Uline Arena

Uline Arena

Breathing New Life into a District Icon

Not familiar with Uline Arena? Simply mention it to a DC local and you’re bound to hear about its long-standing legacy as a District icon. It was the location of the Beatles’ first concert in the United States and President Eisenhower’s first inaugural ball. And yet, for the past few decades, this venue, including the Arena and Ice House, sat abandoned – music-less, lifeless, and in dire need of repair.

Enter Douglas Development, a developer with a creative vision for reinventing this historic and architectural gem. The plan? Convert Uline Arena into prime multi-level retail and office space, while preserving its rarities and paying tribute to its past. Of course, this is easier said than done. To be successful, Douglas needed a trusted expert in adaptive reuse and historic renovation.

This is where we came in. At DAVIS, we specialize in restoring historic buildings by transforming their functionality to serve modern tenants. The uniqueness of this space presented countless complexities and threats to our timeline. But, through proactive problem solving and precision, we overcame each challenge – and ultimately moved the anchor tenant, REI, into their new flagship store on time. 

  • Project type
    Hospitality + Retail Commercial Repositioning
  • Architect
    Antunovich Associates
  • client
    Douglas Development Corporation
  • awards
    AIA DC Presidential Citation, Urban Catalyst; CREBA 2016 Project of the Year; Leica Geosystems 2016 Plan Contest, 2nd Place Building Construction
It takes a special type of client — like Douglas Development — to make the business case for salvaging and reusing a structure like this. And it takes the skills and spirit of the DAVIS team to make it happen.

David Purdy, LEED AP® BD+C, Director, DAVIS

A Shell Worth Saving

Historic and pop culture significance aside, perhaps the most impressive component of Uline Arena is its engineering. Completed in 1941, this unique barrel-like structure is a thin concrete shell (technically a Zeiss-Dywidag shell), and there are only a handful like it in the United States. Our team studied the structure and translated findings into action — even creating an in-depth validation report that explains the history and forces at work within the shell – before, during and after demolition.

After digging up Uline Arena’s original calculations, written in German, our consulting engineer used the documents as a reference to better understand the building's structural integrity. We also uncovered stacks of the Arena’s original basketball flooring, which have since been incorporated into the building’s new design. These careful preservations have transformed Uline Arena into a modern reflection of its prior character. 

A Data-Driven Demolition

When you’re dealing with a one-of-a-kind structure of this size and complexity, meticulous attention to detail is key. Before beginning partial shell demolition, we scrutinized and reinforced the shell to ensure it would withstand the weight of our work. Specifically, we developed a unique deformation monitoring system utilizing precision robotic surveying instruments called multi-stations. These surveying instruments collected data throughout the entire pre-demolition and post-demolition process – enabling us to predict and measure the structure’s reaction to our construction.

If the shell reacted in a way we weren’t expecting, our team was immediately notified. The surveillance data was collected every 15 minutes during the project’s duration. This provided us with unlimited, real-time web access to measure trends and analyze the shell’s movement. With safety as our paramount concern, having this statistical, detailed knowledge about the structure’s motion ensured a safe site. Our team’s innovative application of this technology continues to distinguish DAVIS in the market.

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Timelapse of the roof demolition at the historic Uline Arena in the NoMa neighborhood of Washington, DC. 

Building for Adventure

The final stages of the project included a 52,000-SF interior retail build-out on an accelerated timeline. The anchor retail tenant, REI, had plans to host a block party to celebrate their grand opening – and we were determined to safely open their doors by that date. We achieved this by collaborating closely with all members of the team and delivered this signature space without compromising on quality.

The space includes a stunning combination of features that pay tribute to the building’s history, while also matching the ethos of REI’s brand. For example, we used reclaimed barn siding and built a courtyard to provide an outdoor vibe. Meanwhile, we incorporated the Arena’s original stadium seating and basketball court flooring into the store. Together, these elements perfectly honor the building’s legacy and pave the way for its new life. Uline Arena is no longer a concert venue, but thanks to REI, it’s still a destination. 

Project photos courtesy of Douglas Development; progress photos by Rick McCleary
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