I’ve been wondering recently what was going on with the old convention center site downtown. No, I’m not talking about the city’s sidewalk/public art display “Metamorphosis” that people have been grumbling about over at DCist, but the plans for the entire site. It turns out little has changed since just about one year ago when we reported on DCist the city had selected a team to redevelop the site with “300,000 square feet of retail space, 550,000 square feet of office space, 1,372 units of housing and at least 1,900 parking spaces,” in addition to a large public square and potentially both a new library and hotel. The DC city government webpage on the project contains some fact sheets apparently from one year ago. According to information we had then the project team hopes to begin construction in 2008. I’m stumped why it would take so long to break ground as I thought the site plan had been approved by the city, and I remember reading it’s fairly common practice to begin construction while the architects are still working on details. I wonder what’s causing the delay?
That matter aside comes the question of the redevelopment plans. The only illustration of the proposal I could find online is reproduced above. First, I like the plan’s goal to re-create I and 11th Streets. Whether or not you enjoy the public art the temporary walkway connecting 11th Street across the site is almost always being used. However, I still fear the infusion of “cataclysmic money” (to use Jane Jacob’s term) will erode any sense of genuine urbanism. What would my approach be? Keep the general parameters for development from the site master plan (a minimum height, balance of uses, planned sidewalk and public space, minimum number of housing units, and deadline for construction – even a requirment 30% of the stores have less than 6 branches in the U.S.) subdivide the property into typical lots for the section of city, and auction them off one-by-one for development by different companies. This approach just might spark some competition to finish first and result in a more varied and genuine urbanism.