Archstone's CityCenterDC apartments.
Archstone's CityCenterDC apartments.

For years, Washington, D.C., area residents would drive by the 10-acre, old convention center site between New York Ave. NW and 9th, H, and 11th streets, and wonder one thing—why hasn’t anyone built here yet?

Instead of providing housing, office space, and retail, the site houses buses shuttling people between D.C. and New York and cars parked by people attending events at the nearby Verizon Center or enjoying the shopping, tourist attractions, and restaurants in downtown D.C.

“Those of us who have driven past [the former convention center site], have wanted [the site to get moving] for years,” said Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) at a groundbreaking ceremony this past Monday.

That groundbreaking was the first step toward delivering a new project in the city's core, known as CityCenterDC. The $700 million project is the largest one known to be underway in any city in the United States. And it has residents and visitors thinking about a new question: When will the construction stop?

Fittingly located in supplied-constrained D.C., the first phase will include 458 apartments and 216 condos from Denver-based Archstone (which is working on two other projects in the area) and Houston-based Hines.

“Archstone is committed to world-class communities in world-class cities and this is one of the most exciting examples we’ve had the privilege to be involved with in a long time,” said Scot Sellers, Archstone’s CEO, at Monday’s ceremony.

In the first phase, 185,000 sqaure feet of retail, 520,000 square feet of office space, and 1,555 below-grade parking spots will also be delivered, along with the apartment and condos. Eventually, phases two and three will add a 350-room upscale hotel, nearly 140,000 square feet of additional retail, and 500,000 additional square feet of office space.

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For the residential component, Archstone plans two 11-story buildings that will be linked by an enclosed pedestrian bridge. The company, which will also manage the apartments, will provide 92 affordable units (roughly 20 percent of all the rentals in the development). The apartments will feature floor-to-ceiling windows; balconies in select units; wood flooring in living, dining, entry, and den areas; and European-style cabinetry.

The apartments will also achieve LEED Silver certification, while providing amenities such as a 5,500-square-foot Caliber Sport Club and yoga room; Internet café with WiFi; business center; rooftop swimming pool and lounge; and a club room. But best of all is the neighborhood with restaurants, retail, theaters, tons of history and landmarks, and a major sports venue within walking distance.

“The design fabric is rooted in the fabric of the streetscape and desire to connect the project to the surrounding downtown,” says Jason Jacobson, group vice president of development for the east region for Archstone. “Its unique architecture, a commitment to sustainability, and great public spaces will all help to define this project.”

Multifamily Impact
Getting to the finish line wasn’t easy. The Hines-Archstone team had to go through six years of planning, 113 meetings with community groups, and the financial meltdown and Great Recession to get the project to the finish line.

The anchor investor for the project is Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company, the real estate investment arm of the Qatari Investment Authority. The financing was put in place by Barwa Bank’s investment banking subsidiary The First Investor (TFI). TFI will co-invest in and manage the dedicated TFI U.S. Real Estate Fund.

“We had to reject and tussle but we came out with a project that will make the built environment in Washington better,” said Hines founder and chairman Gerald Hines at the groundbreaking.