A rendering of The Wharf, a mile-long stretch along the Southwest Waterfront.

A rendering of The Wharf, a mile-long stretch along the Southwest Waterfront.

After nearly a decade of planning and proposals, developers have finally broken ground on D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront, an underused 27-acre site near the capital’s most popular monuments. While the Wharf will retain some historic features such as the Maine Avenue fresh-fish market, plans call for new restaurants, shops and hotels that will bring city life directly to the water’s edge. It’s an ambitious “urban renewal” project that has unsuccessful historic precedents. So how will the new development differ from similar projects in Baltimore and National Harbor? And what challenges remain in integrating the waterfront with the architectural landscape of Washington, D.C?


  • Roger Lewis Architect; Columnist, "Shaping the City," Washington Post; and Professor Emeritus of Architecture, University of Maryland College Park
  • Monty Hoffman Chief Executive, PN Hoffman

A Look At The Future Of The Southwest Waterfront

All images courtesy of Hoffman-Madison


  • 12:06:39

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Washington D.C. is a city defined by its waterfront. Founded at the confluence of two rivers, the nation's capital has miles of shoreline connecting communities as disparate as Georgetown and Anacostia. So why is it so hard to enjoy it? For years, while cities like Baltimore and Boston capitalized on their riverfront real estate, Washington's remained largely underused. But that's about to change.

  • 12:07:24

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIOver the next six years, the Southwest Waterfront, known as The Wharf, will get a $2 billion makeover. It's an ambitious urban renewal project that aims to bring Washingtonians and the nearly 20 million visitors here annually closer to the river, with upscale offerings. It's also a character shift for the strip of land off the 14th Street Bridge, best known for its gritty fish markets. So how will planners use history to chart the waterfront's future? And how will it differ from and connect to riverfront projects nearby?

  • 12:07:56

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIHere to answer some of those questions is Roger Lewis. He is an architect. He writes the "Shaping the City," column for the Washington Post. Roger is professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland College Park. Roger, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:08:10

    MR. ROGER LEWISThank you once again for having me.

  • 12:08:12

    NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Monty Hoffman, chief executive of PN Hoffman, which is one of the D.C.-based firms redeveloping the Southwest Waterfront. Monty Hoffman, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:23

    MR. MONTY HOFFMANThank you, Kojo. It's good to be here.

  • 12:08:25

    NNAMDIYou, too, can join this conversation. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Or send email to kojo@wamu.org. Will you be visiting the new Southwest Waterfront when it opens? What kinds of features would you like to see there? 800-433-8850. You could send email to kojo@wamu.org. Monty, this project has been a long time in the making. You could probably write a book about how you got to this point. How did it feel to finally break ground on this project last month, after surviving three (word?) , 500 community meetings and a financial crash?

  • 12:09:03

    HOFFMANIt's exciting. It's an exciting time. And I have to thank so many people who have been involved with it, including Amer Hammour, both Madison Marquette, who's our partner on it. But after about eight-plus years of planning, we're finally getting started. It's an extraordinary time.

  • 12:09:24

    NNAMDIWhat kept you going?

  • 12:09:27

    HOFFMANI think mostly the transformative scale of the project. It's about a mile of shoreline and about 25 acres of land and 50 acres of water. And you just cannot beat the location. It's a phenomenal location. It's situated only about an eight-minute cab ride from National -- Reagan National Airport, and about a ten minute cab ride to Union Station. It's near Metro stops. Obviously it's on the water. But it's a great opportunity to create something transformative to the city.

  • 12:10:05

    NNAMDIYou can see images of the project and some of the history of the site at our website, kojoshow.org. That is, I'm sure you can see images of the project there for sure, at kojoshow.org. And, Roger Lewis, you described this location as overly paved. For those who are newer to this area, can you give us a little institutional perspective on this milestone that we're talking about? You've been writing about redesigning this waterfront for years.

  • 12:10:31

    LEWISYeah, Monty and I were talking about that before the show. I think I first wrote about it in the early '80s or mid '80s. I remember coming to Washington in 1968 and first seeing it, probably on my way to the Arena Stage, and wondering what was this sort of suburban collection of three or four isolated low-rise buildings completely embedded in asphalt. I mean, there was -- Main Avenue is -- next to Main Avenue is another road inside, serving the parking lots. I mean, it was really asphalt heaven over there. And it just took a long time to finally do the makeover that was necessary.

  • 12:11:12

    LEWISBut it had been -- going way back, I think it's long been a place where boats parked. And I think one of the things that the development team has done, which I think is very laudable, is historically, in addition to maintaining the fish markets, is keeping this place a place for people to both store boats and to live on boats.

  • 12:11:35

    NNAMDIFrom a tourist's perspective, Roger, this development means you'll finally have more food options in walking distance from the Jefferson Memorial and the monuments near the Potomac. One can imagine that. But you also wrote in your column that you can see living there.

