The Washington Post ran a story on May 21 announcing that Catholic University has chosen a developer, Jim Abdo, to turn nearly nine acres of south campus into a dense mix of restaurants, shops and housing, all centered around a new clock tower. Julie Englund, the university's treasurer and vice president for finance and administration , was quoted in the story. See the story below.

Filling a Blank Canvas at Catholic University
Developer Proposes Housing-Retail Mix

From: The Washington Post Date: May 21, 2008 Author: Paul SchwartzmanCatholic University has chosen a developer to turn nearly nine acres across from its Northeast Washington campus into a dense mix of restaurants, shops and housing, all centered around a new clock tower.

The university's agreement with Jim Abdo, if approved by the District, would create a destination across from the Brookland/CUA Metro station in a low-slung neighborhood that developers largely ignored during the real estate boom of recent years.

Abdo's project would rise on university-owned land occupied by three dormitories, which the school would demolish and rebuild on the main campus, north of Michigan Avenue. The university plans to announce the deal today.

Over the past decade, Abdo has played a key role in rebuilding 14th Street NW around Logan Circle, as well as H Street NE, a long-forlorn strip where he developed more than 450 condominium and rental apartments on the site of the former Capitol Children's Museum.

Abdo said the Catholic University project is an opportunity to link the school to the community and create an attraction for people across the city. "It's an empty canvas," he said. "This will become a destination."

Abdo said that his plans are conceptual and that he will host meetings to solicit input from Brookland community leaders and residents before finalizing his design.

The project is expected to dramatically alter the landscape. It would create about 800 housing units, provide street-level studio space for artists and extend the retail area on 12th Street NE along Monroe Street. The clock tower, which Abdo estimates would be about 65 feet tall, would be a gateway to the development, at the southwestern corner of Michigan Avenue and Monroe Street.

Abdo said the housing would be a mix of condominiums and rental apartments, some in buildings of five to eight stories, others spread out over more than 50 rowhouses. The condominiums would sell for $400,000 to $600,000, depending on the market, he said.

As for retail, Abdo said he envisions Monroe Street as a new commercial corridor, lined with storefronts along the ground floors of the apartment buildings. "What's missing in the neighborhood?" he asked. "Cafes? Bookstores? Maybe we'd like to see more restaurants."

Abdo said he has no specific commercial tenants in mind, but he ruled out big-box stores, fast-food restaurants, nightclubs and bars. "It will not be a place where people are waiting on line to get their hand stamped and go to a deejay," he said.

Abdo said he would try to draw people to existing 12th Street businesses and not lease space to the kinds of shops that are already there. "We're not here to undermine 12th Street," he said. "We're here to enhance it."

His ideal, he said, is an eclectic mix of "mom-and-pop retail."

Catholic University set out to develop the property after deciding to move the dormitories, which were built in the 1960s. "It became an opportunity for us," said Julie Englund, the university's treasurer and vice president for finance and administration. The new retail and housing outlets will "create some amenities we don't have," she said.

Neither Abdo nor university officials would disclose financial details of the deal, except to say that the school would sell a portion of the land to the developer and lease other parts.

Brookland, a lush, sloping neighborhood of rowhouses and detached homes, is known as "Little Rome" because it has more than 60 Catholic institutions, including the university, which was established in 1887, and the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center.

Developers have focused on several Washington neighborhoods in recent years, but the Brookland area has largely been ignored. Deborah Crain, a planner with the city's Office of Planning, said Abdo's project would help create the kind of population density in the area necessary to attract retailers and bolster business along 12th Street.

"You need the residential numbers to make the commercial work," she said.

Jim Stiegman, owner of Colonel Brooks' Tavern, one of the neighborhood's only sit-down restaurants, said Abdo's development would "create the possibility for a real neighborhood shopping and entertainment area that will feed off itself, give people a reason to come here, and give people who live here a reason to get out of their cars."

Several community activists said Abdo's project could generate too much traffic, although his buildings would have underground parking.

"Eight stories?" asked Tom Rooney, a retired Catholic University art professor and a Brookland resident for more than 40 years, of the proposed buildings. "That's humongous for around here. Once you start doing that, this whole area is going to change."

Jim Feeley, 53, who grew up in Brookland and lives there, said he cherishes the neighborhood's small-town rhythms.

"Some people think we've been especially privileged and that it's time to for us to catch up with the 20th and 21st centuries," he said. "I feel that the quality of life we have should be prized and protected."