06 February 2008

Bi-Rite Curious?

3400 11th Street NW, in Columbia Heights: Many of us have walked past this rotting thing for years without a second thought. I always thought there would be tremendous potential in that space, for someone with the guts and good will to invest in it.

Then in 2006, that block of 11th Street started crawling out of the grave: Columbia Heights Coffee opened just a few doors away. Folks started renovating the vacant husk of a beautiful old victorian house across the street. Nearby, Red Rocks Pizzeria was coming...

I heard rumors about proposals on the decaying Bi-Rite Market, but it seemed frozen with inertia. Nothing was happening.

Most of those rumors were the result of a press release from the property owner 3DG LLC. In the release, the company says the original plan was to convert the building into a mixed-use unit with small retail at the ground floor, with an added 1.5 stories to hold six "high-end condominium units."

That plan went to hell with the housing market. DC was saturated with half-built condos, and many of those would likely become rentals now. So 3DG wisely retreated, and did a remix on the plan.

According to the release, the new plan was to snag retailers and restaurants "that will provide roof decks and outdoor seating areas that will certainly breathe life into the currently barren corner and promote a more pedestrian freiendly atmosphere." Current zoning on the site was not an obstacle, and it looked like the plan could move forward quickly.

That was 9oct06, and they expected to finish the thing by mid-2007.

So what the farting hell happened?

On 2aug07, the Washington Business Journal reported that Warehouse Theater owner Paul Ruppert had leased the space, after property tax assessments forced him to consider bugging out of his 7th Street location. Then, confusingly, the article said he had merely "signed a letter of intent" for 3,000 square feet of it.

So did Ruppert have it or not?

Evidently not. The terms of the lease were not agreed upon at that point.

JEEZUS, man, stop playing with my emotions!

The Warehouse would be an UNBELIEVABLY COOL thing to have in the neighborhood. They've hosted crucial experimental music events in the past, and honestly, I'm not sure WHAT their full impact has been on DC's art scene. But I was eager to find out, when I could walk to the place in ten (friggin) minutes.

Then, the trail went cold on the Warehouse connection. Silence.

The most recent thing I could find was a post from 3DG's John Goldman on the Columbia Heights listserv. In it, he announces (with a definite tone of victory) that three leases had been secured for the Bi-Rite lot.

The ground floor would become the Belgian-themed restaurant and bar Meridian Point (also reported by Prince of Petworth), and the upper floor would be shared between Solimar International (eco-travel agency) and 3DG's new home office.

Goldman confirmed that the building would still undergo a radical transformation; Well, it would HAVE to...but hopefully the design will mesh somewhat with the block, and not become yet another modernist eyesore.

He also promised to keep the North Columbia Heights Civic Association up to speed on the plan, at a future meeting.

So that appears to be the bottom line: No Warehouse, but we get the restaurant: European food and a billion Belgian beers. We could certainly do worse than THAT, my friends.

UPDATE 7feb: Thanks to commenter dcdude, who passed along a link to the architectural rendering of the proposed site. Apparently this was revealed at yesterday's NCHCA meeting. Same day as my post.

Had I been paying attention, I could've attended the meeting and reported something more meaningful. But ehh. Next time. We'll get 'em next time.


dcdude said...

Follow the link below for an architectural rendering on of proposed new design.


IntangibleArts said...

holy heck, thanks! I didn't realize the meeting was yesterday. Must stay tuned for these things. The rendering is an interesting piece of work, alright.

This must be the first architectural rendering of an urban project that actually looks like it's in the right place...if that makes any sense.

The street profile on those images always seems so sterile and remote, like it's another city entirely.

WW said...

Ewwww....what's with the huge wall of BLACK BLOCKS?!?! I like the rest of the idea, but those just look like a canvas-in-waiting for gang tags and such.

The Vinyl District said...

I like how they rendered in some hotties. Nice one.

Anonymous said...

in our defense, yes i'm with 3DG, the wall will be coated with anti-spray paint sealant. as well, the idea was to create something memorable and modern in the true sense of the word.

i think we did that.

see you there in the fall for a beer.

IntangibleArts said...

Anonymous 3DG Agent: Thanks for the comment & glad you found the post.

Personally, I'm most fond of architecture that respects the neighborhood's heritage--so you will find a strong "anti modern" bias on this site. For me, it's a fear of how it'll age next to the older stuff. Much of SW looks like hell because architects went mad with that postmodern concrete look.

The HIPPER it is now, the more dreadful it'll be in ten years.

I think the design on this place has potential: The molding details at the top of the facade's two floors may be enough to offset the black wall, when the thing is finished. It's a shocker, but perhaps that's the idea.

HOWEVER: we're outrageously eager to see the restaurant in full bloom. Very grateful that something's finally happening over there.

Anonymous said...

yes the idea is to leave an impression. and there will be harmony with the surrounding buildings with the crowns, the rhythm, the height, etc. its basically the building simply renovated with the wall. its actually iconic in the context of this city. it reflects the monolithic nature of several our most beloved monuments in town - washington monument, Vietnam memorial as well as the neoclassical architecture of the cabinet buildings. but with a modern, i.e., 50's, modern twist.

not sure it even looks "hip"

its stone, wood, and glass - natural materials, no siding or crap like that.

trust me - it'll be great :)

poo poo said...

you had better check out princeofpetworth.com

folks are not happy with the black wall.

it really does look ugly, and will be outdated in few years.

Anonymous said...

well, the wall is actually going to be light gray and the blocks wont be so big. the rendering was not really ready for public consumption, but its out there so what can we do.

the existing building is really crap and not worth saving. its crud.

the wall isn't for 'shock' value. its a design element meant to break up the horizontality of the building that would otherwise look like a strip mall.

Anonymous said...

man, look at that thing. combine far too many architecture critiques and a few tabs of acid and you get these hideous designs... this sets a new standard for glass, steel, and wood shit out onto the photoshop canvas of overeducated architects. how bout something with some soul?

ParkRoad said...

how cliche can you get and how much architural lingo can you spit out in one post??? there is nothing iconic about a large, flat wall pasted to the side of a building. could you explain the need to connect this building to the washington monument and the vietnam memorial? i mean other than the fact that it's obviously in washington, dc. while you're at it, why not take some pointers from the old executive office building and add some french second empire style? that was a joke, by the way... maybenot.

IntangibleArts said...

Park Road: Excellent comment. Actually I've been mulling over a similar thought for a future post: Seems like we're doomed to have an identity crisis in this town, between the federal stuff and the "real city" where humans actually live and eat and walk and fetch a beer, etc.

It's like the Vatican City within Rome, isn't it? A totally different plane of reality. I only speak for myself, but I never associate the Washington Monument, Capitol dome, etc, as icons of my home town. Whereas the streets and landmarks of Dupont Circle, Shaw, Columbia Heights, etc., are.

So using icons from the stuff around the Mall as a means to evoke local pride seems weird and naive...

Just a thought. I'll try to articulate that better in a few days, & see what reactions come of it...

Anonymous said...

disassociating yourself from the monuments in this town is a manifestation of some sort of inferiority complex. "this town is so damn cool without the monuments even. and i live here"

to ignore them is naive and weird.

does NYC ignore central park and wall street? San Fran the Golden Gate Bridge? etc etc???

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