  • 12:11:49

    LEWISYeah, well, I've -- I think one of the things, as Monty has already alluded to, is the desirability, the attraction for people to live at the edge of water. I mean, it's as simple as that. You know, historically, again, we know in the United States a lot of waterfronts were industrial. They were used for commercial and mercantile shipping. It wasn't too long ago where Georgetown -- much of Georgetown's waterfront was -- no one lived there. It was essentially a bunch of industrial, or residual industrial properties.

  • 12:12:22

    LEWISI think somewhere along the way we finally figured out that the real estate value -- the potential real estate value of waterfronts is pretty darn high. And that's -- I think we're seeing that manifested in the waterfront.

  • 12:12:34

    NNAMDIMonty, you were finally able to get liftoff for The Wharf after you secured a $220 million investment from a Canadian pension fund manager. How far did that investment take you and what's needed, say, five, ten years down the road, as the next phases of this project begin?

  • 12:12:52

    HOFFMANYeah, that's a big investment. And that, along with $90 million of our own money that we have in it, along with some debt, it's about $750 to $800 million for Phase I alone. As I said, the scale of this community that we're creating -- it's really not even a project, it's a community that we're creating -- is massive. And so that will get us through -- all the way through Phase I. We're excited for that. We've started our schedule on that. In about 42 months, we plant to deliver it.

  • 12:13:26

    NNAMDIRoger, one of the challenges of creating a waterfront space is making it a place where both tourists and city residents would want to be, not just when the site is new, but 10, 20, 30 years down the road. A lot of us have visited Georgetown's Washington Harbor, Baltimore's Inner Harbor, and National Harbor. As we look at projects, both big and small, what have architects learned about what works and what doesn't when you're designing public spaces on the water?

  • 12:13:52

    LEWISI think it's a combination of things. You begin with the uses. I mean I think that for a destination to become animated, there have to be reasons for people to go there. I think that, even though that site for decades was on the water, it was not exactly a hot destination in the City of Washington. Some tourists went there because they had hotel rooms and there were a couple of places with very bad food at which you could dine. Or at least I though the food was pretty mediocre. But I think that what I've often mentioned in my writing is the notion of critical mass.

  • 12:14:31

    LEWISThat it's, if you've got enough destinations in a place, particularly in a place that, as I called in a recent column, an ensemble, where there is together in this one place a formally organized network of pedestrian passages and walkways and boardwalks, whatever, and public spaces, civic space, places to eat, places to shop -- what we often talk about as the -- sort of the bottom 40 feet of buildings. I mean some people talk about 30 feet. I've always talked about 30 to 40 feet.

  • 12:15:09

    LEWISIf that is there and has a proper mix and enough density where people will come and can spend not just a half an hour or an hour but several hours, and perhaps even the whole day, then you have something. And I think that this critical mass notion, it was certainly -- it's certainly what I think they've adopted as the strategy at The Wharf. So there's going to -- and the first phase -- I don't remember, Monty, exactly the numbers, and you might want to cite them -- but there's a lot of stuff going to be going in there, including, I think, a 6,000-seat...

  • 12:15:44

    HOFFMANConcert hall.

  • 12:15:45

    LEWIS...concert hall, which will be probably programmed, you know, it's five days out of seven. I mean, I think there are very ambitious plans for that.

  • 12:15:52

    NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking about redeveloping the Southwest Waterfront with Roger Lewis. He's an architect. He writes the "Shaping the City," column for the Washington Post. He's also professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland College Park. He joins us in studio with Monty Hoffman, chief executive of PN Hoffman, which is one of the D.C.-based firms redeveloping the Southwest Waterfront.

  • 12:16:15

    NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for us, give us a call at 800-433-8850. What would make you visit and keep coming back to the waterfront? 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to kojo@wamu.org. Monty, I interrupted you.

  • 12:16:32

    HOFFMANYou know, I was just going to state what Roger had said in a couple of different areas. First off, we are a waterfront city. We don't really see ourselves as that. We haven't in the past. We have -- 26 miles of waterfront line the District of Columbia. And so critical mass coming in here and introducing it to the waterfront is essential. The Potomac River is our greatest natural resource. And I think we're -- we plan to unleash that. The Wharf, itself, is over a mile long. And it's large enough that it will make a difference.

  • 12:17:09

    HOFFMANAnd one of the challenges we had was to make sure that we had enough there, there to begin. To begin something that is transformative to the city, with enough scale and shops, restaurants and, I think, to Roger's point earlier, it isn't designed for tourists. Tourists will probably be drawn to it, but it's really designed to be creative to the Southwest community and to the D.C. Region.

  • 12:17:38

    HOFFMANWe are not going to have big-box retailers. We're not going to have national restaurants. We are not going to have a big Wharf banner, like a lifestyle center. It's none of those. It really is going to be a D.C.-centric waterfront of its own. And we think that will make it very, very special.

  • 12:17:58

    NNAMDIBefore I go to the phones, Roger made reference to Wharf Hall, the capacity concert hall that you're talking about -- 6,000 capacity that is going to be run by the owners of the 9:30 Club. What are you trying to do, give the Verizon Center a run for its money?

  • 12:18:13

    HOFFMANNo, no. I don't want to go there. But we do believe -- we have scanned all of New York and Washington D.C. in terms of the market, in terms of seating capacity. And we believe there's a gap right now for that. The largest venue, of course, in Washington D.C. is the Verizon Center. But the next largest is Constitution Hall with only 3,300, and it drops from there. Constitution Hall is a wonderful place, but as everybody knows, it's old, the acoustics aren't that great, and there's other issues.

  • 12:18:46

    HOFFMANSo having a 6,000 general admission capacity is very, very spot-on for us in terms of our market. And we believe we'll have 60 to 70 marquee performances annually to that. And in addition to that, it is also able to hold conferences and symposiums and other things. So we expect to have it packed of about 150 to 200 days out of the year.

  • 12:19:13

    NNAMDICould that concert hall mix aspects of the indoors and outdoors, like Chicago's Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall?

  • 12:19:20

    HOFFMANWe actually do have a pier that is right outside of the concert hall, where we can have outdoor performances and shows and a lot of interaction going on between indoors and outdoors. I'm very excited. We had David Rockwell join in with Seth Hurwitz, which he's the owner of the 9:30 Club. And they're, in my view, both geniuses, but almost in polar opposite ways. And so having that process for about two years, has created something we think is very extraordinary.

  • 12:19:56

    NNAMDIA lot of people want to address this issue. We will start with Doug in Washington D.C. Doug, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:20:02

    DOUGHi and thank you, Kojo. It's my first time calling. Thank you very much. I live in Southwest D.C. As a matter of fact, I live in one of those very ugly Soviet-style condominiums that they have there. For reasons I'm not clear on, they are protected from my understanding. I'm not really sure why but they won't -- how will that mix in with the overall environment that you propose?

  • 12:20:29

    DOUGAlso the second part of my question is, also there are some housing projects very near there and there's a serious crime problem there. So I was wondering how that would be addressed as well, and I'll take this offline. Thank you very much.

  • 12:20:42

    NNAMDIMonty Hoffman.

  • 12:20:43

    HOFFMANThank you, Doug. Those are both good questions. With respect to mixing of uses, the concert hall that we were just referencing is actually on the northwest end of the site. The northwest end of the site is the more dynamic use of the waterfront. As we travel south and east towards the established neighborhoods from where you're referring to, Doug, that becomes a little bit more family-based. It becomes a little bit quieter.

  • 12:21:10

    HOFFMANAnd so the 500 meetings that Kojo referenced at the beginning is true that we took great sensitivity and care in order to make things compatible with the existing neighborhoods. So you can walk to the concert hall but it's not next to you. It's on the opposite end of the site. With respect to crime, overall we've been focusing more on the waterfront. Chief Lanier has been very helpful to us as has Commander Hickson. And so we nuanced a lot of our designs to make sure that we are a safe place for families to come to.

  • 12:21:46

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. This time we go to Lisa in University Park, Md. Lisa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:21:57

    LISAGood morning. Thank you so much. My question was with respect to the environmental concerns. I believe it was Monty who shared that things had been sort of an asphalt paradise over there. And what attracts me to a site are beautifully landscaped premises, preferably using native plants. So I was curious what conservation activities were going to be in place in the development both on land and in the Potomac. Thank you.

  • 12:22:23

    HOFFMANThank you, Lisa, for that question. We have put a lot of consideration on environmental factors. In fact, the entire neighborhood will be (unintelligible) gold. In addition to that we have a cogan (sp?) plant that will utilize natural gas to produce electricity for all of our underground parking and much of the above grade lighting. As you probably know, the grid system now is powered by coal. So this produces a carbon output of about half of what pulling it off the grid would do.

  • 12:22:57

    HOFFMANIn addition to that we do have solar power that will come in and help us on our outdoor lighting. We can produce enough electricity that would equal about 35 houses, to give you a reference on that. So it helps augment our electricity needs. In addition to that we have a cistern system that is below grade. And we can capture 2" waterfall, which as you may know is a pretty much extraordinary storm that would come in. We capture that water and we recycle it. We recycle it to the trees, plants and things that you mentioned.

  • 12:23:28

    HOFFMANAnd we also recycle it into the cooling towards. So we're using this water to help cool the buildings and the like as opposed to drawing domestic water and then dumping it into the system. There are some other nuances I believe that we have done or are doing on that end. Environmental is a very important principle in our design.

  • 12:23:47

    NNAMDII read someplace this morning, Roger Lewis, that Washington, D.C. is now rated second maybe in the nation in terms of green design. What makes us so prominent in that regard?

  • 12:23:58

    LEWISWell, I think it's just a city where a lot of the architects and developers and engineers have focused on sustainability pretty aggressively. I have to correct something said earlier. There was an architectural critique level that southwest referred to Soviet-style buildings.

  • 12:24:17

    NNAMDIYes, yes, yes.

  • 12:24:18

    LEWISI don't know if Doug has -- I have to interject this -- I don't know if he's been to Russia to look at Soviet-style buildings but those are not -- those are a long way from being Soviet-style buildings, those buildings in southwest. I think that what has happened in Washington and also -- is the city -- the government -- the people in government in this city are very committed to sustainability. I mean, I think the elected officials and agency officials have long wanted to do the right thing.

  • 12:24:49

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you would like to call, the number's 800-433-8850. How can architects and designers distinguish D.C.'s waterfront from those in cities like Baltimore and Chicago? What's your opinion? You can shoot us an email to kojo@wamu.org, a Tweet @kojoshow, or go to our website kojoshow.org where you'll see some of the plans for the Southwest Waterfront. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:27:06

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on redeveloping the Southwest Waterfront. We're talking with Monty Hoffman, chief executive of PN Hoffman which is one of the D.C.-based firms redeveloping the Southwest Waterfront. Roger Lewis is our regular guest. He is an architect who writes the Shaping the City column for the Washington Post. He's also professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland College Park. Give us a call if you have questions or comments, 800-433-8850 or send email to kojo@wamu.org.

  • 12:27:38

    NNAMDIRoger, I'm interested in how one marries the two kinds of crowds who currently visit that area, the arena state crowd, as you mentioned earlier and the fish Wharf crowd. Do you -- how do you create a space that's going to be pleasing to both?

  • 12:27:53

    LEWISWell, I think one of the wonderful things about the waterfront is that the Wharf development that Monty is doing is the synergy, if I can use a big word here, that is going to exist because of the existence of the Wharf in proximity to arena stage and in proximity to the shopping area to the east on M Street to the fish market. And everyone should realize this is not very far from the mall.

  • 12:28:20

    LEWISThis -- I mean, people who are up there at L'Enfant Plaza for example will probably at lunchtime walk down to the Wharf to have lunch, or for that matter dinner because it's a very short walk. I mean, I think that when you look at a map of Washington and you see where this -- Monty said this at the top of the show -- I mean, this is a prime location. This has been so overdue, this development in this location for this city and for southwest.

  • 12:28:51

    LEWISSo I think what really is going to tie it altogether is this wonderful 60' wide promenade, like a boardwalk but it's not going to be wood. It's going to be paved. But there's a mile-long -- in effect a mile-long walkway. And all you have to do is travel the world. And when you see these places that have these kinds of promenade options on waterfronts, they are extraordinarily animated and they're unifying. They reinforce this sort of ensemble motion that I talked about earlier.

  • 12:29:29

    NNAMDIDave -- Monty, for listeners who don't know, remind us of who is staying at the site and who is leaving.

  • 12:29:36

    HOFFMANThis is one of the things actually I'm very proud of. The entire development that we're speaking of, there were no threats of imminent domain. There was no resident displaced, not one. There are several businesses. And we offered every business, if they wanted to stay or a tenant if they wanted to stay, they could. And many have chose that they want to stay.

  • 12:29:57

    HOFFMANCantina Marina is a good example, a local favorite. And we really like Nick and the owners there and they're terrific. And, in fact, they're looking to expand. Jenny's, which is the sort of...

  • 12:30:10

    NNAMDIAsian Fusion restaurant.

  • 12:30:11

    HOFFMAN...Asian restaurant, right, on top of Capital Yacht Club. And we love Henry and his family and their business. And they're going to stay. Capital Yacht Club, which is right beneath them, is actually the oldest tenant on the waterfront. It started in 1890. So we're actually building them a new clubhouse on the water and new boat slips and the like for their fleet of about 72 vessels. They're staying.

  • 12:30:38

    HOFFMANBufus' Ribs. Bufus has been there for years with his outdoor barbecue. And he's a big part of the future. And of course the fish market, Jesse Taylor and Captain White and their operations will always continue there. And I may be missing one or two but the fundamental point is we embrace the tenancy that was already there and to work with them and (unintelligible) .

  • 12:31:03

    NNAMDIPhillips is moving to L'Enfant Plaza.

  • 12:31:05

    HOFFMANYeah, but not far away.

  • 12:31:06

    NNAMDIChannel Inn is closing but you'll be using their building as a headquarters.

  • 12:31:09

    HOFFMANWe are. We're going to use that for a headquarters while we build Phase I. And as soon as we're done with Phase 1 then we will be tearing that down. And as soon as we can begin Phase II that'll be part of it, yes.

  • 12:31:19

    NNAMDIHere's David in Manassas, Va. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:31:24

    DAVIDHello. Thank you for taking my call. I am calling as a fellow who's visited D.C. very often, and so I've seen much of the waterfront but I've never, you know, lived there. So I've also visited Baltimore. I take any friends to come visit. So I'm interested in the access to the waterfront because I do believe that access and everybody being able to see the waterfront being one of the beauties and the joys of living in the D.C. area.

  • 12:31:50

    DAVIDAnd so I have one quick point to make and then one question to ask. My point being that developing public land should help everyone and not just the residents. And my question is about developing the rest of the waterfront -- I know you talked about and how it's going to be developed and basically future development. Because I've been to Georgetown but I've never seen the waterfront in Georgetown. I've walked the shops. I've never even thought to go see the water because I didn't even realize really that the water was there until you told me.

