DC’S Age of the Megaproject

DC is in a period of development unlike any other city in the country, and unlike any other time in the District’s history. Five projects either under construction or in the pipeline right now—The Wharf, The Yards, Capitol Crossing, Vision McMillan and Burnham Place—make up a combined 22M SF of new development that’ll make the city look completely different in two decades.

“The city is about to enter a golden age,” American Institute of Architects DC executive director Mary Fitch told Bisnow this week in her Penn Quarter office. All of the projects will be mixed-use, near transit and intended to create communities. Whether they’re opening up the waterfront, covering up highways or train tracks, or replacing unused old facilities, “these are great things for the city overall,” Mary says. AIA|DC just designed an exhibit at the District Architecture Center where she works, featuring the five aforementioned projects, which will be at the DC Historical Society from next month until late November.

Monty Hoffman’s name is on the JV developing The Wharf, possibly the most impactful of all the megaprojects in the District. Hoffman-Madison Waterfront is spending $2B developing 3.2M SF of residential, office and retail space. The first condo is planned to deliver in 2016 with the rest of the 1.5M SF Phase 1 delivering a year later. It took eight years from the time Monty won the right to develop the 27 acres of land and 50 acres of waterfront to groundbreaking last year. “It’s maybe a once in a lifetime opportunity to have a blank slate, fill it in and create an optimum community,” Monty told us yesterday. “It’s an extraordinary adventure.” To make it happen, he tells us he took more than 500 community meetings and had to balance the ideas and interests of the community, DC government and the feds, but his vision carried through. “It was a wild ride,” he says.

Not far away, The Yards by Forest City Washington ushered in the age of the megaproject. A year before Nationals Park opened in 2005, Forest City Washington was selected by the GSA to develop 42 unused acres of the Navy Yard to open up the Anacostia River to the public. That’s exactly what’s happened, as Yards Park, luxury apartments and adaptive reuse of buildings like the old foundry have revitalized the area. Forest City is far from done, with thousands of residences and millions of square feet of office buildings still to come.

Due north from The Yards is the future site of Burnham Place, the development that will build over and displace the railroad tracks north of Union Station. For a century, those tracks have served to divide northern DC, but Chip Akridge said his company’s 3M SF mixed-use development will, when complete, look like an infill project. “It’s filling in the hole of the donut,” he says. “It will unify the city, making it accessible from both the north and south, and have a really positive impact there.” No development can start until DC constructs a new H Street NE bridge, a project that might not be done until 2020. Union Station will be getting an $8B upgrade as well, so it will be well over a decade before this project comes to fruition. When it does, however, the combination of the development platform and a new Union Station could be the most transformative downtown project since the Metro.

Just a few blocks west is an office project that could be viewed as a predecessor to Burnham Place. Capitol Crossing is under construction, building four office and one residential building over I-395. The development is a signature one for Property Group Partners and regional VP Bob Braunohler, who says it’s the biggest he’s ever worked on. It spans 2.2M SF and the first building won’t be ready for another three years. The entire project is expected to be finished by 2021. “It’s been amazingly challenging to bring this to fruition,” Bob tells us. The highway had always been planned to have buildings over it someday, but after a decade-plus battle between the city and the previous rights-holder, PGP bought the property in 2012. It will reconnect modern DC to the L’Enfant Plan, bridging the East End and Capitol Hill in one fell swoop.

A unifying feature of each project is how many different stakeholders and partners are involved. From planning, to design, to financing, to construction, with JVs, RFPs and multiple jurisdictions needing to approve everything, every process is its own slog. Perhaps none of the above projects are more representative of that than Vision McMillan, a JV of EYA, Jair Lynch and Trammell Crow Co that will put 146 townhouses, 400-plus apartments, 850k SF of medical office buildings, 80k SF of retail and a 17k SF community center where the old McMillan Sand Filtration Center stood at North Capitol Street, Michigan Avenue, Channing Street and First Street. It took almost a decade for that partnership to form and generate a cohesive plan for the 25-acre site, and construction hasn’t even begun.

These five projects are far from the only massive developments in DC. The recently completed CityCenter DC was the biggest construction project on the East Coast before it was finished last year. City Market at O, just recently finished, has the potential to transform its section of Shaw. And the Walter Reed Army Medical Campus site (above), expected to break ground next year, will bring 66 acres of development to Northwest DC, including a large, anchor grocery store and hundreds of units of affordable housing. The newest planned development in the city, Rhode Island Center, will bring almo st 1,600 residential units to the Rhode Island Avenue stop, courtesy of MRP Realty. It’s the biggest residential project in DC in years and could spur the new round of development in the Northeast quadrant many have predicted for years.

“In some ways, we’re correcting the mistakes of the last 50 years,” Shalom Baranes says. He’s helped design The Yards, CityCenter, City Market at O, and is the architect for Burnham Place and the office buildings at McMillan. In 20 years, when all of these projects are expected to be done, Shalom will have left an even more indelible imprint on the city than he already has. “Post-World War II, there was a confluence of really bad planning ideas with a building boom,” he says. “It should have never happened, but it did. I feel very fortunate that we have the opportunity to revisit and make these corrections.”

Many of the ideas for these megaprojects aren’t exactly new. The McMillan Commission drew the McMillan Plan in 1901, which established Union Station, the National Mall and much of the waterfront’s original street grid. The mid-20th century urban renewal efforts and development in DC took away so much of the modern potential DC has had all along, but it’s coming back. “We have a huge challenge in creating a place where there is no place,” Bob says. “That’s a similar challenge Monty is working with and Akridge is working with.”

It’s also an opportunity no developer in DC has had for decades. In fact, Mary says, there’s nothing like it in the country. “You have to go to someplace like Shanghai for a real-time comparison,” she told us. Whereas Shanghai built skyscraper after skyscraper just to hold offices, what’s going on in DC is very different. “We’re building communities, not just projects,” Monty says. In 20 years, those communities will be here, and the city as we’ve known it for decades will be radically different.

View article on Bisnow.com.