SQUARE 54, WHERE ARE YOU?
Famous Square 54, a key component of GW's development strategy and what looks to be yet another triumph of the Trachtenberg era, seems to be marching toward approval. It got its final hearing before the DC ZoningCommission Thursday evening in a session that didn't end until midnight. Symoblically, of 12 individuals who testified, 10 were in favor. With the foundation laid by the 20-year GW Campus Plan filed last February, the Plan and Square 54 have now been the subject of eight hearings with a decision expected on the Plan January 17 and on Square 54 in early February.
Behind the scenes, GW's energetic 37-year old real estate director, Sherry Rutherford, has been working so hard she keeps the GeorgetownBooeymonger in business late at night, as pictured above last Wednesday. In particular, she’s been out explaining to the community ("stakeholders" in bureaucratic parlance) the highlights of the Plan: an historic district on campus, reflecting the fact that it has a signal collection of 19th and early 20th century buildings; major streetscape improvements (paving, lighting and trees) to increase pedestrian activity; and lots of new ground floor retail in a bunch of buildings GW would redevelop along I Street between 20th and 22nd Streets.
Sherry's portfolio now encompasses all GW real estate, including investment properties such as two big office buildings (2000 and 2100 Penn) and two hotels (One Washington Circle and GW University Inn). Observers credit her and her boss, Vice President Lou Katz, plus a team of land use planners and ace Pillsbury zoning lawyer Maureen Dwyer, for coaxing out a silent majority of supporters to more than balance some waning local Foggy Bottom voices that have long been in opposition.
Lou has actually hired Sherry three separate times since 1992 because she keeps going back to her family's law practice in the Poconos, where she grew up. She started working with him in order to finance a masters degree she was pursuing in international security policy (she has a BA from Boston College '91 in military history, no less). But getting permits for red shale driveways as a small town lawyer in northeast PA doesn't seem to hold irresistible allure compared with the big time zoning engagements she gets to handle for GW.
Square 54, of course, is the 2.6 acre site where the old GW hospital used to stand. It's been vacant three years now, yet is considered by many the premier buildable spot in DC. Opponents have focused on keeping GW within its traditional boundaries to prevent congestion and more bustling student activity, but GW counters that commercial development of Square 54 benefits their students who enjoy its retail and entertainment aspects, and provides the amenities needed to recruit faculty and staff. GW also feels it needs more of a revenue source since its student numbers are constrained by other zoning requirements. Square 54 would have 450,000 SF office space, 333 residential market-rate apartments plus an affordable component, and 85,000 retail feet anchored by a well-known, as yet-unspecified, grocery store.
GW retained Boston Properties to develop the land, which in turn enlisted celebrity architect Rafael Pelli, who has also done the renovation of National Airport, Battery Park City in New York, and even the world's two previously tallest towers in Kuala Lampur. If all goes well, ground would be broken in 2008 and occupancy would begin in 2010. City agencies strongly support GW, as did Mayor Williams. That's no surprise. Square 54 sits on top of the Foggy Bottom Metro, and higher-density, "transit-oriented development" is a key element of the Comprehensive Plan adopted unanimously last month by the City Council.