The Wharf master plan by Perkins-Eastman will dramatically transform what today is an underdeveloped, poorly designed but valuable strip of city-owned land stretching along Maine Avenue to the Washington Channel. Overlooking East Potomac Park and the Potomac River, the Wharf will encompass a broad range of residential, commercial, cultural and recreational uses. It is sure to rival other lively downtown destinations such as the Penn Quarter and 7th Street NW corridor, Union Station and Georgetown.
Yet this long-awaited project does more than just redevelop 27 acres of excessively paved real estate and 24 acres of water. In a city where almost no buildings abut the city’s extensive riverscape, the Wharf at last will bring relatively dense, activated urban architecture, indeed a significant piece of downtown Washington, directly to the water’s edge.
The Wharf’s prime location and context will help ensure its success. Near the L’Enfant Plaza and Waterfront Metro stations, the site is also within easy walking distance of the Mall and dozens of federal buildings. Vehicular access is likewise easy. Eventually more frequent, less costly water taxis will serve the Wharf as it and other waterfront developments grow. And no doubt a water shuttle will provide seasonal access to East Potomac Park.
The makeover planning effort required considerable resources and time, having begun in earnest in 2007, when the city selected the master developer. Over the past five years, hundreds of meetings with official agencies and citizens took place. Exhaustive master plan reviews and revisions were necessary to obtain legislation, land entitlements, zoning and design approvals and redevelopment authorization from a long list of city and federal government entities.
As soon as final building permits are issued for phase one of this two-phase, $1.45 billion development, demolition and construction will begin, probably within the next year or so. Total project build-out is 3.2 million square feet, of which nearly 2 million square feet are in the first phase.
When both phases are completed, 10 mixed-use, 130-foot-high buildings plus several small-scale pavilions will stand alongside the channel, framing views and giving shape to a well-conceived public realm.
Comprising this realm will be remodeled Maine Avenue, a tree-lined boulevard for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. Between the bulkhead lining the channel and the line of buildings, a wide pedestrian promenade parallel to Maine Avenue likewise will accommodate bicycles, occasional vehicles and outdoor dining.