After years of neglect, two failed attempts to develop it, and a stint as a homeless shelter, the Franklin School is ready for development. At least that’s what city officials are hoping. Earlier this month, the office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development issued a request for qualifications for the 1869 building on 13th Street NW. Today, would-be developers took a tour of the space in advance of the May 23 deadline for developers to respond to the RFQ and the June issuance of a request for proposals.
The Franklin School is, to put it mildly, in need of some love. But not only is it in an advanced state of deterioration; its historic nature makes it difficult to adapt to a modern usage. Both the exterior of the building and parts of its interior have a historic designation, meaning they can’t be significantly altered as part of development. The Historic Preservation Office’s Steve Callcott tells me that the grand hall of the building and the stairway halls are historic and must be preserved. Additionally, if a developer applies for a federal rehabilitation tax credit, the preservation rules grow even more stringent. On top of that, many of the interior walls are load-bearing, so they can’t be easily torn down.
Nonetheless, Nimita Shah, the DMPED project manager for the Franklin School, says she’s gotten substantial interest from developers over the past few years. “I’ve have pressure to get this out because I know a lot of people are interested,” she says. Because of the inflexibility and the lack of parking, Shah says conversion into a residential building “presents a huge challenge,” but that a hotel or nonprofit headquarters would be more likely, with traditional offices as a possibility, too.
DMPED is seeking proposals that include a viable tenant for the space—-either from a would-be tenant who would partner with a contractor or from a developer who’d partner with a tenant. The city is looking to issue a ground lease for the space. The building has 51,000 gross square feet, of which Shah says between 33,000 and 38,000 are usable (the rest being stairways, etc.).
The building, it must be said, is gorgeous. It’s also in god-awful shape. We weren’t allowed up to the fourth story because there are holes in the floor, but here are some images of the “good” parts of the building that we were able to see. Some parts are beautiful; some are decrepit; some bear remnants of the building’s homeless shelter days; and some are downright creepy. Developers, have fun with this one.
Click on the photo below to begin the slideshow: