Terminal velocity

By Derrick Perkins (Image/EYA)

Residents got their first glimpse at the future Robinson Terminals earlier this week as redevelopment along the city’s Potomac shoreline picks up steam.

Developers EYA and City Interests unveiled rough ideas for the aging warehouses before the city’s waterfront commission Tuesday, presenting a very early picture of what a revitalized waterfront will look like in the near future. City Interests’ project at the north terminal will include one of two boutique hotels permitted along the riverside while EYA is pitching a mix of high-end residential and retail development at the south site.

The two properties, owned the Graham Holding Co., were targeted for redevelopment from the beginning of the waterfront plan debate. Along with the nearby 200 block of S. Union St. — where Carr City Centers plans to erect a boutique hotel — the sprawling warehouse complexes are seen by city officials as the beating hearts of a vibrant, attractive shoreline.

Of the two proposals, both very much in the early stages, EYA’s vision for Robinson Terminal South is the most detailed. The company, which has undertaken 11 projects within the city in the past 22 years, tentatively plans to demolish much of the southern warehouse complex and replace it with a series of multifamily buildings.

The 280,000-square-foot redevelopment project also calls for several restaurants and other potential retail tenants. Boat slips would be added to an adjacent pier.

While the final design and architecture remains in EYA’s hands, much of it is based on the concepts laid out in the waterfront plan, said Bob Youngentob, company president. Given the city’s highly publicized glut of office space, emphasizing residential and retail just makes sense, he said.

“It’s clearly not an exact science to determine the right mix of residential versus retail, but, as I think it’s somewhat obvious, the demand for new office space is not as strong as it once was,” Youngentob said. “Most new office space is being built near Metro stations. And in terms of our neighbors, what makes it more challenging is the fact that the two other sites have both utilized the two hotel options. [This] points us more toward the direction of primarily residential development.”

Focusing on residences, though, may ease the project’s journey through City Hall. While the prospect of waterfront hotels remains controversial, residential development likely will provoke little opposition.

“[High-end residential] is what I think is going to make the most sense down there,” said Bert Ely, a notoriously staunch opponent of the waterfront redevelopment plan. “It reflects the value of the land and will be a moneymaker for the city. I think the city has tended to overrate the value of commercial relative to high-end residential in that area.”

That does not mean neighbors will greet the project with open arms, he warned. Traffic and parking issues will remain a concern, Ely said, particularly in regard to the proposed restaurants.

But he expects the project will clear up what he considers a popular misnomer: that waterfront plan critics are anti-development. They just want the right kind of development, Ely said.

“We have known all along that those properties are going to be redeveloped,” he said. “I think there has been a candid recognition that properly done redevelopment would be a hell of a lot more attractive than the Robinson Terminal buildings.”

EYA expects to file for a demolition permit in the summer or fall, and plans to present the project to the planning commission and city council for approval by the year’s end. Construction is slated for spring 2016 with the first residents moving in about a year later.

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