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April 8, 2009, Georgetown Current
Office Building Slated to Become Luxe Hotel
The red-brick building at 1050 31st St. now has few qualities that shout "luxe boutique hotel," but developer David Stern says the former headquarters of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America was an obvious candidate for a high-end makeover.
"It was clearly going to be hotel or residential," said Stern, whose firm ICG Properties LLC partnered with Castleton Holdings Inc. late last year to redevelop the site, which has extensive frontage along the C&O Canal. "The layout, the amount of natural light, the existing underground parking all lends itself nicely" to such uses, said Stern.
Though, as the Washington Business Journal reported last week, Stern is keeping mum on the identity of the operator chosen for the 50- room hotel, he said his firm started with a "relatively short list" of candidates, as the size ruled out many options.
The proposed hotel's luxury image ruled out others. "We knew this had to be a high-value hotel," said Stern, who said the already selected operator will be named in the next month or two.
Though windows will be replaced and the entrance will be altered, Stern said most of the planned changes will take place inside the building. "The scope of the renovation is not extreme on the exterior," he said.
Stern said he doesn't expect the renovated hotel to expand beyond its current footprint, now at five stories and 4,400 square feet. An architect has not yet been selected for the project, he said.
A burgundy awning currently tops the entrance of the unassuming structure, and dun-colored shutters frame its windows. But more than the building's accessories will change with the new hotel, which owners hope will open in 2011: It may add new life to the now-vacant site and the area around it.
"We like projects that are transformative in nature," said Stern. "We've been offered a way to transform this site into an 18-hour use instead of an eight-hour use."
Before that transformation takes place, Stern and his partners must obtain approval from the neighborhood's multilayered design-review process. Stern said he's never worked with the Old Georgetown Board before, but he pointed out that his company's award-winning development of the Gallup Building, at 901 F St., included a renovation of the landmarked circa- 1869 Masonic Temple on the site.
Stern's co-owner of the 31st Street site, Castleton Holdings, which purchased it for $18.25 million in January 2008, has been less lucky in recent years with the city's vetting process to alter historic properties. A D.C. Court of Appeals decision last year finally killed the firm's long-troubled plan to build condominiums on the site of the former Italian Embassy at 2700 16th St. NW. The city filed an application to landmark the site after preliminary building permits had been issued for the project, which was designed by architect Shalom Baranes and agreed to by the D.C. Preservation League. The former embassy is again listed for sale.
The new hotel, once open, will be the smallest high-end hotel in Georgetown. The Four Seasons is by far the largest, and The Ritz-Carlton will be bigger by a few dozen rooms.