- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2007

Nearly all the commercial space in downtown’s Carroll Square is leased as other East End redevelopment projects prepare to open this fall.

They include Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and clothing retailer Zara. Furniture store West Elm recently opened nearby.

For the past 10 years, high-priced offices and condominiums have been replacing older retail structures and warehouses in the city’s East End.

“Before we started redevelopment, several of the storefronts were boarded up,” said Mary Margaret Hiller, spokeswoman for Akridge, the Washington firm that oversaw the $75 million redevelopment of Carroll Square. The project replaced a pawnbroker, a liquor store and a wig shop on the same property at 975 F St. NW and nearby.

Akridge tried to blend arts and historic preservation into Carroll Square’s office and retail complex. Seven historic town houses run alongside the 10-story building at the center of the project.

Akridge yielded to preservationists who said a completely new building would destroy the artsy character of the neighborhood that defined parts of the East End for decades.

In response, Akridge included a 700-square-foot public art gallery and subsidized studios for artists in the office building. Hemphill Fine Arts was hired to manage the gallery.

The two-year renovation was completed in January and attracts the kinds of tenants that would have been unthinkable in the same neighborhood only a few years ago.

Among them is Dewey Ballantine LLP, an international law firm that leased more than half the space in the 170,000-square-foot office tower.

The Carroll Square project “reinforces the old but celebrates the new” in a historic-preservation style that the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) has encouraged for years, said Rich Bradley, BID’s executive director. “In the last four to eight years, there hasn’t been a controversy anymore. It’s just accepted that it’s a good way to do business.”

The architects retained the classic red-brick and stone facades of the street-level town houses, which are being leased primarily for retail space.

Akridge officials said they want the town houses to be an extension of the neighborhood that includes Ford’s Theatre and the historic St. Patrick’s Church.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington still owns the property but leased it to Akridge with a 99-year lease that gives the tenants rights to improve the property.

Carroll Square is another example of how East End redevelopment has “really picked up steam” in the past six years, Mr. Bradley said.

In other news

• The value of Virginia farmland increased at a rate 2 percent higher than the national average last year, according to the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

Urban sprawl is contributing to the higher land prices, the federation reported. Other factors are rising commodity prices, livestock prices and interest rates.

Virginia crop land is selling for an average of $6,000 per acre this year, more than double the national average of $2,700 per acre, the federation reported.

Property Lines runs on Thursdays. Call Tom Ramstack at 202/636-3180 or e-mail tramstack@washingtontimes.com.

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