Best New Development: The Wharf

By  – Associate Editor, Washington Business Journal

It’s not every year D.C. welcomes a whole new neighborhood into its ranks.

But 2017 saw just that with the opening of phase one of Hoffman-Madison Waterfront’s ambitious project, The Wharf.

The numbers paint a picture of the massive undertaking: Eight buildings, 2,000-plus parking spaces, 2.2 million square feet, and $1.4 billion in cost. Already, the district’s retail, restaurants, concert venues, hotels and residential buildings have drawn thousands of visitors since its October opening.

They come for the spectacle, but also for “Compost Cookies” at Milk Bar, seafood towers at Fabio Trabocchi’s Del Mar and cheeseburgers at Shake Shack. The Wharf’s bench of buzzworthy restaurants is deep, including Kwame Onwuachi’s Kith and Kin and Cathal Armstrong’s Kaliwa. Add to it shops like Politics and Prose and hotels including the 278-room Intercontinental at The Wharf and it’s easy to see the draw on a Saturday night.

But of all The Wharf’s venues, none may be as big a draw as The Anthem, the massive concert hall from the owner of 9:30 Club and entertainment company IMP. Inc. With capacity for 6,000, the venue was christened on opening weekend by Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters.

“Congratulations, D.C. — you now have the most badass venue in the U.S. of A,” the frontman said at his Oct. 12 show.

It’s the kind of game-changing development that’s impossible to ignore. (And we haven’t: The Wharf took home our Deal of the Year Award in 2015 for its financing and the WBJ dedicated an entire issue to coverage of the opening). It’s also the kind of development that took more than a decade of work.

In 2006, PN Hoffman was chosen from a field of 17 to pull off what was originally billed as an $800 million mixed-used project on an under-developed stretch of D.C. waterfront. PN Hoffman, led by CEO Monty Hoffman, originally partnered with Baltimore-based Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc. on the project, but the firm later folded, following the recession.

“We worked through the recession. That was hard, because that was such a paradigm disruption,” Hoffman told the Washington Business Journal in October. “There was no baseline and there was no metrics that we could grab onto. There was no normal for a while, and that was frightening. I had spent the first 15 years creating what wealth I had and the whole thing could have gone.”

In 2010, Hoffman partnered with Madison Marquette, whose chairman, Amer Hammour, looked at the development as a long lasting commitment.

“We don’t want to sell this,” Hammour said in October. “We want to own it, and if possible, own it forever, so the question was how do we create something of great quality that people will want to own forever and will create great value and great returns for us.”

The Hoffman-Madison Waterfront team ushered The Wharf’s first phase across the finish line on Oct.12, just as the 2-foot-tall blinking red numbers on the construction site’s digital countdown clock clicked to zero — no easy feat for a development of its size.

Now, the developers have sights set on the project’s $1.1 billion phase two, set to include more office, residential, hotel, retail, and parks along with three marina buildings. Madison Marquette has said that it intends to include fast casual and healthy concepts in the phase two restaurant lineup, and will continue to target specialty and boutique retail, with the possibility of adding athleisure brands and boutique fitness to the area. The site, which is currently in design and predevelopment and should deliver in 2022, begins at Hoffman-Madison’s temporary offices at the Channel Inn and extends along the waterfront to Sixth Street SW.


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