For decades, the Uline Arena at 3rd and M streets NE hosted basketball games and concerts before becoming a parking garage. Soon, it will start a new life as offices and retail space as owner Douglas Development prepares to start renovations later this summer.

Overhead view to the South. Image from Douglas Development’s ANC presentation. Click for PDF.

Miguel “Mike” Uline built the 11,000-seat arena in 1941 next to his ice supply business. Over the years, it hosted a wide variety of events including professional hockey and basketball, a speech by Malcolm X, Dwight Eisenhower’s first inaugural ball, and the pro-wrestling debut of boxer Joe Louis.

Perhaps the most famous event there was the Beatles’ first American concert in 1964, one day after their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.

Photo of the 1953 inaugural ball from the Eisenhower Presidential Library.

The arena closed in 1986. Eight years later, Waste Management bought it for use as a trash transfer station, but sold it to Douglas Development in 2004. When owner Douglas Jemal tried to apply for a raze permit, the Historic Preservation Review Board instead declared the arena a historic landmark with the help of Richard Layman, who served on the local ANC’s planning & zoning committee at the time.

In recent years, the arena has been used as an indoor parking structure and billboards have graced the exterior and entry plaza. Meanwhile, the ice house is vacant.

Douglas Development plans offices, parking

Douglas Development announced their plans to start renovating the arena by September at a recent ANC meeting. They will insert 3 new floors in the building to allow for 140,000 square feet of office space and 60,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, since the underlying high density industrial zoning doesn’t allow residential uses. They will also cut windows into the arena’s roof to allow light into the upper floors.

Now that they have approval from the local ANC and DC’s boards for historic preservation and zoning adjustment, Douglas has recently received permits for interior demolition.

Uline Arena today. Image from Douglas Development’s ANC presentation.

The offices will have two entrances, a primary office lobby at 2nd Street and Delaware Avenue, and another on 3rd Street. Douglas Development has flexibility to modify the mix of office and retail space, for instance removing parts of the office space to allow for increased retail areas or taller rooms. They’re currently seeking tenants for the renovated building, and it’s still possible that a theater or other performance venue could occupy a portion of it.

Site plan for Coliseum project. Image from Douglas Development’s ANC presentation.

Douglas will also build a 167-space parking garage on 3rd Street, which is slightly less than the minimum under DC regulations, but Douglas got a special exception with support from the ANC. Building a parking structure means they won’t have to dig under the arena’s thin concrete shell, which is as thin as 4” and has an unknown foundation system.

Above-ground parking garages aren’t common near downtown DC. This will somewhat diminish the pedestrian experience and liveliness along 3rd Street. The garage’s small size means there won’t be room for street-facing retail. Instead, there will be a large planter box flanked with a long bench, while decorative metal panels stamped with famous scenes from the arena’s history will hang from the side of the garage.

Garage facade. Image from Douglas Development’s ANC presentation.

After 72 years, the Uline Arena will start a new chapter. No matter who occupies the building in the future, it’s good to know that the past will finally be preserved.

Tony Goodman is an ANC Commissioner for 6C06 in Near Northeast/NoMA and member of the DC Pedestrian Advisory Council. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, he is a Construction Project Manager with a Masters degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan and has lived in Washington, DC since 2002.