backgrounds. I think one of the great democratic institutions of our country is libraries. It brings people to the site.

Q: Were there any comments from the potential developers that were either universal or widespread enough to make you rethink what you could do?
A: For the most part people commented that residential and retail around an open space really works and is a good idea for the site and is achievable. And that's really good.

Q: Is a hotel still on the radar screen for the site?
A: I think it's a possibility. Sort of a small, boutique-type hotel. Right now, hotels may not be the best way to do it, but since this will be developed over at least one or two economic cycles … that was one of the reasons we wanted to be flexible in terms of whether we wanted an office or a hotel. We think an office building might be more of an economic generator for the site, but a hotel might work.

Q: Are you fairly open-minded about how parking will be used?
A: A destination point. Sure, I think that one of the proposals we got actually said that. I'm not sure of the economics of that, but we will certainly investigate that.
Property Lines runs Fridays. Tim Lemke can be reached at [email protected] or 202/636-4836.

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