To the extent that Paul Millstein and cars have been mentioned in the same sentence by members of the public in recent months, it’s usually something along the lines of “Paul Millstein wants to take away my car” or “Paul Millstein’s trying to make it impossible for me to park my car.” The developer with Douglas Development has taken heat from Tenleytown residents for his plan to construct a mixed-use residential/retail building on the site of the defunct Wisconsin Avenue Babe’s Billiards, without any off-street parking.
Those residents may be surprised to learn that the same Paul Millstein is in the process of building a 1,000-car garage on New York Avenue NE. It’s part of Douglas’ redevelopment of the Hecht Company Warehouse at 1401 New York Avenue NE into a huge mixed-use retail and office complex. Millstein says the likeliest lessee would be the General Services Administration, which manages the federal government’s office real estate. And to “compete for suburban GSA users,” it’s necessary to build parking. A lot of parking.
Millstein mentioned the idea to Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning, known for her advocacy of multi-modal transportation and her work to remove certain minimum parking requirements for new buildings as part of the rewrite of the zoning code. Her reaction was not surprising.
“She said, ‘I hate that you’re building a 1,000-car garage,'” Millstein recalls. “So she said, ‘How about you build it so in 10 years you can repurpose it?'”
Millstein was intrigued. And so Douglas is building the garage “taller and heavier” so that it can be converted to residential units in the future. If demand for apartments in the area goes up and demand for parking goes down, Millstein says, the perimeter of the garage will become residential units, surrounding a core of parking. “And if they bring a Metro stop there, we’ll get rid of all the parking,” he says.
“A parking structure is often built in a way that it can’t be easily reused,” says Tregoning. “If we’re not certain about the future, we have to be flexible. So that’s a great example of someone trying to do that.”
Tregoning says that traditionally, D.C.’s real estate has been flexible, with housing stock that can be repurposed on the inside for various uses while maintaining its exterior appearance. Only recently, she says, have “purpose-built structures” proliferated, leading to vacant Walmarts and other buildings around the country that are hard to convert to new uses.
Millstein expects the garage, which is already under construction, to deliver in August. He says no one has ever built an intentionally convertible garage like this before. Tregoning is likewise unaware of parking structures built specifically to be convertible to residential units.
But, she says, “we’re not afraid of trying to be the first to do something.”
Rendering of the Hecht complex from Douglas Development