- The Washington Times
Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Amid an economic boom downtown, owners of the District’s convention center plan to upgrade the behemoth concrete-and-glass building in the Shaw neighborhood.

“We asked, ‘How do we maintain this building at the highest level and make sure we meet the needs of not only the residents of the neighborhood, but also the customers who come here every year for meetings and conventions?’” Max Brown, board chairman of Events DC, said Friday at a meeting to unveil renovation plans.


The 2.3 million-square-foot Walter E. Washington Convention Center covers the area between Seventh and Ninth streets and Mount Vernon Place and N Street in Northwest — three entire city blocks. Since it was built in 2003, the thriving neighborhoods around it have grown exponentially.

Events DC, the city’s quasi-public convention and sports authority, presented plans for a convention center face-lift that would allow the 14-year-old building to reflect the upgraded environs of the Shaw and Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhoods near it.

Though no final decisions have been made, the improvements likely will include a 4,000 square-foot rooftop addition, nine new retail stores around the exterior and large-scale public art. And the entrance to the Mount Vernon Square Metro station will be updated.

The plans aim to attract more business for the convention center, which pumps about $400 million into the city’s economy each year.

“We don’t do it by having a bunch of chain stores. We do it by connecting with the neighborhood and creating an experience,” Mr. Brown said. “When people come to Washington, they have a memorable experience and see what the city’s all about, why we live here.”

The improvements will be phased in over the next three years and are expected to be finished by 2021. Bid packages for project contracts will be awarded next spring, and construction is set to start shortly thereafter.

The current convention space replaced the 800,000-square-foot Washington Convention Center, which was built in 1980. It was imploded in 2004 to make way for the $950 million CityCenterDC retail and apartment complex.

The convention center’s makeover is just another sign of thriving times in Shaw and Mount Vernon Triangle.

Restaurants like Taylor Gourmet, L’Hommage Bistro Francais and A Baked Joint sit on K Street NW alongside shops like BicycleSPACE and the upscale Lyric 440K Apartments. Around the corner on Fifth Street, the City Vista development houses a Safeway grocery, a Sweetgreen eatery, a Busboys and Poets restaurant, and luxury apartments and condos.

Kenyattah A. Robinson is president of the Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District, “a private nonprofit that represents residents, businesses and property owners in the area. He said the neighborhood is vastly different from what it was 10 or 15 years ago. Where there once was a clear line between downtown businesses and residences now abounds with mixed-use development, Mr. Robinson said.

“We’re starting to see a downtown that is evolving, and we’re seeing a landscape of neighborhoods coming together,” he said. “Before, the area was one that was underinvested and underutilized.”

That new landscape has attracted Apple to build a new store — only the second in the city — just down the street from the convention center in the Carnegie Library building at 801 K Street NW on the western edge of Mount Vernon Triangle.

The Beaux Arts building opened in 1902 after industrialist Andrew Carnegie heard about the need for a library for residents in the nation’s capital. The library was closed 1970, when the Martin Luther King Memorial Library opened.

It was converted to a city museum in 1999 after the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., took ownership. EventsDC took over the 75,000-square-foot building in 2013 has used the building as a special events venue ever since.

Last week Apple said it plans to restore the building and make it as much a public space as a retail store. It will feature free public concerts and coding classes, art exhibitions and workshops. It also will feature a “Genius Grove” with a tree-lined retail space.


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