Key waterfront properties slated for office, retail space

Key waterfront properties slated for office, retail space
Owners of the Union Street warehouses could have developed their property by-right, but the waterfront parcels will coalesce with City Hall’s vision for the Potomac shoreline’s renewal. (Derrick Perkins)

Before Alexandria’s elected officials began wading through the waterfront plan Saturday, a proposal to redevelop two key riverside properties linked to the controversial blueprint got City Hall’s approval.

The city’s Board of Architectural Review gave Lawrence Brandt, Inc. the green light to restore the warehouses at 204 and 206 S. Union St. during a January 18 meeting. The buildings date back to the mid-19th century and form part of the Cummings and Turner properties eyed for redevelopment — possibly as hotels — under the waterfront plan.

But Robert Brandt, who represented the company at the hearing earlier this month, said the interconnected buildings are slated for office and retail space.

Waterfront plan supporters had warned skeptics that owners of key shoreline parcels would redevelop their property liberally if not for the plan’s guidelines. By increasing density at the Cummings and Turner block as well as the Robinson Terminals, officials hope to leverage developer dollars for public amenities.

The Union Street warehouses happen to align with the waterfront plan, but they could have just as easily gone against the current, said Karl Moritz, deputy planning director. It’s proof a framework for the Potomac riverfront was needed, he said.

“We are very lucky that the folks who have purchased it and are making the renovations are people that have the same kind of goals as [reflected in the plan],” Moritz said. “[W]hat if there were an owner not so willing to take the plan to heart?”

Brandt said his firm has long been interested in waterfront property. He jumped at the offer when Cummings Investment Associates, Inc., contacted his company with the idea of selling.

“I think that the buildings were underutilized,” Brandt said. “There’s an opportunity for a better use of those buildings. You can probably see that from looking at the buildings from the outside. I live about four blocks away and I drive by them every day.”

Brandt plans to remove the fading paint job from the interlocked buildings, build new ground level entrances, restore windows and demolish a portion of the third floor for a rooftop deck. It’s a proposal Al Cox, the city preservationist, supports and one where a BAR hearing likely wasn’t needed.

“It’s terrific use [of the buildings],” he said. “The buildings look like eyesores – they haven’t been painted or maintained terribly well.”

Brandt also scooped up several adjacent buildings, the structure housing Big Wheel Bikes at 2 Prince St. and an office building at 10 Prince St., from Cummings Investment Associates. There are no plans for those properties yet.

When the transactions are finalized, the Brandts will have put about $4 million into the deal.

Their interest in the city’s plans for the waterfront is partially behind the acquisitions, Brandt said. He understands the heartburn it’s generated — warehouses on the other end of the block could still end up as a boutique hotel — but the firm isn’t proposing anything radical with their properties.

“I understand there is controversy with big, tall buildings, but I don’t plan on building them,” Brandt said.

He hopes to begin restoring and renovating the properties shortly after submitting plans in February.