Riverfront Group Aims To Rev Up Development

Posted January 27, 2009 at 4:47pm

It will be more than just the neighborhood adjacent to Capitol Hill. It will even be more than the location of the new baseball stadium. It will be a livable and walkable community with a mix of homes, businesses, parks and riverfront.

That’s what local officials envision, in any event. The city is in the midst of a multi-phased renovation of the area from South Capitol Street and Nationals Park to Water Street Southeast along the Anacostia River, to the Capitol to the north — re-branded as the Capitol Riverfront.

“We’re building a brand-new neighborhood on the river,” said Michael Stevens, executive director of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District. “It will have a substantial residential component, a vibrant business community and two grocery stores.”

The BID is a public-private entity that was established by the District of Columbia government in 2007 and funded by local businesses to provide marketing, research and outreach programs for businesses and developers in the area.

As part of its public relations strategy, the marketing company has begun walking tours of the area to introduce potential residents and companies to the the neighborhood’s housing and office features. The walking tour takes about 90 minutes, stretching from Half Street Southeast near the ballpark entrance to the Navy Yard near Ninth Street Southeast.

The tour begins at the BID’s office at 1100 New Jersey Ave. SE with an introduction to the neighborhood that began as the center of the Navy Yard during the 1800s, was transformed into a “dumping ground” of automobile repair shops, asphalt plants and sex shops, and now is expected to enter a new chapter of urban living.

Walking tours are on weekdays during regular business hours. To schedule an appointment, contact Claire Schaefer, deputy executive director, at 202-465-7093.

A second element of the revitalization is the area’s new name. In late 2008, the BID, along with residents and business owners, came up with the new name to encompass the many features of the neighborhood and give it a sense of identity. The neighborhood had been referred to as the ballpark district, Capitol Hill extended or the Navy Yard.

Developers say they plan to incorporate all the natural and historical amenities that make up this area.

“This area is more than the baseball park,” noted Stevens, pointing out that public officials, beginning with former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, started sketching out plans for the once-industrial wasteland before baseball returned to the nation’s capital.

Half Street, which leads up to the baseball stadium, is slated to become a main thoroughfare linking the old and new features of the neighborhood with a hotel and 50,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. At the end of the street will be the baseball stadium as well as a walking trail along the Anacostia River that connects the riverfront to Poplar Point across the river and other walking trails.

Developers are also seeking a grocery store for the bottom floor of 401 M St. SE, with office space above. An old brick naval wall that protected the Navy Yard during the British invasion in the 1800s will enclose the building.

The city has invested more than $1 billion in financing for the baseball stadium, infrastructure repair and other public projects. Stevens added that there would also be private reinvestment of $8 billion once the neighborhood is up and running.

Part of that reinvestment includes residential buildings that have been sprouting up on virtually every block. The Jefferson and Axiom apartments are ready for occupants as part of an arrangement to complete 1,000 units on top of the 1,700 existing residential units to be finished later in the year.

But everything has not gone as smoothly as planned. With the national economy tanking and credit freezing up, developers have had to scale back some of their plans, according to Stevens.

Stevens said Onyx Apartments was slated as a condominium building but had to become an apartment building to attract tenants.

The downturn in the economy gives city planners time to reflect, make needed adjustments on the upcoming projects, prioritize certain projects and develop ways to save costs, Stevens said.

Now that the area has gotten most of the unsightly things out of the way and residences are being built, Stevens expressed optimism that Capitol Riverfront will no longer be the place that residents and workers alike bypass for the neighborhoods of U Street or Georgetown.

“This used to be the backyard of the city, where people dumped everything they didn’t want in their neighborhood,” Stevens said. “This really is our front porch and front yard, instead of a dumping ground.”