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Friday, April 4, 2014

Dupont Underground: "If You Don't Have a Prominent Public Entry, It Just Won't Work"

The committee on design review for Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle took a field trip to the tunnels under Dupont Circle on April 2. Down below, partisans of a redeveloped Dupont Underground told the Zoning, Preservation, and Development (ZPD) Committee their vision for the space. There was also a bonus tour of the urban caverns for attendees.

Julian Hunt presenting Dupont, underground
The project is a complex and ambitious operation with a lot of moving parts, involving numerous reports to and permissions from a bewildering variety of D.C. and federal government entities. The space will be renovated in stages, in the hope that revenue and experience from the first stage can help advance a second and third.

"Dupont Circle is not living up to its potential," said lead presenter Julian Hunt, Chairman of the Arts Coalition for Dupont Underground. Hunt is also an architect and founding Principal of Hunt Laudi Studio.

One of the many challenges facing the developers will be constructing and maintaining an entry to the proposed underground development. The current multiple narrow staircases to the space scattered around Dupont Circle are, at best, "very uninviting", to quote a characterization made by D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward Two) at the last ANC2B meeting.

"Every developer said: if you don't have a prominent public entry, people won't see you. It just won't work," Hunt said.

Hunt and allies have ambitious plans, but they'll have to move bureaucratic heaven and earth to make them happen. One example: the case of pie-shaped piece of land bordered by P Street, Massachusetts Avenue, and 20th Street NW, just west of Dupont Circle. The triangular east-pointing tip of this land, now containing a boarded-up entry to the underground tunnel, is owned by the D.C. government. A square-ish chunk of land on the western side, now containing a tiny brick building called the Dupont Resource Center (9 Dupont Circle), is owned by the National Park Service.
Proposed entryway to Dupont Underground

Hunt showed the committee a proposed design for the space (see photo). In order to make this design a reality, Hunt must have the cooperation of both parties, including permission from the National Park Service to demolish the building. The developer's task will not be made any easier by the fact that this building is used during the day as the offices of the Dupont Circle Citizen's Association, a group often objects to new construction in the neighborhood.

This is not the only highly-visible part of the Circle that the group wishes to transform. Another slide in Hunt's presentation depicted a "cap park" on a wide median between Dupont Circle and Q Street, created by covering over the Connecticut Avenue underpass. Yet another replaced the magnolia trees which bloom in concrete boxes on the center median of Connecticut Avenue just south of Dupont Circle with a long, gradual pedestrian ramp into Dupont Underground from the N Street intersection.

Hunt talked some about the unique difficulties mounting a project of this size in the district.

"This is something that would be kind of normal in a normal city," he said. "If we had a Senator who would say 'it's my project', it would happen automatically."

This project's above-ground problems are only a few of the many problems it will face. Hunt's subterranean talk to the ZPD Committee covered many, many other topics related to this ambitious development. Read a good report summarizing them (with great pictures) from District Source here.

More coverage of the development can be found on page one of the latest edition of The Dupont Current -- available as a 32-page .pdf here (click on "No. 14 April 02, 2014").

Assisting the presentation were Braulio Agnese, Managing Director of the Arts Coalition for Dupont Underground, and Patrick Smith, a developer who is seeking to bring a 41-unit "pod" hotel (rooms 180 square feet each) to the first phase of the project.

Also attending were ANC2B Commissioners Kevin O'Connor (district 02) and Leo Dwyer (district 07). Dwyer is also Chair of the ZPD Committee meeting.

1 comment:

  1. Years ago the space was developed for commercial purposes-restaurants mainly. After lots of folks checked it out...gone. Hope they can do better this time around!