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.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

DC Streetcar article in the New York Times

"Washington Retail District's Future Rides on Streetcars," New York Times.
Workers tested a new streetcar that will run along the H Street commercial corridor in Washington and, city officials and others hope, drive development. Credit Daniel Rosenbaum for The New York Times.
I would say the headline is a bit misleading as it isn't really much of a retail district anymore, more of an eater-tainment district.  I remember a few years ago, when I was still involved in H Street matters, and a businessperson on the corridor asked me what I thought about the streetcar, I said:

1.  It will be the first modern streetcar on the East Coast, which is a big deal.  Of course, who knew then it would take so long and it is neck and neck with Atlanta, although they won't be launching til the end of the year.  See "Reed: Streetcar launch by December 31," from WXIA-TV and "Atlanta's streetcar launch, costs in flux," from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

2.  It has the opportunity to reposition the H Street district towards retail once again--in the district's heyday it was the city's second biggest retail district and home to one of the first Sears Department Stores in the US and the biggest Chevrolet dealership in the country--because some retailers will see streetcar service as hip and something to be associated with.

For example, the Giant Supermarket at 3rd and H Streets NE "demanded" and paid for the addition of a streetcar stop to serve its location, and it's possible that some larger companies will see the advantage of locating there.  Whole Foods Supermarket will be opening a store in 2016, and the current H Street Connection space is supposed to be remade into a mixed use project which provides the opportunity for a retailer upgrade.

More recently, H Street has been revived around nightlife and entertainment ("Plans to Set The Bar High On H Street NE," Washington Post) but it hasn't seen much improvement in retail, other than the opening of the Giant Supermarket and the Whole Foods announcement.

Although Downtown, especially with the gradual reopening of CityCenter, and the strengthening of retail elsewhere in the district ("Gap, Walgreens to open big stores downtown" and "Target considering a store near Metro Center in downtown DC," Washington Post) is a big competitor.  The advantage that the nightlife element of the H Street district is that it brings many people to the area to sample it.  The challenge will be to get them to come back at other times to buy goods rather than meals and drinks.

Rendering of building proposed for 501 H Street, which will be about one block away from the new Whole Foods Supermarket.

Many of the developers active on H Street now have strong retail portfolios and it is possible that they will bring that expertise to bear.  For example, the project that Douglas Development is bringing to the 500 block includes retail ("Douglas Development plots H Street apartments, retail," Washington Business Journal).

... in the I told you so department, in 2003 back during the creation of the H Street Revival commercial district plan, they said that the 200 to 700 blocks would be residential.  I argued that because there were relatively large lots capable of redevelopment and because of proximity to Union Station, that the area could accommodate high quality mixed use retail as well.

Looks like I was right.

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At 4:12 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

I'd be curious how Mr. Saleen rode streetcars as a boy if he was born in 1955.

In any case, there is a short term and a long term. Retail does follow crowds, and H st might be the next Georgetown.

14th st doesn't seem to have the right space for retail.

At 8:05 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I was thinking the same thing when I read the piece. The streetcar stopped running in Oct. 1962, so it is likely that he rode it and that he remembers.

What I didn't write is that H St. needs to coordinate retail planning with Union Market, Union Station, and Burnham Place to create a powerhouse super district.


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