Since breaking ground in 2011, CityCenterDC has maintained its 10-acre space as a hub of luxury retail, dining and living in its downtown location. Beyond its commercial use, the space has become a sight of interactive public art and activations that draw thousands of visitors to the spot each season. CityCenterDC’s holiday lights strung over Palmer Alley, designed by Swatchroom’s Maggie O’Neill, quickly became an iconic – and Instagrammable – view of DC during the holiday season. To get a better look at one of DC’s favorite holiday hangs, we spoke to Timothy R. Lowery, a director with the global commercial real estate firm Hines and general manager of the CityCenterDC project.
On Tap: How did CityCenterDC’s holiday display and tree come to be?
Timothy R. Lowery: In November 2014, we debuted the tree and had a tree lighting. We didn’t know if we’d have 10 people or a million people. The first year, we had a thousand people and it was a wonderful evening. The second year, we had around 3,000 attendees. Last year, it was 6,000 people and this year, we [already] have 40,000 people interested in our Facebook event for the tree lighting. What that shows you is this appetite to be part of something.
OT: Aside from growth in attendance, how have the holiday displays evolved?
TRL: Fast forward through the years, and we’ve added components like Maggie O’Neill’s Dream Closet, which is 400 ornaments over Palmer Alley. It’s amazing because the inspiration is the retail iconography of the clothing hanger made by different geometric patterns. This will be our third time having that installation up. It was always our intent to create traditions. This is a huge amount of land to build a project on. The thing I’ve been saying from day one is that we want to give traditions to the community. That’s the overarching theme for the holidays. We’re so grateful for the traction it’s received in the community.
Morning Earl Grey tea
My planner with my daily schedule
An organized environment
My Montblanc pen
OT: How did art and installations become such a huge part of CityCenterDC’s identity?
TRL: The art installations happened very organically. In 2015, we participated in the [National] Cherry Blossom Festival after one staff member suggested we order pink lanterns and have our engineers put them up as our nod to the cherry blossoms. We had 400 pink lanterns of different shades and sizes [strung] along the alley. Social media went crazy. We realized after thousands and thousands of posts on social media that there was an appetite for public art. That’s not incongruent with the planning of CityCenterDC; we always planned on having art. We have art installations in the park and the plaza from time to time but the alley was such an interesting phenomenon. It’s exciting but a bit daunting because you always feel like you have to one-up yourself. I think we’ll stay with four seasons. Anything more than that could be too much.
OT: Outside of seasonal programming, what other art is housed in CityCenterDC?
TRL: Two years ago, we did the Fancy Animals Carnival featuring an artist from Taiwan. This year, we did The Loop, which evolved because a friend of mine posted a picture of the same thing from New York. I texted her and asked what it was and our team reached out to the artists and installed it here. There’s really this appetite for unique experiences. As a society, we’ve moved away from pure product consumption. People are looking for experiences. They still have products involved, but they’re going to go somewhere they can get an experience in addition to a product. We have tapped into that at CityCenterDC.
Can’t Live Without
Family and loved ones
OT: Tell us a bit more about your role at CityCenterDC.
TRL: I’ve been here since the beginning as a part of the project before we ever even finished construction. I remain at the helm of day-to-day operations at the center. On any given day, there’s some artistic component happening. At the end of the day, there needs to be a cohesiveness to our brand, and I’m the one that makes sure it all comes together.
OT: What is the best part of your job?
TRL: This really is the truth and not just because we’re talking about the holidays: every year, I get up and welcome everyone to the tree lighting. And as I stand there and look out over thousands of people who have come and respond to what we’re doing, that’s one of the greatest thrills I’ve had. Even from an architectural standpoint, if you build this thing and no one responds to it, of what use is it? When you see people coming and enjoying whatever it is you’re offering, that’s the biggest thrill. If it weren’t for those people finding comfort here and finding whatever it is they’re looking for at the moment, then this would all be in vain.
CityCenterDC: 10th & 8th Streets in NW, DC; 202-289-9000; www.citycenterdc.com