Stan Eckstut shows design influences for Market Square. (Lydia DePillis)

Last night at Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater, with nearly every seat filled by nearby residents and development types, P.N. Hoffman and Madison Marquette unveiled the framework of their plans for the 27-acre Southwest Waterfront. The vision was breathtaking.

Southwest Quadrant has a great rundown, so I won’t go through every detail. In a nutshell: The plans include hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space and ground floor retail, three hotels, and 560 residential units, half of which will be priced at 60 percent of area median income (and half of those below 30 percent AMI). There are several distinct zones:

  • Market Square next to the renovated fish market will have a year-round fruit and vegetable market, with what a consultant described as “a little hustle and bustle, clanging of pots and pans.”
  • The 7th Street park will be a large, grassy expanse surrounded by more upscale restaurants, corresponding with a long, curving pedestrian pier.
  • The M Street landing area, connecting Arena Stage to the water, will be a family-oriented space that the consultant likened to Rockefeller Center in New York City: Fun, busy, recreational.
  • The City Pier will jut out from 9th Street, accomodating the larger ships and serving as the staging ground for programming like concerts and fireworks shows.
  • A grand staircase will connect the 10th Street overlook to the water.
  • A large park at P Street on the eastern end of the wharf will be vehicle-free and available for larger-scale sports and games (dog parks and bocce pitches were mentioned).

It’s a delicious array of options. But the most attractive element isn’t any one piece of the planned development—it’s the overall philosophy, as articulated by Stan Eckstut of master planning firm EEK (which counts Battery Park City among its accomplishments, and has also been retained to design the new McMillan development). Eckstut’s concept is unabashedly urban; The photos that flashed across the screen as design inspirations included Hamburg, Genoa, Auckland, and—naturally!—Seattle’s Pike Place Market, with its teeming pedestrian-centric hive of shops. Eckstut wants the new waterside wharf to be crowded, organic, and somewhat chaotic. “Cars are allowed to use it, when they must—it’s not a thoroughfare, and all the cars have to behave themselves. Not us, but the cars,” he said. “My vision is, the more congested, the more successful.” Traffic along the waterfront will largely run along Maine Avenue, but even that puts alternative modes of transit on par with cars: The developers are working with the city to run a streetcar line through it, along with 10-foot-wide two-way bike lanes.

Eckstut, as well as developer Monty Hoffman, also heavily emphasized the resident-oriented nature of the plan: It’s meant to be a neighborhood first, and a tourist destination second. “We’re not National Harbor, and we’re not Baltimore,” Hoffman said, citing those waterfront developments’ heavy reliance on chain retailers and outside visitors. In a sign of his commitment, Hoffman said that all those currently living on boats at Gangplank Marina—who had feared for their future in the new development—woud be able to stay, generating loud applause.

A less popular element of the plan, at least with some in last night’s crowd, is the height of the planned buildings. Hisses emanated from the crowd when Eckstut said many would reach as high as 130 feet, or 11 stories. Eckstut mounted a staunch defense of tallness. The buildings will have setbacks from their first few stories, leaving the main massing largely invisible to pedestrians. And the density in height, along with underground parking, is what allows for the whole space to be 60 percent open to the public—the bulk is piled on top of itself, rather than horizontally. They’re also fairly narrow; instead of the kind of 400-foot-long buildings that you see along K Street, the planned “miniblocks” won’t be longer than 250 feet.

The full planned unit development will be submitted to the Zoning Commission in the next couple of months, with public hearings expected in the spring. In the mean time, the developers are taking suggestions for office and retail tenants, 20 percent of which must be local—so if you’ve ever wanted to set up shop on a world-class waterfront, now’s your chance.