Friday, October 25, 2013

Is Capital Riverfront getting more of the development projects EotR yearns for?

Navy Yard is getting a movie theater!
Ward 8 gets ?????
First, let me say off the bat that I love my Navy Yard and Capital Riverfront neighbors and I am happy to hear about plans to bring more amneties, services, and retail to their neighborhood. They deserve these things and I am happy for them. But I have noticed that while Congress Heights and Anacostia neighborhoods still struggle to get the most basic "upgrades" private developers seem to be tripping over themselves to deliver new projects and services to our immediate neighbors across the river. I think there are probably several reasons for this, including neighborhood perception, an active Business Improvement District, and perhaps most importantly, residents with more disposable income. Retailers and restauranteurs see the value in Navy Yard now. Heck, you can't throw a rock over there and not hit a food truck. :)

For a lot of people in my Ward 8 neighborhood they see the fast progress taking place across the bridge and wonder when will it finally be our turn? Why are the residents of Anacostia still waiting on a feasible plan for the Big K site three years later when residents in Navy Yard are celebrating the news of a new movie theater, a new grocery store, a new hotel?

The flip side is that most of the "new" developments occurring on our side of the river are either government funded projects (Saint Elizabeths East) or have to offer a big carrot (free rents and utilities) or  as was the the case of plans to bring Walmart to Ward 7 wave a big stick (and we all saw how that worked out).

The DC government is hoping that free rent and utilities will be enough to lure a few dining operators to the new G8Way Pavilion --- so far there have been no takers. To be fair this is a new project so it will take some time but this is not a new technique. For years east of the river landlords and developers have offered chain restaurants free rents in hopes of expanding their footprint to Ward 7 and Ward 8. For most retailers and restauranteurs they point to east of the river's low income levels as reasons why they don't want to make the investment in our communities.  So even with the lure of free rents they haven't been ready to take the plunge. Retailers want to go where the people with disposable income are. It makes sense.  So in order to attract quality retailers we either need to raise the income levels already here or attract higher income levels to balance out the low ones. The key word is "balance" and right now we are lopsided too far into the low income zone, we need to find our balance somewhere in the middle. Let's be honest, in order to attract those middle income folks we need to have some of the same amenities and attractions that are currently bringing them to neighborhoods like Navy Yard. And thus that is the Catch 22. How do we get the amneties to attract the higher incomes without the higher incomes to attract the amneties?


It seems (for now anyway) that the only type of new development that Ward 8 can expect is more of the same --- "affordable" and subsidized housing. Which is a damn shame because in many ways that seems to be the very thing that is preventing us from getting stadiums,  grocery stores, movie theaters, and hotels of our own. I think we can learn a lot from the explosion of new projects coming to Navy Yard. Namely that sometimes a blank canvas is much better than one saddled with dark shadows (over saturation of social services and group homes) and negative perceptions. We also need to realize that retailers and developers have other options so for now we need to be aware of that when we "go ham" on them in community meetings. I'm not saying surrender completely but be aware that right now we are not negotiating from a position of strength  -- we are literally not the only game in town.

I say it again, Wards 7 and 8 could really benefit from a  private/public partnership tasked solely with developing and executing our own economic development and marketing plan. One that is not built on a foundation of subsidized housing and social service providers. An organization made up of informed residents, development professionals, commercial real estate experts, marketing firms, and people not afraid to think outside of the box. I currently sit on two such partnerships, pilot programs each tasked with improving retail opportunities in the Congress Heights and Anacostia neighborhoods and let me tell you -- the stuff that comes out of that meeting is S-H-A-R-P.

Doing the same thing over and over again is the very definition of insanity. And I don't know about you but I don't think I was crazy when I bought my home here.

Just a few of the new projects coming to our neighbors across the river:



Up close with Forest City Washington's latest Capitol Riverfront plans



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5 comments:

Anacostia's Finest said...

I think many of us are just happy that things are happening as close as they are. Of course having a Whole Foods EOTR would be desirable but for some of the reasons you mentioned that may not work.

Bring Busboys & Poets and a Trader Joes and I will be happy for the time being.

h st ll said...

Excellent piece.

I do like the plan for the big k site, although since it has come to my attention that owners can double dip with lihtc and hcv I understand some of the frustration. I just think it is an attractive building.

But, your overall point stands. I do think Navy Yard is approaching buildout, and Anacostia, and to a lesser extent, Congress Heights, are next. As I've stated previously, Anacostia especially at the present has a TON of amenities - restaurants, bars, art galleries, performance spaces, retail, office, transit, beautiful housing stock etc. What is the hold up on more?

I think the fact that a lot of press is often negative or wrong about Ana (we need a short term of some sort to save typing!) and CHei hinder perceptions, which hinders more middle class folk from moving in. Which, as you say, harms more businesses from coming in. I am especially irritated with a prominent local blogger who only recently mentions Anacostia in the realm of essentially telling horror stories (from a teacher who likely does good work and means well). These posts he puts up make it seem like the entire area EOTR is an extremely poor area, the people that live there are so different etc which is just dramatically wrong. And the people who read his blog are always complaining about being priced out etc - they should be jumping on quite a few different neighborhoods EOTR.

Anonymous said...

Was just tell someone today that I will be leaving the Navy Yard just when all these amenities start arriving. But, I will just think of Navy Yard as an extension of my new neighborhood until the amenities start coming to Anacostia. The mayor says we are all one city, right?

h st ll said...

Also, I feel like Navy Yard residents have been desperate for amenities until recently also. You can see it in the posts/comments at JDLand until recently. And now, its like a flood of amenities are now coming...

Hopefully EOTR gets its flood soon.

Anonymous said...

The flood of amenities is coming into Navy Yard. And so are the market rate apartments that the Advocate writes about. There is a multi-phase development being built right across the street from my building on New Jersey; the Whole Foods will be apart of the second phase of that development. There is another apartment building being built across the street from us, right behind the Velocity Condos. And, there is the apartment complex being built a block up from the Navy Yard metro on M street. That is where the Harris Teeter is going along with a Vida fitness center. All told, something like 850 market rate unit apartments are presently being built in my very immediate neighborhood in Navy Yard, along with the restaurants that are coming to the Yards Park where the Harris Teeter is going. These apartments are going to be expensive, believe, I know. So, there are bound to be quite a few middle class professionals who like the amenities but are looking for a bargain. Again, I know. Ward 8 would be an attractive option, but it has much to do to get its share of this pool of potential residents: See The Advocate's post.