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FBI Site, Trump Hotel Bring Promise Of Revitalization For Pennsylvania Avenue

Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Champs Elysées in Paris. Every major international city has an iconic street that tourists flock to and residents boast about. When Pierre L’Enfant designed DC in 1791, Pennsylvania Avenue was supposed to be that street.

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After hatching a revitalization plan in 2014—225 years after the L'Enfant Plan—and setting two major developments in motion, city planners and developers can agree on one thing: Pennsylvania Avenue’s best days are ahead of it.

Directly linking the White House to the US Capitol, Pennsylvania Avenue was designed as a ceremonial bridge between the executive and legislative branches.

While it has been the site for numerous inaugural processions, state funerals and protest marches, "America’s Main Street" has lagged behind in many ways. As the aging federal building façades continue to deteriorate, the sidewalks become more unwelcoming. The street's lack of modern amenities, attractive public spaces and outdoor commercial activity bring down rent prices and make the pedestrian experience unremarkable, planners say.

Multiple efforts in the last four decades have aimed to revitalize the avenue, achieving incremental success, with the most recent effort launching two years ago. In 2014, the National Park Service, General Services Administration and the National Capital Planning Commission collaborated on a new initiative with a simple goal: to make Pennsylvania Avenue a “colorful, lively urban boulevard that will showcase the nation’s capital as a pleasurable, attractive city.”

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The last thing the words “colorful” and “attractive” bring to anyone’s mind is the J. Edgar Hoover building. The 2.4M SF FBI HQ will be demolished once the bureau moves out to the suburbs in a swap with the developer who submits the winning bid (the deadline is June 22). The Hoover Building's departure comes as a promising opportunity for those looking to bring life back to Pennsylvania Avenue. 

In establishing their guidelines for the Hoover building’s replacement, NCPC officials have held public meetings and concluded that all stakeholders desire a high-density, mixed-use development.

“People want to activate Pennsylvania Avenue,” Diane Sullivan, who leads the FBI site project for NCPC, tells Bisnow. “I don’t think anybody wants to see an office building lobby for 520 feet, that’s kind of our fear.

NCPC has supported building to the maximum 160-foot height and re-establishing D Street through the site, but it has yet to decide what to do about the build-to line, which determines how far the building can jut out onto the sidewalks. Diane said NCPC is aiming to present its full guidelines in October.

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While a completed development on the FBI site is still years down the road, the avenue is just months away from the grand opening of another game-changing development—the transformation of the Old Post Office Building into a Trump International Hotel.

Despite the potential distraction of the Trump Organization’s chairman and namesake running for president, the hotel is slated to open this September, and planners couldn’t be happier.

“We’re thrilled to have a new hotel opening up on the avenue,” Sarah Ridgely, who leads the Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative for NCPC, tells Bisnow. “Any opportunity to bring tourism and new people into the district to shop and eat and enjoy the avenue, that’s a net gain.”

The clock tower—the second-tallest building and fourth-tallest structure in DC—will remain open to the public and be maintained by the NPS.

The Trump Hotel will have retail on the ground floor, a BLT Prime steakhouse as its signature restaurant and an outdoor café. Chefs Jose Andres and Geoffrey Zakarian both backed out of deals to open restaurants in the hotel after Trump's inflammatory immigration remarks. In both cases, Trump sued the chef and the chef filed a countersuit, with the cases yet to be resolved.  

In just a matter of months, Trump will be in charge of one—and possibly two—of the landmark buildings operating on Pennsylvania Avenue. 

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Columbia Property Trust's Mark Witschorik

Owners of nearby properties also expressed excitement about the activity the Trump Hotel will bring to the avenue to help attract retail and office tenants. The average office value per square foot on Pennsylvania Avenue is $84 less than the Downtown DC BID average, according to the NCPC, a deficit owners hope will soon narrow.

“The addition of the Trump hotel and its retail concepts will continue to bring new energy to the avenue,” Mark Witschorik (above), VP of Columbia Property Trust, which owns nearby Market Square at 701 and 801 Pennsylvania Ave, says. “The pairing of their concepts with ours will start to build a critical mass.”

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Columbia recently renovated Market Square, the two curved mixed-use buildings surrounding the Navy Memorial fountain. After selling a 49% stake in the buildings to Blackstone, it improved the common areas, created new entryways and added a fitness facility. The owner plans to begin a second phase of renovations after hearing suggestions from its tenants.

Mark says the prospective development at the next-door FBI site should complement Market Square, which also houses condos and retail.

“Seeing a similar mix of uses next door will improve the overall fabric of the Pennsylvania Avenue community,” Mark says, “and continue to bring a vibrancy to it that has always been a goal of the district and the people that both work and live on the avenue.”

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The Navy Memorial in front of Market Square, as well as Freedom Plaza (above) and Pershing Park, provide outdoor spaces for public gathering on the avenue, creating a well of untapped potential for commerce and events.

The NPS has held tight restrictions on sidewalk commercial activity, which the new plan recommends loosening. Sarah said NCPC would like to see more outdoor activity in the way of cafés and public art exhibits.

“Any use of outdoor sidewalks that attract people and bring more tourism and residents and employees out on the sidewalk is a win-win for the area,” she says.

She said the Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative is looking to reinvigorate Freedom Plaza as a place to hold outdoor concerts and events, but hasn’t planned anything official yet.

Pennsylvania Avenue is still no Champs Elysées, but with these upcoming developments and planning initiatives, L'Enfant's vision for "America's Main Street" is beginning to come into focus.