Changes at Capitol Riverfront

Much has been written recently about the population growth that has occurred in the District over the past 12 years.  The DC Office of Planning estimates that the city is adding approximately 1,100 new residents a month, and that the District has grown to 632,000 residents.  The population increases can largely be attributed to two factors: 1) higher than normal birth rates in neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill, where improving public schools are leading more young families to remain in the city; and 2) an influx of “Millennials” or the 25-35 age group of young professionals seeking jobs and a cool city to live in.  Empty nesters who are moving back into the city have also contributed to this population surge in the District’s neighborhoods.

Signs of this trend can be in the rapidly developing neighborhoods of DC – the Capitol Riverfront, NoMA, Mt. Vernon Triangle, Columbia Heights, and 14th Street to name a few – where large-scale developments are creating more mixed-use, high density, transit oriented communities that offer a range of lifestyle options.  This is especially true in the Capitol Riverfront, where nine new residential projects have opened in the past 10 years, with several more breaking ground this year. In fact, almost 50% of our residential populace falls into the Millennial category.  Yet neighborhoods are much more than just a collection of buildings, they also include parks, public gathering spaces, local-serving retail amenities, events and other “building blocks” that together form a true community.

Here in the Capitol Riverfront we have always strived to go beyond individual projects to build a community, and we’ve made great progress towards that goal in the past several years. Today we believe we are at the beginning of a new chapter in those efforts, as a number of coming amenities will make us a truly well-rounded, full service neighborhood.

Grocery Stores

The Capitol Riverfront neighborhood will be home to two major grocery stores in the near future.  A 50,000 square foot Harris Teeter grocery is currently under construction as part of the 1212 4th mixed-use project by Forest City Washington that will deliver in the summer of 2014.   Developer WC Smith just announced that they have signed a lease with Whole Foods to be the 35,000 SF anchor tenant of their 800 New Jersey Avenue project, which will also include 336 apartment units.  The Capitol Riverfront BID worked with both developers in recruiting these grocers to our neighborhood, and we are extremely excited that they will call our neighborhood home. 

Having two grocery stores in the Capitol Riverfront also illustrates the regional shopping appeal of our neighborhood for surrounding communities such as Capitol Hill, the SW Waterfront, and Anacostia.  We consider these neighborhoods part of our larger retail “trade area” and feel our central location makes it accessible by a variety of modes of transportation including walking and biking.  We believe Harris Teeter and Whole Foods also recognized the built-in market of our established residential population – over 4,000 residents in 3,030 units with another 1,264 units under construction and over 1,400 units in the immediate pipeline.  Our neighborhood could have over 18,000 residents at build-out, a significant, urban residential neighborhood with demographics that appeal to retailers. 

Parks & Open Spaces

The Capitol Riverfront was fortunate to have been planned with parks and access to the Anacostia River as fundamental community building blocks.  Yards Park and Canal Park have been enormous successes and provide numerous features for our residents, employees and visitors to enjoy.  The water features in both parks have been extremely popular with children and families, and the Canal Park ice skating rink provides a wintertime destination and outdoor recreation through skating.  Both parks have created identity, a sense of place and community for our neighborhood, and have established the Capitol Riverfront as a family-friendly destination.  The programming that the BID provides for both parks creates opportunities for social interaction and fun among residents and visitors alike.

A quick update on the ice rink at Canal Park:  The Canal Park Development Association has informed us that the ice rink could open as early as mid-December for skating.  As you may know, a pipe that burst in the basement of the restaurant building severely damaged the electric panel boards that operate park systems.  Those electric boards are being replaced as quickly as possible so that ice skating will return to Canal Park and the Capitol Riverfront during December. 

Van Ness Elementary School

As more and more families move into or choose to stay in Capitol Hill and the Capitol Riverfront neighborhoods, support has been building for the reopening of Van Ness Elementary School as a public school for these communities.  The school still seems to be on track for a 2015/2016 school year opening, and Mayor Gray included $9.8 million in his FY14 budget for the necessary renovations to the existing building.  An elementary school is certainly a fundamental neighborhood building block; schools are an important part of the Capitol Riverfront’s civic infrastructure, as they can be used for a variety of activities by the community, and we commend DCPS, Mayor Gray, and the families who have asked for such a school on the foresight of this reopening of Van Ness Elementary.

Restaurant Openings

The Bluejacket Restaurant and Microbrewery  has opened in the Boilermaker Shops, along with Buzz Bakery.  These have been much anticipated restaurant openings.  Nando’s Peri-Peri Chicken has been open for two months now, and work continues on Willie’s Brew & Que and the 100 Montaditos sandwich restaurant, with openings expected to occur in the first quarter of 2014.  Two more restaurants in the Lumbershed Building are nearing completion – Osteria Morini and Agua 301 – with projected openings in November/December for both. 

Retail Attraction

With two grocery stores and numerous restaurants committed and opening soon, the BID is working with our property owners to determine what the next wave of retail attraction should focus on.  Some obvious neighborhood-support retail and services include day care centers, pet stores, apparel stores, home goods, and arts related retail.  The new ICON movie theater project by Forest City will certainly help drive some of that retail mix, as will the two grocery stores.  For example, the Harris Teeter complex, 1212 4th will include the VIDA health club, Bang Salon, Aura Spa, and Sweetgreen.  EVO Furniture has also opened for business in the Foundry Lofts building on Water Street, SE. 

Building a new neighborhood is a continual work in progress that involves a variety of stakeholders as pieces in the puzzle.  The Capitol Riverfront is approximately 33% built-out on our way to a full build-out of 36+ million square feet of development.  Many of the fundamental building blocks for a full service community are in place, and more will arrive over the next 2-5 years as we witness another significant wave of development.  The BID will continue to partner with our property owners and community stakeholders in the provision of management services and the creation of more building blocks for the community’s foundation. 

Michael Stevens is President of the Capitol Riverfront BID.

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