University to raze seven properties

by Pryia Anand

The University announced plans to level several properties on Pennsylvania Avenue near Washington Circle to make room for new office space. Popular restaurants, including Froggy Bottom Pub and Thai Place, will shut down their kitchens before bulldozing begins, likely in 2014.
Media Credit: Courtesy of The Office of Government, International and Community Relations
The University announced plans to level several properties on Pennsylvania Avenue near Washington Circle to make room for new office space. Popular restaurants, including Froggy Bottom Pub and Thai Place, will shut down their kitchens before bulldozing begins, likely in 2014.

The University plans to bulldoze a block of buildings and townhouses along Pennsylvania Avenue in the next three years to erect office space.

The glassy 11-story structure with more than 275 parking spaces will sit in place of the office at 2100 W Pennsylvania Ave. and two neighboring University buildings, as well as Froggy Bottom Pub, Thai Place, Panda Cafe and Mehran Restaurant.

Following word that Kaiser Permanente – the tenant at 2100-W Pennsylvania Ave. – intends to vacate the office building next October, GW decided to move forward with revamping the cluster of structures along the street, Senior Associate Vice President for Operations Alicia Knight said.

The townhouse demolition is part of the University’s 20-year campus plan outlining redevelopment efforts, approved by the city in 2007. But to add the University-owned office building where Kaiser Permanente operates, GW must gain approval from the D.C. Zoning Commission.

Knight said the University is looking to submit plans to the agency early next year but developers would likely not break ground on the project until early 2014.

Transforming the building into a commercial investment property will drive more revenue into the University’s pocket for academic priorities, she said.

The project will follow a model similar to that of The Avenue. A third-party developer will handle and fund the construction, lease out the office spaces and manage the University-owned building.

Timelines for the project’s trajectory are inexact, and are at the hands of the market and the zoning process, Knight said. The University’s development ventures typically face multiple rounds of questioning from the zoning board.

The John Quincy Adams House, home to the University’s judiciary and housing offices, will also be knocked down to create space for the office building and extend an existing alleyway behind it, Knight said, adding that where those departments will relocate to is undetermined as of now.

This announcement comes at a time when construction is transforming the face of the Foggy Bottom Campus and can be seen from nearly every block, with the Law Learning Center and the Science and Engineering Hall.

University officials outlined their vision for Pennsylvania Avenue at a Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting late Wednesday night, sparking sharp criticism from a leader on the community’s top advocacy group.

Alumnus and commissioner Asher Corson, who graduated from GW in 2007 but has staunchly opposed its large-scale development efforts, accused the University of abusing its nonprofit status to prop up more commercial properties.

“I believe that GW focuses too much on profit rather than its academic mission,” Corson said.

Asking other commissioners to support his request for funds to hire an attorney to fight the project during the zoning process, Corson threatened to resign from his seat if the commission did not back his stance.

He postponed that decision after a vote among the commissioners resulted in a tie, but said he would create a bigger battle against this development site than others in the past.

Corson is also the president of the Foggy Bottom Association, another neighborhood group.

GW representatives at the meeting countered Corson’s allegations, saying commercial properties would bolster funding for the school’s academic programs. Commissioner David Lehrman agreed.

“I don’t think they can be faulted for trying to create a better University with cash flow,” he said.

Knight declined to comment on Corson’s criticisms, saying the University is “committed to continuing its positive relationship with its neighbors on campus development issues.”

University President Steven Knapp said Friday that GW offers benefits to the community, ranging from on-campus plays to a library, gym and grocery store, but understands that locals’ concerns with the institution will never vanish entirely.

“None of this would be here if it wasn’t for the University,” Knapp said. “What this place would be is hotels from here to the water.”

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