Riverfront Development Taking Off

Posted July 3, 2008 at 3:07pm

From federal buildings to baseball-driven bars and restaurants, plans for the Capitol Riverfront area in Southeast are developing rapidly.

With the new Washington Nationals ballpark and the one-year-old Transportation Department building serving as anchors, officials say property is being bought and developed at a furious pace.

Nightlife adjacent to the stadium and a waterfront park with a 16-mile riverwalk are among the plans, along with business and housing space.

The area’s development is aided by its recognition last year as a Business Improvement District. The BID organization, one of eight in the city, is working with developers to attract business and housing to the area.

“We are having rapid turnover and development in this area,” said Michael Stevens, the executive director of the Capital Riverfront BID. “To see 60 percent turnover of a 500-acre area in a city is pretty unheard of.”

Stevens made his remarks last week at an event held by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) to encourage federal agencies to relocate to the Riverfront/Navy Yard.

With representatives from dozens of agencies on hand, Norton made her pitch for the area, which is easily accessible from the Metro’s Green Line Navy Yard stop, is increasingly becoming a business location and also is significantly cheaper than other parts of town.

“Does it make sense [for agencies] to lease downtown when all the amenities required are here or soon will be here?” Norton said. “The answer is, it makes no sense.”

In addition to the Transportation Department building, the Navy Yard and the Naval Sea Systems Command, a few large companies and banks, Five Guys, Starbucks and CVS are also new to the area.

Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells (D) helped shepherd the BID proposal through the City Council. Charles Allen, Wells’ chief of staff, said Wells is mostly pleased with the work of the BID and the area’s development.

“On any given day you can count six, seven, eight cranes in the sky, so he’s pleased there’s such a fast-paced redevelopment going on down there,” Allen said, adding, “Michael Stevens is great and has done this type of frontier development before. He knows how to create a brand and work aggressively to create a spot. He’s a true believer in what it can become along the river.”

The BID is funded by taxes from the property owners and businesses within its boundaries. Besides recruiting businesses, marketing the area and organizing community events — such as the weekly farmers market, free concerts and movies — the BID also oversees cleaning teams and “hospitality/safety ambassadors” to direct visitors around the area.

Allen said Wells has involved himself in some but not all of the BID’s activity.

“Tommy runs the gamut from being very involved to letting Michael do what he does,” Allen said. “We’re in communication about once a week. We’re not hands-off but at the same time we’re not trying to micromanage.”

Allen said Wells did get involved in trying to recruit Dogfish Head Brewery to open a store on the waterfront, convening a meeting with Stevens and the brew owners.

The BID envisions most of the nightlife and entertainment being concentrated in two places: on Half Street between N and M streets Southeast, the currently barren strip that connects Nationals fans to the centerfield gate from the Metro station; and in The Yards, an area just east of the stadium that will house retail and restaurants, and abut the riverfront park and trail.

Whether it’s Nationals Park, the DOT or the new office buildings, there are plenty of signs that D.C.’s vision of a ballpark-driven urban center are being realized.

“When we first moved here, we could hardly get a taxi,” said Winifred Turner, a DOT employee. “Now there are many.”