Wash­ing­ton’s River­front Makes a Re­turn to Life

Paper Boy - - Life / Style - BY EU­GENE L. MEYER

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.

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