Do posh waterfronts make a city world-class? D.C. is betting hundreds of millions on it.

With the opening of the Wharf — a massive new waterfront development in Southwest Washington — just a month away, hundreds of workers raced around the promenade outside, shuffling materials in and out of trucks, nearly stepping over one another at every turn.

Hoffman — one of Washington’s most successful developers — had been working on the Wharf for nearly a dozen years. He had been forced to take the lead when his original partner, the developer of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, went under during the Great Recession. To keep the project alive, he pitched it to investors as far away as China. His children grew up in the time that it took him to secure the community support, the votes in the D.C. Council for $198 million in public funding and another $95 million of free leased land from the city, $220 million from Canadian investors, plus millions more from other investors.

Now all the renderings and engineering drawings were finally materializing in the form of concrete, metal, glass and stone. I followed him outside, where he showed off the space that Hank’s Oyster Bar would occupy and the spot where 12-person jitney motorboats would carry visitors, and their bicycles if they chose, across the Washington Channel to East Potomac Park. Nearby would be a fire pit called the Torch with flames capable of reaching 12 feet in the air. “Everyone fought me on it. They said, well, we shouldn’t be doing this,” Hoffman said. “But there isn’t anything like this anywhere else.”

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