Greater Greater Washington

Dupont tunnels likely to contain arts and a winery

The Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground, which seeks to develop the old trolley tunnels into arts space, is the only eligible bidder and will likely soon begin lease negotiations, representatives from the coalition announced last night. Besides including arts space, they hope to include a restaurant and winery.

The coalition will seek a 50- or 100-year lease on the space from DC. To afford the ongoing costs, they plan to use some of the space for arts events and some for the restaurant and winery or other "concessions." A winery would use the underground space to actually make wine as well as serve it.

The first phase of the project would cost $10 million to build, including 20,000 square feet for arts and 20,000 for the businesses. The full space is 100,000 square feet. No money will come from the DC government as part of the deal.

Besides the concession revenue, they hope to rent out the space to other large arts organizations, like the Phillips, Corcoran, and Katzen Center, who sometimes need larger spaces than they have. They are also talking with the Corcoran about giving some space to artists as long-term studio space, similar to the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria.

There was one other bid, to operate a winery, from the group that owns Buffalo Billiards and other pool halls. According to architect Julian Hunt, DMPED extended the bidding deadline at the last minute so the winery group could submit a bid. However, Hunt their bid was ultimately found not to qualify. The Arts Coalition has reached out to that group to see if they would still like to run their business as one of the concessions.

There are two tunnels, one on either side of Connecticut Avenue, each with four stairways. The team expects to turn some into elevators including a freight elevator. Others may become openings for mechanical equipment like HVAC.

Some neighborhood leaders have asked about the possibility of returning the space to trolley use if one day DC builds a streetcar on Connecticut Avenue. Streetcars are unlikely to come to Dupont soon since it's already well served by transit, doesn't need economic development, and reopening the tunnels at the ends would require ripping out the existing medians. Still, it would seem to make sense to structure the deal so that DC could get the space back sooner, perhaps with some payment, if circumstances changed and DC determined it to be worthwhile.

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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A winery? Like a place that actually makes wine? Or is that just a fancy way of saying "wine bar"?

Also, I know it's a little cheesy and cliche, but I think it would be cool if the built Paris style "Underground" entrances to the stairwells. They'll have to do something to make them more visible.

by Reid on Oct 21, 2010 11:25 am • linkreport

Actually makes wine.

I thought I put that in and must have edited it out by mistake. I'll put it back.

by David Alpert on Oct 21, 2010 11:28 am • linkreport

I agree that the entrances needs some sort of cool structure. I'm still not a fan of this project, however, because I'm not really sure that what Dupont needs is an underground hangout. DC has perfect weather for more street cafes (just add heated lamps in the winter). Will people really spend their time underground when they could be in the sun?

by Nick J. on Oct 21, 2010 11:31 am • linkreport

Don't grapes need sunlight to grow?

by andrew on Oct 21, 2010 11:37 am • linkreport

Grapes are grown in a vineyard and aged in a winery. I'd suspect the grapes would come from Virginia or something.

by David Alpert on Oct 21, 2010 11:46 am • linkreport

How about a dedicated bus stop for the 42 and the 43 connected to the metro enabling buses to gain around 15 min durin the peak?

Has that been discussed? is this feasible?

by Vincent Flament on Oct 21, 2010 12:14 pm • linkreport

The thought of enjoying wine that was made in a dirty old abandoned subway tunnel is not appealing.

by James on Oct 21, 2010 12:17 pm • linkreport

Have to say I agree that the idea of a winery in a trolley tunnel seems a bit strange to me. Aren't those usually located on or near vineyards, since the cultivation of the grapes is such a significant part of the quality of the wine? A craft brewery might make more sense.

by taylor.nmt on Oct 21, 2010 12:22 pm • linkreport

50 to 100 years leases are a bad idea.

by Jasper on Oct 21, 2010 12:29 pm • linkreport

Better that the tunnel be filled with a winery than winos.

by Bob on Oct 21, 2010 12:48 pm • linkreport

Could we make the effort to look at the big idea? I think this could be a wonderful project. The underground quality makes it very intriguing while the existing concrete structure makes the space very appealing to creative minds. Great place for experimental arts, all medias. Wine ... why not? Great!A cutting edge restaurant design ... why not? Great! Hope Washington goes for it. Can't wait to see it happening ... and I am a neighbor

by Malu on Oct 21, 2010 1:29 pm • linkreport

...because, of course, it's like I've been saying for years, now: What Dupont (and Washington) desperately need is more art space.

by Joey C on Oct 21, 2010 1:30 pm • linkreport

@Taylor Then you would be appalled at the condition of some of the cellars, caves, and tunnels the Europeans age their wines in. Wines you probably pay top dollar for.

by Dave J on Oct 21, 2010 1:40 pm • linkreport

To echo an above sentiment, why not turn it back into a transit tunnel? All buses serving dupont could be rerouted to use it, saving all of them a lot of time and paying for itself in operating costs saving in a short period of time.

?!?

by Michael on Oct 21, 2010 1:54 pm • linkreport

I'm with Vincent Flament, seems like a willingness to re-engineer slightly could do wonders for our existing transit service through the circle. We have so few feasible ways to circumvent circles, it seems like a lost opportunity to devote it to retail and art. I'm not against either, but I generally prefer them both in the open air and light of day.

