After sitting empty for nearly five decades, the historic Washington Coliseum, a sprawling brick masonry structure with a concrete barrel-vault roof in the NoMa neighborhood of Washington, D.C., has been transformed into a mixed-use development with REI as its first tenant. Constructed as Uline Arena in 1941, the 50,000-square-foot building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Its ground level serves as the fifth flagship store for the outdoor gear retailer and co-operative, headquartered in Kent, Wash., and officially opened on Oct. 21.
About five years ago, REI began developing ways to broaden its appeal to people of different interests, expertise levels, and abilities and “inspire them to get outside,” says Elizabeth Dowd, REI’s divisional vice president of retail experience. It crafted new concepts for merchandise display, personalized in-store messaging, and experimented with a marketplace layout, testing them in its in-house product development lab in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood and in retail outlets around the country. The D.C. flagship culminates these ideas into one location.
Prior to selecting the Uline Arena site, REI with the Seattle office of CallisonRTKL and branding and design consultancy Hornall Anderson met with focus groups that included D.C. community leaders and REI co-op members to envision the flagship store. The spirit and history of the Washington Coliseum site, as well as its location in a growing neighborhood next to Metro subway station, appealed to REI.
The Uline Arena was built to host the Washington Lions ice hockey team; M.J. Ice Co.’s 1931 Ice House building also occupies the 4-acre site. Throughout the mid-20th century, the arena hosted basketball teams, the Washington Presidents ice hockey team, and concerts—including, famously, the U.S. debut of the Beatles in 1964. By 1994, the arena unceremoniously became a waste transfer station for Waste Management and, by the 2000s, a cavernous parking garage.
CallisonRTKL, the design architect and architect-of-record for the retail fit-out, also worked with REI on its New York flagship store, completed in 2011. Antunovich Associates was the core-and-shell architect for the project’s developer, Douglas Development, which announced its plan to redevelop the site in 2013.
CallisonRTKL began designing the fit-out in collaboration with REI’s retail-experience team in the late spring of 2014. Douglas Development and contractor Davis Construction began rehabilitating the structure in February 2015, and REI began tenant improvements this past May. The REI fit-out is targeting LEED Gold certification for Commercial Interiors by the U.S. Green Building Council, while Uline Arena’s rehabilitation is targeting LEED Gold certification for Core and Shell.
CallisonRTKL’s vice president of specialty retail, Alex Shapleigh, REI’s senior project manager Jared Pearce, and REI's Dowd gave ARCHITECT a tour of the project’s architectural and design highlights.
Wanda Lau, LEED AP, is the senior editor of tech, practice, and products for ARCHITECT and Architectural Lighting. Along with 10 years of AEC experience, she holds a B.S. in civil engineering from Michigan State University, an S.M. in building technology from MIT, and an M.A. in journalism from Syracuse University's Newhouse School. Her work has appeared in Men's Health, ASID Icon, and University Business. Follow her on Twitter.