Georgetown Gondolas: They’re Baaack!

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Is there a high-wire act in Georgetown's future? Courtesy Georgetown BID.

The idea of aerial gondolas swinging over the Potomac River near Key Bridge, connecting Georgetown with Rosslyn, Virginia, is suddenly back in favor.

The proposal had been pushed vigorously by the Georgetown and Rosslyn Business Improvement Districts as a joint project in 2016 and early 2017. However, it was largely discarded when neither a landing place in Georgetown nor funding for the project beyond initial studies could be determined.

Not to mention that there didn’t appear to be an urgent need for a gondola running between Virginia and D.C., other than to buttress up the western end of Georgetown’s commercial district and make it easier for Georgetown students who live off campus to commute from cheaper housing in Virginia.

But that all changed last month when Amazon’s Jeff Bezos — owner of the Washington Post and a Kalorama mansion — announced that the mega-retailer’s massive East Coast headquarters would be divided between Long Island City in Queens and an Arlington County site in and around Crystal City.

The new enterprise could bring some 25,000 new jobs to the area, along with a massive housing deficit and a dramatic increase in transportation woes. New pedestrian bridges have already been proposed and, this week, a new Georgetown-Rosslyn Gondola Coalition appeared on the scene.

It started with a pro-gondola op-ed in the Dec. 1 Washington Post by Ted Leonsis, CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, owner of the Wizards and the Capitals; Matt Kelly, CEO of JBG Smith; and Tom Davis, former U.S. rep from Virginia.

Then, in early December, Georgetown University President John DeGioia and Federal City Council CEO Tony Williams — former mayor of D.C. — sent a joint letter to District Council Chair Phil Mendelson urging the Council to use a public-private partnership to secure land that could be a transit hub to host the gondola, as well as (someday) become a Georgetown Metro station.

“We understand that private development at the site is imminent, but we believe that the land has a higher and better public use,” they wrote. “Not only would it serve as an access point for Metrorail construction, the site can be used in the interim to bolster bike and circulator operations, and could serve a future gondola station until the new Blue Line can be built.”

The most likely site of the Georgetown landing is the former Exxon station and future condo project at 3601 M St. NW, next to Georgetown’s newest historic landmark, the Exorcist Steps. A Georgetown Business Improvement District feasibility study in 2016 identified the area as the ideal location for a gondola landing. But the Georgetown Hillside Residences development team from Altus Realty Partners in Arlington has received approval for its project, acquiring permits to demolish the Exxon station in October. Building permits for the proposed condos have not yet been approved or issued, however.

The initial 2016 study was conducted and funded by a partnership that included the District Department of Transportation, Arlington County, the Rosslyn and Georgetown BIDs, Georgetown University, Gould Property Company, JBG Smith and Penzance. The partnership contributed $215,000 for the study, led by ZGF Architects, which eventually deemed the gondola project feasible.

“Urban gondolas have proven their value in cities across the globe and there is no better place to introduce them to this region than by connecting the people, jobs and retail of Georgetown and Rosslyn,” wrote Williams. “Between the university, hospital and commercial district, Georgetown hosts more than 21,000 jobs — the largest employment center in the District that does not have a Metro station.”

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