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Stop Sprawl
Fall 2000 Sprawl Report

States at a Glance: Washington DC

Washington Naval Yard
Historic Redevelopment Restores City Core
New Convention Center
Convention Center Cramps Neighborhood

Washington 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.

New 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 neighborhood.

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 development.

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.

States at a Glance | Introduction | Resources | Acknowledgments

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