About 25 residents of the Cathedral Court condominiums gathered Saturday morning to celebrate the conversion of a temporary parking lot to a privately owned park.
They planted a rose garden, butterfly bushes and other flowers. Later in the day they unveiled a stone--made by a Washington National Cathedral stone mason-- that dedicates a new park by their homes to the spirit, unity and cooperation of the residents.
The project was started a few months ago, said resident Charlotte Desilets. The tenants of what used to be rental apartments in the six low-rise Cathedral Court buildings, from 3010 to 3100 Wisconsin Avenue, bought the property for $16.25 million. Under city law, tenants have a right to match the offer. They managed to do so with the help from Tenacity Group a third-party investor.
The tenants decided to convert the apartments to condominiums, giving themselves the chance to buy their homes or to remain renting for up to five years. (Under city law, senior citizens can continue renting past the five year mark.) After the purchase, the residents began conversion of the 174 apartments to condominiums almost immediately. They were assisted by tenant-conversion company Tenacity Group.
During the construction, workers laid down gravel and used a vacant lot for parking.
“Before we converted into a condo, we used to hang out here and meet people,” said Gilles Stucker, who spearheaded the efforts to turn the lot into a park.
The gravel was removed and the ground was tilled before planting grass, Stucker said. “This is now our first day back here.”
The residents ran a sponsorship campaign so that individual residents could sponsor plants and trees to be added to the park. The entire property was fenced and locked, with keys distributed only to the residents. A smaller fenced area inside serves as a dog park. Grills and benches were also added.
“There was talk about selling [the lot] to finance conversion and lower unit prices,” said Stucker. “But we all wanted it. ”
Saturday’s event included recognition of Tenacity Group and the landscapers who created the park. A potluck dinner and a screening of the movie “Field of Dreams” followed the dedication.
“The hardest part is keeping up participation,” resident Patti Fitzgerald said. “Getting people to understand this is your community and [that] the park is worth it for the value of our homes is really important.” “I’ve lived in apartment buildings where you don’t know the neighbors,” Stucker said. “So this is really unique.”
“We had a landscaping meeting and asked people to submit ideas, and this is a collaboration of all the best ideas,” she said. “We had all sorts of ideas from building a swimming pool to an underground parking lot. The park was made very much by people pitching in, whether with money or labor.”
Desilets also said the park dedication was for the residents, a culmination of the struggle and hard work that had to be put into staying in the units.
“I look back on this park, and I am astonished to think about the time we were running on hope and wanted to save our homes,” she said.