Naval Yard Historic Redevelopment Restores City Core
There are abandoned and polluted spaces across the country that, if
properly cleaned, could be turned into thriving developments. The refurbishment of the
historic Washington Naval Yard is a case in point. This innovative project will convert
and remediate a polluted and run-down site into state-of-the-art office space for
thousands of employees of the Navy's Sea Systems Command -- all while preserving some of
the property's historic structures and rejuvenating the surrounding neighborhood.
Opened in 1799, the yard is the oldest continuously operated Navy facility in
existence. And it bears the scars to prove it: Two hundred years of producing weapons and
warships has left the Naval Yard contaminated with heavy metals, petroleum products and
other chemicals. After industrial use ended in the early 1960s, the Navy yard stood
largely vacant and the surrounding industrial areas declined.
In 1995, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended that NAVSEA -- as the
Sea System Command is also known -- move from leased space in Crystal City, Va., to the
Navy yard. Scheduled for completion late in 2000, this redevelopment project will adapt
and preserve two historic industrial buildings as offices while moving thousands of jobs
from the fringe to the city core. Green building materials and sustainable design will be
used to create energy-efficient structures, and tucked between the refurbished buildings
will be "pocket parks" and scenic sidewalks. A new waterfront park is also
planned for the site.
Not only will the redevelopment refurbish a derelict space, but because the Navy
requires that contractors be in close proximity to their Navy customers, commercial and
retail development is springing up along a previously run-down strip nearby. A major
brownfield site next door to the Naval yard is now slated for development, and there is
interest in developing an abandoned property across the street.
Convention Center Convention Center Cramps Neighborhood
At first blush it sounds great. Washington, D.C., is going to build a
new $820 million convention center that's accessible by Metrorail. But instead of building
the project in a nearby industrial space, it is being planned for the middle of a historic
The new convention center will host three-quarters of a million feet of exhibition
space and encroach on Mt. Vernon Square. Not only will this project stand out visually
from the stately row houses that surround it, it will surely increase truck traffic in the
largely residential neighborhood. The better location, just a few blocks away in an
abandoned rail yard, would have recycled unused space instead of building over existing
The alternate location probably would have given the center more room to expand, too.
The first convention center was built in 1983 and by 1986 it was already considered too
small and out of date. But rather than learn from its mistakes, the city decided to build
another convention center on a similarly constrained site. Unlike the Washington Naval
Yard, where public investment is spurring development in what was a blighted area, this is
a case where public investment is harming a neighborhood with an inappropriate project.