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Development News

Capitol Crossing may have competing food markets, Fort Totten gentrifying, and more

If you were a real estate developer who could build in any emerging neighborhood in D.C., where would you choose? Historic Anacostia? Perhaps the growing retail corridor at the intersection of Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road, NE? Maybe Rhode Island Avenue NE?

To hear the developers at this morning's Bisnow panel discussion on "new frontiers in development", an up-and-coming firm should invest in Chinatown, Shaw, Petworth and Capitol Riverfront. 

To be fair, developers answer to investors--not the most risk-friendly bunch. But among 11 panelists and 90 minutes, the discussion centered around neighborhoods in NW like Petworth, Shaw, and Penn Quarter, with less time dedicated to Fort Totten, Capitol Riverfront, Brookland, and Hill East. Neighborhoods east-of-the-river were mentioned exactly once.

However, if one is willing to stretch the definition of a "new development frontier," some interesting tidbits emerged from today's panel discussion.

Robert Braunohler of Property Group Partners, which is working on the behemoth Capitol Crossing, which will put 2.2 million square feet above a portion of Highway 395 that sits below grade at Mass Ave and 3rd NW, said that the project has "some exciting news we can announce soon about retail." The main retail offering that has D.C. residents excited about Capitol Crossing has been Eataly, which signed a letter of intent to move forward in the project. But, Braunohler said, "we're in real serious discussions with not one, but two international food emporium operators." More details on the second as they come in, of course.

Fort Totten is becoming a hot item. Representatives from both Lowe Enterprises, which is building Fort Totten Square, a 4.6-acre mixed use development with a Walmart as an anchor, and the Cafritz Foundation, building Art Place at Fort Totten, spoke about the progress of their projects. (Art Place, a $116 million mixed-use complex that includes 500 residential units and a children's museum, will begin construction in about one month, Jane Cafritz said today.) Joe Carrol, SVP of Lowe Enterprises, said that when Lowe initially envisioned Fort Totten Square, the company was targeting middle-class consumers. "Our thought process was, how can we...build a cheaper, sort of more modern, product, and serve a new community?" But just from the time of the project's conception to now, "our reports are showing the markets drifting; it's actually drifting above the middle market we were going for," he said.

The Whole Foods Effect is real (though not news). Many panelists stressed the continuing importance of grocery stores to a neighborhood's viability. "Food has become much more increased in value, in terms of where you want to live," said Peter Cole, regional managing director for Fisher Brothers, whose Station Place project at 2nd and G NE benefits greatly from the new Giant at 360 H St NE. "So the neighborhoods that have attracted great grocers or farmers markets are really more viable in the long term." Cindy Clare, who worked on the City Vista project in Mount Vernon Triangle, concurred that when the Safeway in that building opened, the apartments above began leasing quicker. "Grocery stores give a lift to everything around them," she said.

Developers would like to help you raise a family in the city, but they say they can't  make any money at it. "What we're building now is not where you can raise a family," said Mark Dubick, president and cofounder of Duball, LLC., which is putting the finishing touches on The Swift, the renovated Safeway in Petworth with residences atop. "It's not big enough, it's not the right space. So where do all these young people, when they want to raise a family, where do they go? If we could build three-bedroom units, the guys on this panel would have figured it out," he said. 

And again, what remained unsaid may have been the most telling: Ward 7 and 8 residents who've been clamoring for more investment: you're going to have to wait.

Read more articles by Rachel Kaufman.

Rachel is the managing editor of Elevation D.C. She also covers tech, business and science for publications nationwide. She lives in Brookland.
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