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July, 2019

Looking South to the Future:
Redevelopment Plans for South Campus

By Maggie Master

Jim Abdo presents the proposed redevelopment of South Campus to the CUA community.

When Jim Abdo, president of Abdo Development, was invited to submit a proposal to redevelop CUA’s South Campus, he traveled via Metrorail to make an initial assessment of the site. He asked colleagues who were traveling with him to “imagine that you are a parent or a student coming to Catholic University for the very first time. What’s your experience like?” Then he followed up with an even more important question: “What would you want it to be?”

On Sept. 15, Abdo offered his company’s vision for the future of South Campus and the Catholic University experience during an hour-long presentation to hundreds of faculty, students and staff in the Great Room of the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center. He began by acquainting the audience with some of his company’s achievements, including the revitalized 14th St., N.W., retail area and several award-winning residential projects in Washington, D.C., and Virginia. Abdo spoke about the company’s experience working in transitional neighborhoods — areas that are only in the early stages of transformation — saying that an overarching priority is developing a site in a responsible way that creates jobs and is respectful of the existing community.

To date, Abdo Development has organized 20 community meetings on the future of CUA’s South Campus, seeking the input of residents of Brookland and other neighborhoods concerning the project. Jim Abdo said that he has briefed the mayor and members of the city council on his plans.

The development company’s design will transform this five-block, 8.9 acre swath of land — the current site of three CUA residence halls — into a main street and a town center, with an arts walk and pedestrian-level retail as well as condominiums, apartments and townhouses.

The redeveloped area will include a public square, clock tower and outdoor cafes.
Abdo stressed the transformative nature of the redevelopment in providing public space for the CUA community and the Brookland neighborhood, calling attention to a planned public square and clock tower, modeled after an Italian piazza. The square would be set back from the corner of Michigan and Monroe streets by extensive landscaping and would feature sidewalk cafés, adding up to what Abdo describes as a “public space with a café experience.” He stressed that the redeveloped sites would feature up to 28 feet of space between store fronts and curbside, a portion of which would be dedicated as "café zones," allowing for outdoor café seating without pedestrian congestion.

To create a more pedestrian-friendly environment, Abdo is proposing that the intersection of Monroe and Michigan avenues be reconfigured so that CUA community members can more safely access the redeveloped site from the main campus.

Under Abdo’s plan, the redeveloped area would link to Brookland's existing 12th Street retail corridor and make CUA’s South Campus part of a larger destination within the community.

“We want to build a quality campus main street at Catholic University,” Abdo told the audience. “When someone comes down Michigan Avenue, we want them to know that they’re arriving at Catholic University.”

To achieve that “main street” feel, Abdo and his colleagues toured other successful university town centers, including those of Harvard, Princeton and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to borrow on proven designs.

Beyond the public square, the other central hub of activity planned for the South Campus redesign is an “arts walk” — an outdoor artists’ market with cafés, a performance area and local visual art for sale. The walk would be flanked by two new Industrial style buildings that would feature two dozen ground-floor artist studios with glass garage-style roll-up doors opening onto the new pedestrian street that would connect Monroe Street with the Metro station entrance. The upper floors would be devoted to residential apartments.

“Think Eastern Market,” Abdo said, referring to the Washington, D.C., outdoor crafts and food market that has become a popular weekend destination in Capitol Hill. “Think that kind of opportunity for your Metro stop, for your campus — an area that could become vibrant, active and very safe.”

An artist's rendering showing the proposed arts walk between two new buildings.

The entire project will include five major buildings that combine retail, condominiums and apartments, 45 townhouses that will blend the project into the neighborhood south of Lawrence Street, as well as a small “arts flex” building at 8th and Monroe streets, which would be available for a wide variety of uses — Abdo envisions such things as small concerts by CUA musicians, School of Architecture and Planning exhibits and Advisory Neighborhood Commission meetings.

The site plans include a total of 75,000 feet of retail and restaurant space. Putting that number into context, Abdo explained that a large Safeway or Giant grocery store is typically 52,000 square feet. That said, Abdo emphasized that the new retail spaces would be filled by community-minded boutiques and small outlets, not "big box" retailers.

Mindful of the need to blend in with the existing community of Brookland, the redeveloped site will be configured with eight-story buildings facing Michigan Avenue, scaling down to five stories as they transition into the lower-scale neighborhood to the south. The townhouses will create a bridge between the taller multiple-use buildings and the single-family residences that border the project.

Addressing concerns about ample parking, Abdo said that each new building will have its own dedicated, underground parking available for its residents, with the number of spots exceeding zoning requirements. There will also be a single underground public parking lot for the retail shops.

Abdo took about 30 minutes of questions from students, faculty and staff, addressing the topics of “green” buildings, on-street parking and concerns over traffic delays during the construction phase.

Catholic University will maintain ownership of about half of the land, with ground leases extending for a 99-year period. The remaining part will be sold to Abdo so that the developer can, in turn, sell condominiums and townhouses. Julie Englund, CUA’s vice president for finance and administration, said that this plan will be a long-term financial win for the university, ensuring that CUA has the money it needs to fund initiatives at the university. “This will pay dividends to the university for generations to come,” she said.

Abdo Development was chosen from dozens of competing companies to oversee the redevelopment of South Campus. In early September, the firm officially moved into the zoning approval phase, submitting documents seeking approval for the project from the District of Columbia’s zoning commission. That process is expected to take about a year. Construction is anticipated to begin in mid-2010 and the project will take five to seven years to complete.


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Last Revised 29-Sep-08 03:27 PM.