Washington’s Riverfront Makes a Return to Life
washington — A struggling waterfront along the Potomac River will turn into a long-awaited commercial and residential destination known as the Wharf when it opens this month.
It’s a return to life for the area, which was commonly known as “the wharf” for decades before the nation’s first federal urban renewal effort here went awry, erasing a neighborhood and its once-thriving riverside.
At a cost of $2.5 billion, the waterfront project is the largest in the District of Columbia. A joint effort by two real estate developers, PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette, the Wharf is the culmination of a 10-year process to right the wrongs of previous generations of city planners and government officials.
“It’s quickly becoming a game changer for our landscape,” said the district’s mayor, Muriel Bowser.
The waterfront redevelopment reflects lessons learned from similar projects coast to coast and overseas, where other cities have transformed industrial and commercial riverfronts that had fallen into decay into prime destinations.
Washington has a long maritime history, said Stanton Eckstut, a principal at the architecture firm EE&K, the Wharf’s master planner. The city’s original design was based on “maritime arrival,” he said, but that way of life has been lost, and he described the Wharf as a 21st- century model to bring people back to the river’s edge.
The project — comprising 10 hectares on land and 20 on the water — draws its inspiration from waterfront developments in Baltimore, San Francisco and Seattle, as well as from Sydney, Australia, and Qingdao, China.
The project in Washington features a cobblestone promenade, four new public piers, two office buildings and three hotels. Two condominium and two apartment buildings will provide a total of 861 residential units, with some set aside for low- and moderate-income tenants. The upper floors offer views of the river and the Pentagon, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Visitors will be able to choose from some 30 restaurants, shops and music venues, the largest of which, the Anthem, can hold up to 6,000 people.
Underground parking will accommodate 1,500 vehicles at first and eventually 2,500. The Wharf will also run shuttle buses to and from two nearby Metro rail stations. Water taxis will connect the development with Georgetown and the Yards neighborhoods in Washington as well as the Old Town neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, and National Harbor, farther down the Potomac.
Jitneys will connect the Wharf with East Potomac Park, a peninsula across the Washington Channel that was created when the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the Potomac in the 1880s. New slips and a new clubhouse for the venerable Capital Yacht Club were built, as well as piers extending into the channel, where kayaks can be launched and yachts can be moored.
The developers have chosen almost all local commercial establishments, eschewing national chains in favor of what Monty Hoffman, chief executive and founder
of PN Hoffman, described as “authenticity throughout.”
Among the prominent local brands is Politics and Prose, a wellknown independent bookstore.
“I was impressed” with the developer’s vision, said Bradley Graham, a co- owner of the bookstore. “We’re very excited about the Wharf and what it will do to that part of D.C.”
Mr. Hoffman has also been intent on preserving the nation’s oldest continuously operating fish market at the project’s west end, where fishmongers hawk seafood from barges. On the land, the developers are erecting a three-story building for the celebrity chef Nicholas Stefanelli, whose Michelin-rated Masseria restaurant in the city’s Union Market district has hosted the Obamas and Robert De Niro.
There are other local touches, including the name of one of the new interior cross streets. Pearl Street is named for the schooner commandeered in 1848 by slaves in an unsuccessful effort to escape to freedom by sailing down the Potomac.
“This is hometown D.C., and that’s what the waterfront reflects,” said Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the district’s nonvoting delegate to the House.
The developers credit Ms. Norton with the project’s name. Her great-grandfather had escaped from slavery in Virginia in the 1850s to “the wharf,” she said, and the name stuck.
Phillip Lopate, the New York poet and author of “Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan,” seldom comes to Washington, but he said he was intrigued by the Wharf.
“Great waterfronts of the past — Paris, London — always had shops and bars at water’s edge,” he said. “I’m so glad they have a bookstore. That’s terrific.”
PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANDREW MANGUM FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES A new clubhouse for the Capital Yacht Club is among the features of the Wharf, on the Potomac River in Washington.
Construction workers inside the Anthem, a music hall at the Wharf, scheduled to open this month.