- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2004

For Washingtonians, the National Cherry Blossom Festival marks the start of spring and the bustling tourist season. This year it will mean something more: a growing optimism about the future of the underdeveloped area just east of the blooming Japanese trees.

The opening ceremonies for the festival will be held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the District’s newest five-star hotel, a cog in plans to redevelop the waterfronts of the Anacostia River and Washington Channel.

The nine-floor, 400-room hotel features a spa, 34,000 square feet of meeting space and a top-floor suite costing $8,000 a night. It began booking guests this week.

“[The hotel is] completely supportive of our plans and puts a lot of people on the street,” said Uwe Brandes, project manager for the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative. “It’s kind of a no-brainer.”

Perhaps more important, Mr. Brandes said, is the hotel’s proximity to the Tidal Basin and Anacostia River. Increased pedestrian access to the District’s waterways is critical to the success of redevelopment projects along the waterfront.

Mandarin designers converted an old railroad bridge into a walkway that takes guests to the water’s edge, and the hotel boasts views of the Washington and Jefferson Memorials, as well as Haines Point. D.C. officials already have issued plans for redevelopment at several adjacent areas, including Southeast Federal Center, the Navy Yard and Buzzard Point.

They anticipate that improved walkways and bicycle paths, as well as new development around the Mandarin — at least three new office buildings are expected to be built there next year — will help attract tourists away from the Mall and into Southwest.

Officials hope to attract 500 new housing units, 500,000 square feet of office and retail space and 180,000 square feet of cultural uses to the entire Southwest waterfront in the next decade.

Developers have been looking to build a hotel on the site for more than a decade. But its odd, triangular shape, coupled with questions over whether a luxury hotel could survive outside the city’s central business district, caused repeated delays. Creative tax incentives and financing help from the District helped lure Mandarin, a Hong Kong chain with 18 hotels worldwide, including five in the United States.

Three new office buildings are planned across the street from the Mandarin, and developers expect tenants will boost demand for the construction of stores and restaurants nearby.

“You now have people going to say, ‘Yeah, I’m willing to be in this part of town,’” said Mark Boekenheide, partner with architecture firm BBGM and chief architect of the hotel.

CURBING CONSTRUCTION

The amount of office space under construction in the Washington D.C. area has declined each of the last three quarters, as developers wait for demand to pick up.

2003 Q412.3 million square feet

2003 Q312.9

2003 Q213.4

2003 Q110.8

2002 Q411.3

2002 Q3 13.0

Source: CoStar Group Inc.

Property Lines runs Fridays. Tim Lemke can be reached at [email protected]washingtontimes.com or 202/636-4836.

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