  • 12:32:21

    DAVIDAnd so the point I want to make is that not just the Wharf but the arena and the mall and L'Enfant Plaza, all those, they tend to take away from access to the waterfront and make people forget about the water. And so I think the point that needs to be focused on is that the waterfront needs to...

  • 12:32:39

    NNAMDIPeople need to be guided towards the water. David, thank you for your call. Monty.

  • 12:32:44

    HOFFMANYeah, thank you for that, David. Access is huge and you're right, it's very important. What we actually have today is effectively a boat parking lot that's in the water, as Roger referred to earlier. I mean, the boats are protected by fencing and cages for security purposes. So one of the main principles of ours...

  • 12:33:06

    NNAMDIOne-hundred-and-thirty people living in 92 boats.

  • 12:33:09

    HOFFMANActually we do have a very -- a robust live-aboard community, one of the largest in the country. And they're staying too. I forgot to mention that earlier. So they're a big part of our future, as they have been in our past. So our objective is to open that water up so that we still maintain about -- overall about 500 slips. But we're able also to add four public piers that remain open to the public.

  • 12:33:32

    HOFFMANAnd the largest pier which is the district pier, that goes out into the water about 450' and it's about 55' wide. So it's rather large. And one other point with regard to access is -- and this really needs to be appreciated I think -- and that is we pushed all the parking below ground. And what that does, it enables us to create mini blocks. So each block is only about 250' in length and there are streets and allies and the like that connect onto the Wharf promenade, as Roger referred to earlier. So the visual connectivity and the access to the water is going to be very strong. That's a very important, I think, quality of (unintelligible) .

  • 12:34:14

    NNAMDIDavid, thank you very much for your call. Roger, the last time the Southwest Waterfront got this much attention was back in the 1950s when the city launched an ambitious urban renewal program. But mistakes were made, as they would say, a lot of them that choked off that part of the city. Can you take us back to that time and tell us what happened?

  • 12:34:33

    LEWISWell, I think it's another example of the quote "it seemed like a good idea at the time." I mean, I think that thinking, planning and real estate thinking in the 1950s that led us to the Southwest Waterfront being developed the way it was, was predicated on the fact that no one is going to come there unless they drive a car. So you had to have a lot of surface parking lot. No one cared about storm water runoff. You just let it run off and either go into the channel or into the storm drains.

  • 12:35:05

    LEWISI mean, I think that no one could envision -- there wasn't the kind of interest in more intense development of waterfronts where people could both live, work and also recreate. And that just wasn't on the agenda. I mean, I think that the -- this is before my time even but I think it was a time when at some point someone said, you know, let's put a couple -- two or three or four buildings here with plenty of convenient parking. You don't have to walk 60' to get from your car to the dining room. And that just seemed like the thing to do and it was probably judged by everybody including the lenders to be economically feasible. So that's what they built.

  • 12:35:50

    LEWISIt was the same thing that led, in 1960s, Jim Rouse to build at the center of Columbia a shopping mall which they're eventually going to cut up, take down and do a complete new essentially downtown. I mean, I think you could go around this country and find lots of Southwest Waterfronts so to speak, not on the water but places that have been -- that are underdeveloped and that are really anachronistic in 2014 as property use of land.

  • 12:36:18

    NNAMDIMonty, how do you turn a monolithic wall of concrete into something softer and more accessible? You just knock it down and start from scratch?

  • 12:36:26

    HOFFMANWe do have the benefit of clear cutting, so to speak, on the landside and the waterside so that we can do that. And then the challenge really becomes, how do we do this without it looking contrived? How do we do this so that it doesn't look fake? This is really important for us. So we actually -- we've hired several different architects, one for each building, so it has its own expression. We also -- you know, our design is dictated by really the pedestrian experience in the lower 40', as Roger mentioned earlier.

  • 12:36:59

    HOFFMANThe old school way of doing things were the traffic engineers really took control on that. So we're not about that. It's about the pedestrian experience, it's about breaking down of little blocks, much like Portland if you look. It's very successful because of the blocks. And, you know, when you make a Soviet-style reference you could look at public spaces. I think old school was to make really large public spaces.

  • 12:37:23

    HOFFMANWe have made them more intimate and more relaxed. And there are spaces that are quite and beautiful. And there's also spaces that are dynamic and busy, depending on your mood and what you're looking to do. So bring that variety in and a mix of interdependent uses and in creating an entire community where we have residential and office and hotels and concert hall, even churches and the like all integrated together as a community.

  • 12:37:52

    NNAMDIHave an aesthetic question and I have a basic economic question. The aesthetics first from an email from Art. "There's an awesome tree canopy currently along Main and M Street. Will these large mature trees be removed or saved?"

