City Paper Widget

Friday, November 1, 2013

Four Proposals Aired for Franklin School Renovation

Four radically different proposals for redevelopment of the Franklin School (13th and K Streets NW) were presented at a public hearing on the evening of October 30. The hearing was aimed at community residents, and sought public comment. Only a handful of community members came out. These spectators were far outnumbered by the four teams of presenters on hand.

Alexander Graham Bell worked here
The hearing was sponsored by the Office of Deputy Mayor for Planning and Development (DMPED) and took place in the basement of Thomson Elementary School (1200 L Street). Project Manager Reyna Alorro of Hoskins's office emceed the proceedings.

Presentation 1: Abdo Development

Abdo Development hopes to turn the Franklin School into office space for the CoStar Group, a commercial real estate information company. Andrew Florance, President and CEO of CoStar Group, said CoStar was the largest company (in market capitalization) headquartered in the district and run by a DC resident.

"CoStar seeks to utilize the Franklin School as our primary global technology research and development center," Florance said.

Florance also said CoStar will self-fund the estimated $35 million renovation with cash. It requires no financing.

Florance and architect Diana Horvat of Perkins-Will outlined the project's commitment to a green building, including a green roof and a winter garden.

Presentation 2: Douglas Development

Douglas Development and Chicago-based architects Autunovitch Associates presented a proposal to turn the Franklin School into a boutique hotel. The hotel would have 40 rooms plus a rooftop bar and restaurant. It would be called "the Benjamin", and would create 90-100 new jobs via an estimated $10-15 million in annual sales.

The presenters said they do not operate hotels. They plan to develop the building first and get an operator second. They have contacted many big-name hotel operators, and recently got a letter of intent from the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group.

The presenters noted a hotel/restaurant would keep the building accessible to the general public. The proposal would develop the building's back alley as an outdoor restaurant and bar area, and "bring back the attic as a fabulous restaurant."

Presentation 3: ICE-DC

ICE stands for Institute for Contemporary Expression. It is the brainchild of Georgetown art collector and businessman Dani Levinas, a 30-year resident of Washington.

Once renovated, Levinas said, the building would host travelling collections and art installations in gallery space. There would be no permanent collection, but would host "something new" every four or five months, featuring "cutting-edge artists who are on the forefront of the art world". It would become "a major vibrant cultural hub" on the model of PS-1 in New York or the Tate Modern in London.

"We want to repurpose the Franklin School as an international cultural destination," Levinas said. 

There would be a ground level restaurant by Jose Andres plus a cafe and an art  bookstore. In addition, education programs, interships, and mentoring programs are planned, as well as a contemporary art biennale.

Presentation 4: Lowe Enterprises

Lowe Enterprises and Bundy Development Corporation seek to create a "tech incubator" which would "make D.C. a technology hub".

The goal, the presenter said, was "to create a digital economy ecosystem in the heart of Washington, D.C., that is authentic, readily identifiable, and serves as a central node and catalyst for future growth in the district."

The proposed renovation would include flexible exhibit space, office and meeting space, and a tech cafe. There would be a retail component on the ground floor and affordable living space for entrepreneurs who wish to be near their offices. 

The project was "innovative, inclusive, and will create economic opportunites". It was projected that between 2,700 and 4,000 jobs would be created in the first five years.


There were a few questions from the community for the presenters.

Two of the questions were directed at Douglas Developers. The first asked if Douglas Developers had an intention to evict nearby food trucks if their proposal was selected. Paul Millstein of Douglas Developers said no.

"They have permits to be there," he said.

The second question noted Douglas Developers' 2010 problems owing real estate taxes to DC. Did Douglas Developers owe any real estate taxes to DC presently? Millstein said no. The previous tax problems, Millstein said, were a result of the 2008 downturn in the real estate market and were not a factor now.

"We did what we had to do to honor our obligations," Millstein said.

Public comment period still open

Reyna Alorro said the public comment period on the project will remain open until November 29. Comments can be emailed to

The slideshow presentations of the four groups, plus questions and answers from the hearing, will be available on the DMPED website after November sixth, Alorro said.

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