Courtesy Maurice Walters Architect Inc.
Three residential buildings would be built among the two I.M. Pei-designed buildings on the Southwest waterfront.
A prominent D.C. developer is demonstrating its confidence in the rebirth of Southwest with a proposal to flank two I.M. Pei-designed residential towers with three apartment buildings totaling 404 units.
The Bernstein Cos. purchased two of the four Pei Towers in the heart of Southwest D.C. — those bounded by Third, K and M streets — from Bresler & Reiner Inc. in 2006. Those Pei towers, built in 1960 and once called the Town Center apartments, are not historic landmarks but they are “historically significant,” according to Bernstein, and examples of some of the renowned architect’s earliest work.
The new complex would consume a pair of surface parking lots, transforming “an underutilized parcel surrounded by myriad new developments and along a major transit corridor into an active, vibrant residential development,” according to a zoning application. The buzzwords are all there: transit-oriented development, pedestrian friendly and greater sense of place.
Specifically, Bernstein’s planned unit development application, submitted to the D.C. Zoning Commission in August, calls for three new infill residential buildings on the overall 108,000-square-foot lot: one 11-story tower fronting M Street, another 11-story tower fronting K Street and a third, three-story building between the two existing Pei towers.
“We’re a very long-term community member and really believe in Southwest,” said Greg Rooney, Bernstein’s vice president of development. “It’s been amazing to watch it turn around the way it has.”
The Bernstein project is centrally located in Southwest’s emerging epicenter. Immediately to the west is Urban Atlantic’s two-building Sky House apartment complex — now under construction — in addition to the Waterfront Metro station, two Waterfront Station office buildings and the fledgling Waterfront Safeway.
The new Arena Stage, at 1101 Sixth St. SW, is three blocks to the west. And the actual waterfront, where PN Hoffman & Associates Inc. and Madison Marquette plan a 3 million-square-foot, 26-acre redevelopment known as The Wharf, is roughly six blocks away.
The real estate market in Southwest is busy, perhaps as hot as anywhere else in the District, saidAndy Litsky, chairman of the Southwest advisory neighborhood commission. While Southwest residents generally celebrate the rising interest in their community, they want at the same time to preserve their history.
“There is a continuing confidence in Southwest, and the folks in Southwest are, I think, universally concerned about infill development specifically in areas where we have some architectural heritage,” Litsky said.
Bernstein’s mixed-use project will feature underground parking, some neighborhood-serving retail and roughly 22,400 square feet of open space. Maurice Walters Architect Inc.’s building design, according to the PUD, “is influenced by the signature elements of the Pei Towers,” with large glazing and an exposed concrete frame, but it includes energy-efficient and durable features not available 50 years ago.
A renaissance, as some have described the Southwest waterfront area’s return to prominence, takes time, hence the six-year delay from Bernstein’s purchase of the Pei towers to its infill proposal.
The south Pei tower was renovated and converted from apartments to condominiums during the worst of the economic downturn. The north tower will be similarly overhauled, but will remain apartments, as part of the infill project.
“We’ve been trying to do this for a while,” Rooney said. “If anything slowed us down, it was the recession.”
The new buildings will be constructed one at a time, rather than simultaneously. There is no timeline, Rooney said.
“We think the south waterfront tower is just impeccable,” he said. “We think it’s perfect. We didn’t have to do much to it, because Pei made a perfectly efficient building. We have the luxury of making good decisions upfront and putting extra effort into our redevelopment so that they last.”
Pei’s other two Southwest D.C. towers are in The View at Waterfront, an apartment complex at 1100 Sixth St. SW. Those properties were the subject of a redevelopment application filed years ago by former owner Fairfield Residential Co. LLC, which lost the buildings in a foreclosure sale. CAM Marina View LLC, with an address listed as 3900 Wisconsin Ave. NW, home to Fannie Mae, purchased The View property in May 2011 for $10.8 million — roughly half its assessed value.
Michael Neibauer covers economic development, chambers of commerce, transportation and politics.