Other idea: Bus stop for inter-city buses

by WH on Oct 21, 2010 1:57 pm • linkreport

I remember when it experienced its short-lived experience as Dupont Down Under ... and, incidentally, had Paris-style entrances to the stairways. (They where green and not as fancy, but maybe bigger ... and the last of which only came down a few years ago after being an eyesore for way too long.) It wasn't the kind of place you wanted to hang out in. You really felt like you were going underground ... and once there it felt very disorienting to be in a space where all the walls were curved ... It was supposed to be a food court, but it was hard to want to buy anything to eat when your stomach felt queasy. I hope they can do something with it, but given the bad 'givens' that you have to work with (underground and curved walls), it's not going to be an easy task. Like someone said, with all the above ground activity that is a draw to the area, why would anyone want to go underground? I agree with the poster who said this should be reserved for transit. This would be a good starting point for re-establishing a Conn. Ave. Streetcar line. Also, while the folks wanting to put in the new Dupont Down under seem very nice, their vision doesn't seem either well defined or thought out. I mean, it sounds good to say we'll put a winery in there AND art gallaries ... and we'll work with established art galleries and wineries to make this happen ... But without being about to name names or even understand that deep is better than broad, they start to sound like a smooth salesman trying to tell everyone what they want to hear. I mean it might get them the place ... Look, promising everything to everyone worked for Obama, right? ... But in my experience people who are good at promising everyone everything, are rarely able to deliver anything to anyone. Just my thoughts ...

by Lance on Oct 21, 2010 2:38 pm • linkreport

I think people shouldn't judge until they see the final plans. I'm all for a progressive and actual use of the tunnels instead of a vacant space with boarded up entrances. From what I've seen, it looks like a great idea and almost an extension of what Dupont Circle is meant to be, a place for people to hang out, mingle and express themselves.

by mbm on Oct 21, 2010 3:49 pm • linkreport

To some who think the Arts Coalition is not well thought out, I have to say, I've seen the proposal. I know the people working on it, and it hasn't been a fly by night proposal. It's been in the works for a few years, and has been well put together both numbers wise and rendering wise. The Dupont Circle Conservancy is full heartedly in support of the project. While I am in full support of streetcars, the infrastructure necessary for them now isn't nearly as involved as in the past. I think doing something with the space is a great idea, and if there is a group that has the gumption to do it, why not support them instead of dismissing them. Thinking big is not a bad idea here.

by rauzia ally on Oct 21, 2010 4:48 pm • linkreport

I'd still rather see the tunnel used for its original purpose... streetcar stop.

by John on Oct 21, 2010 4:51 pm • linkreport

New York City has the City Winery. www.citywinery.com

At City Winery, you pay $5000 for a barrel and they do bottling for you and special labels. A barrel = 25 cases of wine. It also functions as a major music venue and bar. The concept of having wine barrels everywhere in a cave like setting sets the stage for a major music venue and night club.

by jsc on Oct 21, 2010 6:37 pm • linkreport

Wow! The way some people talk about art space like it's something to be avoided... is it possible for a city to have too much art space?

At the very least, I would hope the tunnels would provide an easy walkway for pedestrians to traverse length of the circle. It might even be cool to be able to accommodate bicycle traffic through the tunnels in some fashion.

I'd be a proponent of a street car line on Conn Ave (the street car maps I've seen would include 2 parallel lines on the corridor from Foggy Bottom to Mt Vernon Square that is already very well-served by metro, circulator and buses, so how is the nature of existing transit in the area an issue?)

The winery is kind of peculiar. I think a microbrewery might be cool.

by Scoot on Oct 21, 2010 7:21 pm • linkreport

@Rauzia,

I don't think the problem is with the numbers or the renderings ... but with the concept itself. This is a basement. And it is a poorly ventilated and strangely configured basement at that. Few people like spending time underground. It's just a basic fact. They'll put up with being underground as part of a transit, but they won't seek it out. I hope I'm wrong. But if I'm not, I hope we can use this streetcar station for what it was built for.

by Lance on Oct 21, 2010 10:15 pm • linkreport

And why would anyone suggest putting a winery in the middle of a city. That's just bizarre. Wineries require space ... lots of it ... cheap space ... and easy access. Can you imagine trucks lining up around the circle to first bring the grapes ... and then (after going through production and aging for a few years) coming back to pick up the cases of bottles? And where would they store the many years of production that are required before you can sell anyone. For anyone falling for this 'business plan', I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell them ... I do hope the District isn't expected to contribute any of our tax dollars for this venture? I think that's what happened last time ... and why we the taxpayers got left holding the bag ...

by Lance on Oct 21, 2010 10:33 pm • linkreport

Dupont underground is not just a basement, it is a wonderful concrete structure asking to be utilized in a creative way.I know lots of people who would love to explore the hidden areas of DC. Ventilation can be easily solved and the configuration of the space can afford all type of venues. Please, Lance, think twice, you could love it

by Malu on Oct 21, 2010 10:59 pm • linkreport

@Malu, I'm just wondering if you've been down there? Do you realize how low the ceilings are? and how relatively narrow the space is? Have you ever been in the London Underground? It looked sort of like that ... except smaller, and curved ... It's not of the dimensions of say a Metro station ... it's small ...

by Lance on Oct 21, 2010 11:28 pm • linkreport

YAY!!!! My friends and I have been pining for an underground winery. Where else in the city can you go underground in a windowless low ceiling space and drink wine?

There is only one thing that can make this proposal even better. Tack on a 50-100 year lease so in 5 years when this is a dismal failure (does anyone think an underground wine bar will actually make money?). That way, in 10 years when it's all run down again, the city can spend tens of millions to buy out the failed project. Works like a charm. I'm in.

by Mike R. on Oct 22, 2010 8:37 am • linkreport

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