  • 12:38:08

    HOFFMANIt's not really an either/or answer that I can give. First, I love those trees. We would love to keep them all. We won't be able to do that because of the sewer and other infrastructure that is going in in certain areas. We will be able to keep some. We did have arborous look at them. Actually some are already sick and dying but to the extent that we can keep that tree canopy there, we're all in line. We want to keep that too to the extent we can.

  • 12:38:36

    NNAMDIAnd Andrea had this email or Andrea has this very personal economic question. "What will the waterfront development do to values of existing homes in Southwest D.C.? I own a condo in Capitol Par Four (sp?) ."

  • 12:38:51

    HOFFMANWell, I would suggest that's a very good investment for you. And congratulations. I think your value will hold up and appreciate likely. Ours, again, is a community so we have market rate residences that we're placing in we have affordable and we have a workforce element. So we believe we're covering all spectrums of the market to create a real community. And we believe we will be creative to the overall community and values are likely to rise.

  • 12:39:24

    NNAMDIAnd we have a caller, Walter in Washington, D.C. who wants to underscore something that Roger said earlier. Walter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:39:31

    WALTERThank you, Kojo. I appreciate that. Actually right now I'm sitting at the Southwest duck pond. I am a long term resident of Southwest and I actually live in one of the quote unquote "Soviet-style" buildings. What really offended me is the fact that the caller made that reference and does not really seem to have an understanding as to the true urban renewal that occurred, as you referenced, early in the 1950s, and the major architect that put his heart and soul into designing what is a livable community.

  • 12:40:09

    WALTERI applaud the development that is going on. I applaud the individuals that have taken their time to think about what's going on. And now so to be able to go ahead and add to this community. This is a very vibrant community and it is on the cusp of just exploding. That excites me. It also scares me because this used to be what we'd consider, you know, an unknown part of D.C. People would come across…

  • 12:40:35

    NNAMDIYeah, you've been discovered.

  • 12:40:36

    WALTER…and say -- yeah.

  • 12:40:37

    NNAMDIGet over it.

  • 12:40:38

    WALTERYeah, we've been discovered. So, you know, I'm excited about that. But, really, you know, my main point is we're not a Soviet state. We're not Soviet buildings.

  • 12:40:49


  • 12:40:50

    WALTERThese are iconic buildings. I. M. Pei designed these buildings. And, you know, the other buildings that are coming in are, you know, attempting to go ahead and fold into it.

  • 12:41:02

    NNAMDIBelieve you me, Walter, that conversation was continued during the break after the caller got off the air, because both Roger and Monty know what Soviet-style architecture looks like and this is definitely not it. I don't know if you'd like to add anything to that, Roger.

  • 12:41:16

    LEWISWell, I think the only thing I would add is to underscore. I'm probably less reluctant to talk about what the development of the wharf is going to do for the neighborhoods that are not the wharf. I mean, I don't think there's any question that the desirability and property values of Southwest Washington are going to go up. They are not going to be going down with the development of the wharf. I think that is not even in question.

  • 12:41:50

    LEWISSo I'd say those of you who are contemplating -- well, you may want to wait for the wharf because I think the competition for the apartments that Monty's going to build, is going to be pretty stiff. I think that's, I mean, how many places in Washington can you live in an apartment overlooking the Potomac River? I mean, really overlooking, where you could walk out your front door and 60' away is a bulkhead, boats, water.

  • 12:42:15

    LEWISAnd actually, not far away is East Potomac Park. I think the notion is -- Monty's talked about establishing some kind of connectivity between the wharf and East Potomac Park, which is one of those underutilized park amenities in the city.

  • 12:42:30

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. Thank you very much for your call, Walter. If you've called, stay on the line. We'll try go get to your calls. If the lines are busy, shoot us an email to kojo@wamu.org. What are your favorite city waterfronts? Baltimore, New Orleans, Venice, perhaps? You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:44:42

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about redeveloping the Southwest waterfront, with Monty Hoffman, chief executive of P.N. Hoffman, which is one of the D.C.-based firms redeveloping the Southwest waterfront. And Roger Lewis, he's an architect and the "Shaping the City" columnist for the Washington Post. He's also professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland College Park.

  • 12:45:02

    NNAMDIWe got this email from John, who says, "The waterfronts I see at National Harbor, Baltimore, etcetera, really have no appeal to me as they're much too sterile. What I would like to see is a vibrant night market venue with street entertainment, small street food stalls and small merchandise vendors." And we got this email from Mike, in Baltimore County, "For God's sake, please don't make it like Pier 39 in San Francisco. Yuck. Maybe a bit like the Ferry Building would be good though, but not so costly."

  • 12:45:27

    NNAMDI"A farmers' and fishermen's market." Roger, for some, Baltimore has been called the gold standard for integrating the maritime history of the site into the inner harbor. The last time you joined us we talked about capturing the spirit of a place. How do we do this in this case? Do waterfront development need themes to attract the public or are designers moving away from that mode of thinking?

  • 12:45:50

    LEWISWell, I think the listeners should recognize that there's great diversity in the form and the nature of activity of waterfront developments in cities. And I -- earlier, before coming over here, I sat down with my wife and my brother, who's visiting from San Francisco, and I were just going through waterfronts. We've seen, you know, from Seattle and Portland, Maine, the Embarcadero -- he mentioned San Francisco, Brooklyn.

