In the 90s and early 2000s, downtown DC was largely a hub for daytime activities where politicians, lobbyists and officer workers would gather for work and lunch before returning to the suburbs or peripheral neighborhoods outside the downtown area. While Verizon sports center and Chinatown drew customers and foot traffic, downtown DC was not a thriving metropolitan hub like other major cities in the US such as Chicago or New York. Also, very few people lived downtown because there were limited residential apartment options.
In 2006, real estate developer Hines purchased a 12-acre site where the former Washington Convention Center had stood. Known as the Old Convention Center site – nicknamed the ‘OCC” – it was located at the East End of downtown Washington, the site bordered the main city axis of New York Avenue with views towards the WhiteHouse.
In 2007 an elite group of architects including Foster + Partners and Rockwell Group were retained to create a new vision for this $1B mixed use development which would include retail/shopping, two condominium buildings, two rental apartment buildings, two office buildings, a luxury hotel, and public park. The objective was clear: create a new central city destination for downtown DC.
Hines sought a branding partner to figure out how the new development should be positioned, named and branded.
In Spring 2007, WANT Branding was retained as part of a cross-agency team which included leadership from Hines, senior architects from Foster & Partners and a cross-functional team from Rockwell which included architects, interior designers, consultants and brand designers.
First, we embarked on a thorough phase of discovery which included focus groups with a range of DC insiders and influencers to understand their thoughts, ideas and perceptions of what they’d like the new development to be. We also conducted two days of BrandCam™ interviews where we roamed various DC neighborhoods such as U Street, Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan and Georgetown and interviewed over eighty residents to capture them on camera discussing their views on downtown and to identify opportunities for how we could brand the development.
One of the enduring insights from these discovery sessions was that there was very little to do or attractions to enjoy in downtown DC, and therefore no reason to walk around. Also, concerns were raised about safety – downtown DC had earned a reputation as an unsafe neighborhood at night.
Our brand positioning idea was built around the idea of ‘Pedestrian Culture’ and we created a brand manifesto that brought this idea to life.
At the OCC, bold architecture and intimate alleyways combine to bring a thriving pedestrian culture to downtown DC. Discover a vibrant street-level vitality where unique lifestyle offerings and engaging public spaces attract an ever-changing mix of people, experiences and encounters. By building upon the diverse tapestry of this city, OCC is a visionary expression of its rich history and dynamic future.
With a clear brand definition in place we explored hundreds of names options. Some ideas reference the neighborhood location and legacy as the old convention center site. The final recommendation CityCenterDC amplified this bold new development as the definitive center of downtown DC.
The D.C. deputy mayor for economic development characterized the development as “the capstone of an effort to move the center of energy from the Mall to downtown”.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams called CityCenter DC “the crowning achievement in the rebirth of our downtown”. And, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty called the development a “live, work and play environment unlike anywhere else in D.C.”
CityCenterDC has been described as “a modern-day Rockefeller Center” by Hector Falconer at the New York Times. And, Washington Post architectural critic Steven Pearlstein, said the project has “reshaped” downtown D.C.