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Chinatown DC: In Chinatown, high-end residential is out and shelter is in

The District has struck a deal to lease the former Gospel Rescue Missions building in Chinatown to house homeless women, putting an end to the current owner’s plans for a high-end residential project there.
Rock Creek Property Group acquired 808-810 Fifth St. NW, which total 32,246 square feet between them, from Gospel Rescue Ministries in February 2013 for $5.95 million, or $192 per square foot. The building had served as a shelter the previous 75 years.
Shortly after it closed, Rock Creek proposed a “first-class, 50+ unit apartment or condominium project,” and then bid to demolish a portion of both buildings and build an eight-story rear addition.
“It is a rare opportunity to find a property of this caliber and location in Washington D.C.,” Rock Creek partner Andy Glick said following the purchase.
How times have changed. Mayor Vincent Gray on Wednesday submitted a proposed 20-year lease agreement, with a single five-year option to extend, between the District and Rock Creek for the internally-connected buildings. The lease amount, for the first year, will total $1.28 million, or $39.77 per square foot. That’s lower than the average asking price on the East End by a healthy amount, at least for Class C commercial space.
According to the mayor’s letter, the lease “provides for a rental rate which reflects current market rates.”
The Department of Human Services plans to use the first four floors to house women in the “temporary shelter model.” The fifth floor will contain units for women in the District’s transitional housing program. The basement level will support the entire shelter population, “providing large gathering space to address critical life skills,” according to the mayor’s memo to the council.
The two women’s programs that will occupy 808-810 Fifth currently reside at the Federal City Shelter, 425 Second St. NW.
“The 808-810 Fifth Street property will not only provide a warm and safe place to sleep, but also offer on-site assessment and case management,” Gray wrote to council.
According to the Historic Preservation Office, 810 Fifth is a five-story, concrete frame, stucco clad building constructed as the Gospel Mission in 1932 to house indigent men. Its neighbor, 808 Fifth, is a three-story brick rowhouse constructed by H. Reizenstein in 1885.
Rock Creek’s requests to demolish a portion of the buildings and to construct an addition ran into a hiccup at the Historic Preservation Review Board. The proposal was not rejected, but it wasn’t approved, either.
“We can and will develop 810 Fifth if there’s mutual desire from the stakeholders,” Rock Creek partner Gary Schlager told the HPRB last Dec. 5. “We don’t like to swim upstream. We’re good listeners and we understand compromise.”
Schlager was not immediately available for comment.