  • 12:46:20

    LEWISI mean we could spend an hour just talking about these waterfronts and how diverse they are. The one thing they all -- the ones that are successful I think share -- have in common, is that there's enough there there, using Monty's phrase or a phrase we all like to use, to draw people to come there. Either as visitors or actually to live or work there. And so I think, for example, to me Baltimore -- the waterfront in Baltimore, which I know very well.

  • 12:46:51

    LEWISI've sailed my -- I used to be a -- have a sailboat, which I sailed up there all the time. I used to love going up in the inner harbor. And I would find a place to tie up and we'd tie up the sailboat and go have dinner and spend the night on the boat banging against the bulkhead, hoping the fenders didn't get pushed out of the way. I think that's a very different thing from the wharf. That really is a quite different place. It essentially is -- what they've preserved is the configuration of a historic port.

  • 12:47:21

    LEWISIt was a port. It was a place where merchandise came in. It is no longer that. I mean, we should understand. The Baltimore Waterfront is no longer that. It's a -- at least the inner harbor. It's a recreational destination.

  • 12:47:41

    NNAMDIMonty, this area had one of the highest concentrations of public housing in the city. How are you addressing concerns that the affordability of this area is going out the proverbial window?

  • 12:47:53

    HOFFMANKojo, before I answer the public housing…

  • 12:47:55


  • 12:47:56

    HOFFMAN…can I go back and just sort of add to what Roger is saying. And, Mike, who I think emailed that in earlier, you're going to love the wharf. The things that you said about sterile and sort of more recreational tourists type draws is not what the wharf is. And by the way, the wharf itself isn't paved. It's actual cobblestone. You could go to Sorrento, Italy, it's the same stuff.

  • 12:48:24

    HOFFMANThat is what we're going to be having on the wharf. And it is a connector. You know, water brings all people together. I'm convinced of it. And our uses, our cafes, our restaurants and all that will be spilling out onto that wharf. We will have pedestrians mixing with bicycles and cars on the wharf. Unlike Baltimore's inner harbor, which was great in its day and even today it's a great waterfront, but it's not what we're doing. That is just a pedestrian-only sort of promenade coming in.

  • 12:48:53

    HOFFMANOurs is going to be real. It's like the city literally comes right up against the water. So the city grid, if you will, albeit cobblestone, an approach that we're making with it, will be there. So I just wanted to add that. With respect to public housing or affordable housing -- I'd like to frame it -- as I mentioned earlier, we have market-rate condominiums, market-rate apartments. We have large apartments. We have small apartments.

  • 12:49:25

    HOFFMANWe have micro units that we could talk about. And we have workforce housing, and that is for a middle-income individual that can afford an apartment there. We want that. And as well as affordable housing, someone who's only making about $27,000 a year can afford an apartment at the waterfront. I mean, these are pretty large numbers, too, overall, for affordable.

  • 12:49:55

    HOFFMANAnd that -- I'm trying to put a note down for exact counts, I don't recall exactly, but it's over 400 affordable residences in the mix of about 1,450 residences. So it's a really nice mix. And we did -- we worked really hard to blend all of that together.

  • 12:50:14

    NNAMDIHere's Bob, in Washington, D.C. Bob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:50:19

    BOBYes. Good afternoon, Kojo. Monty, my question is to you. Going back to the concept of "there there," one of the things is getting access to the water itself. And I was wondering how you're going to incorporate that fine little program called D.C. Sails or any type of sailing school that would, you know, encourage people to actually get onto the water and enjoy what that all brings. Thank you.

  • 12:50:41

    HOFFMANThank you for that, Bob. Yes. D.C. Sails will always be there. This is one of the concerns with Councilmember Wells early on. And we embrace that. So D.C. Sails, we always plan on having them on the water. Also, with respect to access to the water, our recreational pier actually drops down into the water. So you could bring your kayak or a canoe and drop right into the water from the wharf. So access is huge and D.C. Sails will be a part of that.

  • 12:51:14

    NNAMDIGlad you brought up access because we have an email from Bridgette that is a bit lengthy, but please bear with me because I think it's important. Bridgette writes, "I'm blind and I teach people who are blind or have low vision how to travel safely using a long white cane or a dog guide. Several months ago I read an article in the Washington Post about the Southwest waterfront project and I was quite concerned when seeing the possibility of using new architectural features with no sidewalk/curb differentiation from the streets where cars and other vehicles travel.

  • 12:51:43

    NNAMDI"As an orientation and mobility specialist, this is of tremendous concern to me and others in my field. We use curbs, curb cuts, the slope of a driveway entry/exit as very important clues as we teach people who are blind or have low vision how to navigate the environment as safely as possible. In the article, police also were reported to have concerns. I would appreciate hearing from your guest as to the plans regarding sidewalks and pedestrian travel safety in general."

