Large-Scale Development Coming to Historic Anacostia

Photograph By
Four Points Development LLC

Rendering of 2255 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, which breaks ground this fall. 

Large-scale development has come to Historic Anacostia. Developer Four Points LLC partnered with property owner Curtis Investment Group in 2013 to transform the former Metropolitan Police evidence warehouse at 2235 Shannon Place SE into an 82,000 square-foot office building. It is now occupied by DC government agencies including the DC Lottery and the Taxicab Commission.

Reunion Square

The neighborhood’s next significant development will also be led by Four Points and Curtis. A new six-story, 68,000 square-foot building will occupy a portion of the large gated parking lot on the corner of Chicago Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. in front of 2235 Shannon Place. It is scheduled to break ground this fall with delivery in late 2016. One of several phases of a larger project called Reunion Square, the new apartment building, at 2255 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., features 71 one- and two-bedroom apartments. On its ground level six artist work-live spaces provide a hybrid retail-residential experience similar to the Brookland Arts Walk. Four Points is co-developing Reunion Square with the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation (AEDC), a community development organization based in Historic Anacostia.

Of 71 units in the building, 53 will be area-median-income (AMI) tested. In other words, a tenant’s income cannot exceed a certain annual amount. The remaining 18 units will be offered at market rate. Four Points LLC plans to work with Teach for America, DC Public Schools, and the Urban Teacher Center to provide workforce housing for incoming teachers, many of whom both teach in Wards 7 and 8 and likely qualify for the affordable units.

The artist work-live space along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue provides residents and visitors with an arts-focused retail experience. This concept aligns with a neighborhood that has recently attracted new arts organizations such as the Anacostia Playhouse and Project Create. The front half of the work-live space opens into a small sidewalk garden that allows visitors to access the studio directly. A movable barn door allows each artist resident to close their personal space, separating public and private spaces.

These areas have been deeded as permanent artist work-live spaces, states Stan Voudrie, principal at Four Points LLC. This is an encouraging prospect for artists, many of whom face displacement once areas become high-rent districts. The occupants of these spaces will set business hours, adding more stops to a growing arts district, Voudrie believes.

However, while some find the prospect of new development east of the river encouraging, such substantial change has some Anacostia residents concerned.

Community Concerns

Neighbor Charles Wilson has concerns about the scale of the project in relation to the adjoining Anacostia Historic District that lies just across Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. While Wilson finds any new development in the neighborhood “exciting,” he believes that a six-story building is at odds with the historic charm of the neighborhood. “Historic Anacostia is a small town in the big city; the scale of the building [Reunion Square] complicates the charm that exists in the neighborhood,” explains Wilson.

Camille Bourgignon, another resident, echoes some of Wilson’s misgivings about the size and scale of the building, believing that the Reunion Square project might block Anacostia’s breathtaking vistas of the city. “The 65-foot building is the first of a series of 65 to 90-foot structures the developer hopes to build along MLK that would block the view and visually disconnect the neighborhood from the river and the rest of the city,” suggests Bourgignon.

Earl Rodriguez, an artist and 12-year resident of Anacostia, does not want to see Anacostia become a “dumping ground for affordable housing,” and expressed concerns about 2255 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue’s AMI units setting a bad precedent, as several other affordable housing projects are currently being considered nearby. However, Rodriguez was pleased to hear that an underground parking garage is planned for the building and welcomes the addition of the artist studios.

Greta Fuller, who was the neighborhood Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner at the time Four Points proposed its first rendering of 2255 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., takes pride in the work she and the community did to mitigate what she and other residents believed were pitfalls in the building’s initial design. “We helped negotiate an increase in market rate units,” explains Fuller, who believes the AMI restriction acts as a gatekeeper for people who might want to live in Anacostia yet earn too much to qualify for the AMI units. “He [Stan Voudrie] also worked with us on the design,” which according to Fuller originally looked “cheap and dull.”

Fuller also expressed her appreciation for the arts component in the building. “We have many great artists in the neighborhood who paint, draw, story tell, act, and we have great art amenities like the Anacostia Playhouse and the Anacostia Arts Center. We hope new people will want to come into the community because of our vibrant arts district.”

Award-winning artist Luis Peralta Del Valle is especially encouraged by the artist work-live space component of the development. “I think it’s a great idea. It gives artists an opportunity to live there. It’s affordable space.” However, in future projects Peralta Del Valle believes “it would be great to give artists the opportunity to own the spaces, which would really empower them – perhaps an opportunity to rent with an option to buy.” Peralta Del Valle is really looking forward to the opening of the artist studios and thinks “this type of project will get artists to come here. It will get people from the District and the D.M.V. It’s a wonderful opportunity for artists!”

Economic Opportunity

Four Points’ strategic partnership with AEDC may lead to other opportunities for neighborhood residents. AEDC, which developed the Anacostia Gateway Office building at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road SE, has a track record of ensuring that the local community benefits from large-scale developments economically. Stan Jackson, executive director of AEDC, explains that “This is an example of how the public and the private can come together to do something for Ward 8. Part of our mission is to engage in commercial transactions that will serve the residents of the community.” By providing small-business technical and business training and connecting with local trade groups, AEDC staff seek to ensure that many of the contracts for building Reunion Square will stay local. AEDC will host public meetings to connect with local residents and businesses.

Jackson believes that “MLK is a wonderful boulevard with a lot of upside” and he hopes Reunion Square will create a strong relationship between the 11th Street Bridge and the Anacostia Metro station. Ultimately Jackson would like people to “start seeing Anacostia as a destination.”

For more information on upcoming AEDC workshops go to www.anacostiadc.com. For more information on Reunion Square visit www.reunionsquare.com.

Rendering of entrance to artist studio with front garden.
Rendering of artist work-live space with movable partition barn door.

Phil Hutinet is the publisher of East City Art, dedicated to DC’s visual arts. For more information visit www.eastcityart.com.