Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Money to burn on restaurants at St. Elizabeths

DC Government is putting out a tender for a restaurant pavilion to serve the St. Elizabeth's campus, because of the forthcoming 4,400 Coast Guard workers.  This is covered by the Washington Times ("Gray seeks eateries for Southeast as part of development at St. E site") and the City Paper ("Will This Restaurant Pavilion Thing at St. Elizabeths Actually Work?").

My answer to the question in the City Paper headline might not be "no" but more "not really".

In theory 4,400 employees support 22,000 s.f. of quick service restaurant (the rule of thumb is that office workers support 2 s.f. of convenience retail and 5 s.f. of food service, mostly quick service, not usually sit down restaurant).  

But it's not that simple.  A high percentage of federal employees bring their lunch.  This was documented by surveys for the Southwest DC Eco District plan, which is currently an area dominated by federal offices.

From page 1-7 of the Maryland Avenue SW Small Area Plan document:

7. What land uses are most needed here?
- 80% chose “restaurant/cafe”
9. How much do you spend on food and beverage per week here?
- 32% spend between $26 and $50
10. What food and beverage options do you use here?
- 68% bring food and beverages from home

Plus people don't have that much time anymore to take a "lunch hour."  Suzanne maybe gets to take a full "lunch hour" once every three weeks.  (And yes, about 75% of the time, she takes lunch to work because she has to eat at her desk.)

Based on the Maryland Avenue SW plan survey data (although I'd rather survey the Coast Guard employees directly), I'd reduce the number of likely demand by 2/3 or about 7,000 s.f. of quick service restaurant demand.

That's not that much.

Relatedly, the ATF building at New York Avenue Metro Station was seen to be a big generator of demand for retail and restaurants.  To deal with federal building security requirements a liner building separated from the main building was constructed to hold retail.  At the opening there was an independently owned coffee shop, a franchise of a chain deli called Heidi's, and eventually the Five Guys.  (When the hotel opened, an Au Bon Pain quick service eatery opened as well.)  The chain deli went out of business as did the coffee shop.  While the spaces are filled today, there's something to be said (negatively) about sticking your neck out and being first.  (The retail leasing group that represented the owner highlights their "success" in this case study.  As mentioned, 3 of the 4 first food tenants failed.  At least one space on Florida Avenue has never been leased since the building opened.)

And again, the move of various Navy functions from Crystal City to the Navy Yard, and the concomitant relocation of some federal contractors hasn't been associated with significant improvement in the retail and restaurant offer on M Street SE, although there has been some steady business that helps support lunch time service on 8th St. SE (Barracks Row).

The City Paper piece opined about this proposed exclusive campus food building being counter to supporting retail development in Anacostia.  

But I've argued for years ("Enclave development won't 'save' Anacostia") that St. Elizabeth's campus development won't have much positive impact on Anacostia retail revitalization (except indirectly), because it is a cloistered, closed-off place, and because people don't have the time to go off campus--especially if they have to go through security checkpoints to leave and return--to shop and eat during the weekday.

What will happen over time is that people will be attracted to live in the neighborhood because it's close to work, and this will support commercial district and neighborhood revitalization.

If the move of the facilities to that area were associated with specific residential attraction and relocation incentives and programs, then there would be more benefit.  Otherwise, the buildings don't get property taxed (they're federal), they don't generate a lot of sales taxes from employee spending, and they don't generate a lot of local income tax revenues because the earnings are taxed by Maryland or Virginia, because that's where most of the employees live and will continue to do so.

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