28 Oct 2009

Progress on Riverfront BID’s Vision

logoIn a setting meant to evoke potential, the Capitol Riverfront BID and the Washington, DC Economic Partnership hosted a Storefront Summit on October 27th in the unfinished top floor of 55 M Street, SE.  With representatives from the BID, WDCEP, Monument Realty, and local eateries, an upbeat picture emerged for progress on the Riverfront.

At 500 acres, the Capitol Riverfront is likely the city’s largest redevelopment initiative to be built almost totally from the ground up.  Most of the site has been scraped clean even as it is anchored by the centuries-old Navy Yard. Four and a half years into the project, 27% of the buildout is complete with more than six million square feet of office space, 133,280 square feet of retail, 2,067 residential units, and 204 hotel rooms.  Estimated cost so far is $2.2 billion, but the total anticipated investment is estimated at $7.7 billion.  The BID has a development map and a vision that you can see after the jump…

Here’s the BID’s vision for the final look.

Local business owners were on hand to give a picture of the day-to-day realities of operating in a newly developing neighborhood.  Though there are other retail and services in the area, restaurants seem to be the early movers in this neighborhood.  All of the business owners who spoke were either planning or operating some type of food service.  Albert Oh of Cornercopia, which opened in August of this year, was on hand to represent the longer view, since his family has owned the space at Third and K Streets Southeast for two decades.  Despite permit woes (it took two years to get his alcohol license), Oh has seen the dramatic transformation of the surrounding blocks and has been pleasantly surprised with the response to his corner market and deli.

It was the same for Mostafa Mohammad, owner of the Subway restaurant at 1100 New Jersey Ave., S.E.  Celebrating five years in business, when he first opened in 2004 he said it was a very quiet place to be.  Today he can hardly keep up with business, and has had to expand his hours to begin with breakfast starting at 6 a.m. and end with dinner through 10 p.m.

Expanding beyond the 35,000 workday customer base to cater to the now  2,500 residents in the area will be the new trend for retail.  (At full capacity, the area expects 100,000 workers and up to 20,000 residents.)  Justin Ross of Justin’s Cafe is banking on it.  Set to open in the next couple of months at First and L Streets Southeast, Justin’s Cafe will serve wood-fired pizzas, sandwiches and salads for the lunch and dinner crowds, but wants to also establish a gathering place at his bar with happy hour for workers and residents alike.

The BID plan shared was a compelling and exciting vision with clear accomplishments.  Missing, however, was discussion of shopping amenities.  Harris Teeter has signed a letter of intent for The Yards (which, with the Half Street development, will be the commercial anchors of the neighborhood).  And, another grocery store has expressed interest in a site to the northwest.  Michael Stevens, President and CEO of the Capitol Riverfront BID, has some concrete ideas of the types of national and local retailers he’d like to see in the neighborhood but there was no discussion of movement on this front.   According to his experience, “retailers are always the last to come.”  It is a grand vision and I, for one, hope it all comes to fruition.

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