Thursday, August 20, 2009

Madison, I mean, Mount Vernon, Square Gardens?

The Washington Business Journal reported this week (via GreaterGreaterWashington and JDLand) that the owners of New York's Madison Square Garden are considering opening a 6,000 seat concert venue in Washington, D.C. Requirements: 100,000 square feet; must be near public transit and shopping. While the focus seems to be a potential location in the ballpark district, the Mount Vernon Square area is also said to be under close consideration. There is no official comment from the DC government or MSG, but discussions have been said to be ongoing for months.

Jonathan O'Connell of the WBJ makes some "educated guesses" about possible site in the Convention Center area:

Hines - CityCenter DC. The old convention center site will be the city's most high-end major development and has 111,460 square feet along New York Avenue between 9th and 11th Streets. Close to downtown, subway stations and dining options, it may be the most New York City-esque part of D.C.

The Wilkes Co. - Mount Vernon Place. Sandy Wilkes apparently met with the
MSG team and he is planning 2.2 million square feet of development two blocks
east of Mount Vernon Square. Not much further from the action.

Douglas Development - Mount Vernon Triangle. Ever since assembling 1.2 million square feet across from the convention center, Douglas Jemal has been pursuing an entertainment attraction.

Some critics say a location in Mount Vernon is too close to the 20,000 seat Verizon Center. Competition for the new MSG venue would more likely come from smaller venues, such as the 1,600-seat Warner Theatre downtown, the 3,702-seat DAR Constitution Hall in Foggy Bottom, and the DC-owned 1,200 seat Lincoln Theatre on U Street NW.

But can the Mount Vernon neighborhood comfortably sustain such a large venue?

As a member of the Residential Advisory Committee of CityCenter DC, I have not heard such a proposal even floated around. At this stage of the development, where groundbreaking on a portion of the site is theoretically around the corner, one would think that such a significant addition would need to be incorporated into the plan. The site might be conducive to the MSG venue, but it may be too late.

The Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association has met several times with Douglas Development (see June 2009 meeting notes, November 2008 post). They've promised a breathtaking entertainment venue, which would most likely have its entrance on Seventh and New York Avenue NW. They are so close -- they just can't disclose what it is yet. Could a 6,000 seat venue work on that site? My instinct is that while the neighborhood is very supportive of bringing life to that entire vacant square block of New York Avenue/7th/L Streets, a concert hall of that size might be too much to handle given the nearby Convention Center and proximity to the historic residential area.

Mount Vernon Place seems like the location to watch, though it is the greatest distance from a metro station (about 5 blocks from both the Gallery Place/Chinatown and Mt. Vernon Square/Convention Center stops). Several condos and apartment buildings have opened in the "Triangle" area, such as the Sonata and Madrigal Lofts, but large semi-vacant surface parking lots continue to occupy a substantial area. Additional restaurants and retail will soon open along the 400 Block of K Street NW in CityVista. Otherwise, this portion of the neighborhood continues to lack streetlife.

Is Mount Vernon Place a viable site for the MSG arena? Are any of Mount Vernon locations? Or is the ballpark district a better option?

Another question -- is the DC government planning to subsidize this project ala ballpark or will MSG fully finance the project?

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