  • 12:52:13

    HOFFMANLet me, if I can, let me address the last part of that question.

  • 12:52:15


  • 12:52:16

    HOFFMANThen I'll go to the earlier part, which is very important. With respect to the police, as I mentioned earlier, we had several meetings with Chief Lanier, as well as Commander Hicks and others. And it is actually -- there's pros and cons to not having the curbs. They did admit that it would help them on their bikes, being able to maneuver in around the alleys and the streets and the like, having a uniform grade. So there are pros to that as well.

  • 12:52:45

    HOFFMANWith respect to visually impaired, we have looked through this as well. So while there's no curbs there are texture differences in the materials. So we have areas aside from where cars are supposed to go that are smooth and can be easily detected and utilized. And we have specific crosswalks. So that blind or others who have a handicap can easily navigate on the wharf itself and cross the wharf safely. That was a very important of our design.

  • 12:53:19

    NNAMDIOnto Ruthie, in Hyattsville, Md. Ruthie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:53:26

    RUTHIEHi. I am just thrilled. The more I hear about this, the more excited I am. I used to live in Southwest years ago and I'm so excited that some of the existing businesses are sticking around and it's not going to become a whole bunch of chain businesses. So -- but my question is actually about building materials and sort of -- I work for Community Forklift, which is an organization that reuses -- people donate old building materials and we encourage deconstruction instead of demolition of old buildings.

  • 12:53:58

    RUTHIEAnd obviously, commercial buildings, you know, it's a lot of cement. There's not so much that can be reused. But I'm curious, just among all the plans for a green things going on, is there a plan for either reuse or recycling of materials of the old things that are going to be coming out?

  • 12:54:16

    HOFFMANWith respect to the concrete, you're right, the cement is more difficult. But actually it is a blessing for us because we are, as I mentioned earlier, putting underground parking. So we are going to excavate down about 30 feet, maybe a little more actually. What we're going to -- because of that soil condition is so sloppy and silty and wet, we are actually going to over excavate about 6' in the center of our parking garage and we intend to utilize the cement out of all those buildings as our base for our lower level.

  • 12:54:51

    HOFFMANThat will allow our cranes and the like to be able to mobilize and put in the foundation systems and it will also help support our slab on grade. So all that concrete will go to use.

  • 12:55:02

    NNAMDIRoger, I've got to get back to a design question before we go. The noted architecture critic, Blair Kamin, wrote recently in the Chicago Tribune about Navy Pier's multi-million dollar redesign, wondering how you create a place that welcomes a mix of people and activities, but also includes more, if you will, high-minded design. Can you kill a place with too much good taste?

  • 12:55:25

    LEWISWell, being an architect, I think good design should always be part of the aspiration of any development. I mean, I think good design can be a key aspiration, whether you're designing, you know, single-room occupancy apartment buildings or a luxury hotel. So I don't think it's a matter of either/or for good design. I think that when we look at what's being proposed, I mean, the urban design, much of what we've talked about today is what I would call the urban design attributes of this development.

  • 12:56:05

    LEWISWhen we get into the architectural design and the detailed landscape and hardscape design, like Monty mentioned, textural differences, which by the way, have some advantages over having level changes. I mean I fell on a curb at the Dallas Airport recently. If it had been just a change of texture of the surface I wouldn't have taken the fall. No. I think everything there should be well designed. And I don't think it's necessarily just a matter of do we have great taste or mediocre taste.

  • 12:56:42

    LEWISI mean I think Monty's aspiration -- I think he would agree -- is that every part of this, from the vegetating of roof surfaces or the ground level to the specification of windows and cladding, etcetera, all that's going to be, I think of quality. I think. It should be.

  • 12:57:02

    NNAMDIWe only have about a minute left, Monty, but for parents who need a space to air out kids and pets, plans for the wharf call for at least 10 acres of public space. What does that mean exactly?

  • 12:57:12

    HOFFMANFirst of all, that's a big area. If you look at City Center, which is a big area, that's 10 acres. So as a comparison you can see the amount of room we're talking about. We have that broken up all through the wharf. And we try to create intimate spaces and the like. As I had mentioned earlier, it's more family-oriented the closer you get to the established neighborhood.

  • 12:57:34

    HOFFMANAnd in that area we are designing a park. The same designer that actually designed Teardrop Park in New York City, if you're familiar with it, which I think is a huge success. And that's more family based, for kids to be able to run around on. But there's several different areas for that. In addition to, I might add, that we will have a day care center and preschool.

  • 12:57:54

    NNAMDIMonty Hoffman is chief executive of P.N. Hoffman, which is one of the D.C.-based firms redeveloping the Southwest waterfront. Thank you for joining us.

  • 12:58:01

    HOFFMANThank you for having me.

  • 12:58:02

    NNAMDIRoger Lewis is an architect. He's the "Shaping the City" columnist for the Washington Post and professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland College Park. Roger, always a pleasure.

  • 12:58:12

    LEWISAnd always a pleasure for me. Thank you.

  • 12:58:14

    NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Most Recent Shows