by Sonya Starnes
DC’s U Street Corridor has changed a lot in the last ten years and the newest sign of this transformation is View 14, a 185-unit Class A apartment building developed by Level 2 Development and Centrum Properties. In celebration of the opening, ULI Washington’s Young Leaders Group sponsored a U Street Corridor panel discussion Wednesday, November 18th, followed by a View 14 tour and a reception at Andy Shallal’s Eatonville restaurant. The discussion was moderated by Jair K. Lynch, President & CEO of JAIR LYNCH Development Partners and panelists
U Street, once known as Black Broadway, has a long history as a thriving African-American urban center and has hosted artists such as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis, as well as U Street natives, Duke Ellington and Shirley Horn. The U Street Corridor’s infrastructure was devastated in the riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968.
Buildings in the vicinity of 14th and U Streets were looted and burned and for decades afterward, the area remained scarred with abandoned buildings and empty lots.
In 1991, the U Street Metro station opened and developers saw a catalyst for renewal. As Dix put it, “The neighborhood had bones.” Lynch described the U Street Corridor today as a “neighborhood good enough that you want to live here, but not so good that it doesn’t have tremendous upside” to a developer, comparing it to neighborhoods that are “already built-out,” such as Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan.
Prior to the discussion, the panelists presented a powerpoint of their projects in the area, including Lynch’s Solea Condominiums (1414 Belmont Street NW), Robertson’s The Beauregard (2100 11th Street NW), VISIO & Murano (2109 & 2117 10th Street NW), Moderno (1935-1939 12th Street NW), Woodson Row (1916-1922 12th Street NW), PN Hoffman’s Union Row (2125 14th Street NW) and Level 2 Development’s View 14 Apartments (2303 14th Street NW).
The View 14 tour began in the party lounge, a modern space sporting a ventless free-standing fireplace, a Wii-equipped 63” plasma TV, a tabletop shuffleboard game and a coming pool table. Next, the group took the elevator to one of the two rooftop terraces to enjoy the view of the Capitol dome. The 185 apartments in View 14 include a choice of studios, one and two bedrooms and duplex apartments with panoramic views offered by the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, gourmet kitchens with granite countertops and maple cabinetry and private balconies. Other amenities include a business center with 27” iMacs and complimentary Wi-Fi in the amenity areas.
Partners Franco and Blum founded their company to build a 12-unit condo six years ago. Having succeeded in their initial development, the two young developers set their sights on two parcels of land that included an auto repair shop, a used car lot and a Comcast-owned property with satellite dishes and an antenna tower. As Franco put it, they romanced the owner of one parcel into selling and took on the daunting task of convincing investors to finance the two young developers. Having obtained the first parcel, they underwent a yearlong negotiation with Comcast for an additional parcel and compensated the company for the removal of their equipment from the site. In order to meet the Office of Planning’s requirements for affordable housing in the area, they contributed $1 million to a nearby low-income apartment building tenant association so that the association could acquire and rehabilitate 48 low-income apartments as a cooperative. They also included seven on-site units of affordable housing at 80% of the Area Median Income. Other community benefits included the green roof, participation in DC employment programs and on-site Zipcar. The original plan called for a condo with a Zen garden featuring a reflecting pool, however, as the project evolved, it morphed into an apartment building with a sculpture garden outside the 2,250 SF fitness center.
Following the tour, the group migrated to Eatonville, the younger sister of Shallah’s Busboys and Poets across the street. Both restaurants have literary roots – Langston Hughes worked as a busboy before he became a poet and Zora Neale Hurston was a native of Eatonville, Florida, a town founded by former slaves. According to Franco, despite the recession, six restaurants have opened in the area in the past 12 months and another six businesses are scheduled to open. In addition, hotels are now expressing interest in the area. U Street, said Dix, has become a destination.