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Despite the promises and aspirations of many generations of political, civic, and business leaders, Anacostia and the other neighborhoods in southeast Washington D.C.’s Ward 8 have not enjoyed the benefit of large-scale real estate development. That may soon change. A confluence of focused and sustained governmental effort and investment, a booming real estate economy, and stunning locations all appear poised to draw meaningful investment into these neighborhoods. That investment includes office, retail, residential, and recreational development at levels that have not been seen since shortly after World War II. In our real estate practice at Arent Fox, we’ve seen the explosion of new development in the area called East of the River. In addition, some extraordinary statistics recently released by the District document the growth. Within a one-mile radius of the St. Elizabeths Hospital campus, the District has proposed zoning or has issued permits or certificates of occupancy for 44 commercial-scale developments, of which 19 are already completed. This estimated $2.6 billion investment includes almost 9 million square feet of new construction, including 2.3 million square feet of office space and more than 500,000 square feet of retail. Add to that more than 5,500 residential units, a proposed new soccer stadium, and mixed-use development at Poplar Point; parks; infrastructure investment and improvement; and the four existing Green Line Metro stops. GRAVITY SHIFT Suddenly, the kind of transformation that we have already seen in the 14th and U streets corridor, the area north of Massachusetts Avenue known as “NoMa,” and even in the north Union Station area now seems within reach for large sections of Ward 8. With the developments in the Southeast Federal Center and baseball-stadium areas just across the Anacostia River, there appears to be either a shift in the center of gravity or at least a second center of gravity developing in Washington along the Anacostia River. One bellwether of this trend is the anticipated redevelopment of the St. Elizabeths campus, which sits almost in the center of the East of the River market. Though it may still be a little early to predict how the redevelopment of the campus will proceed (particularly because federal funding is not ensured for the new Department of Homeland Security headquarters to be located there), we do know some things about how the 176-acre campus will be developed and the enormous influence that will have on everything else that goes on in and around Anacostia. First, we know that the federal government has elected to retain control of the “west campus” portion of St. Elizabeths abutting I-295. Whether the Coast Guard will relocate to St. Elizabeths, as has long been expected, we do not yet know because that funding is in question, too. Nevertheless, the General Services Administration has fought to retain this portion of St. Elizabeths and has projected redevelopment to accommodate up to 4.5 million square feet of offices and 14,000 federal employees by 2015. These and other actions by the GSA suggest that, in the long term, the federal government will supply an economic engine similar to that in other areas of the District to support development in Ward 8. And now that Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has risen to the chairmanship of the House GSA oversight subcommittee, where she’ll certainly be seeking more federal development in the District, the GSA’s attention to federal development in the District likely will increase. On the east campus, planning is under way for what eventually may be a mixed-use development with nodes of density near the existing Metro stops. In fairness, the redevelopment of the east campus (and even the full build-out or development of the west campus) may be a long time in the making. And, of course, the real renaissance of Anacostia is in some large measure dependent on St. Elizabeths. If St. Elizabeths doesn’t develop, that could impede development in the entire East of the River area. In contrast to the potentially walled-off and secure west-campus development at St. Elizabeths, Poplar Point could be an inviting and open anchor. The coordinated federal and District efforts there could create a focal point for the area and open up river views for everyone. The Federal Land Transfer Act (once it is signed by the president) will clear the way for the reordering and consolidation of public spaces in Poplar Point to include approximately 70 acres of parks, plus a new Major League Soccer stadium for D.C. United and related amenities. As with the recent baseball project in the District, this project, serving a hugely popular sport both in the District and around the world, is expected to help catalyze further growth and investment. OTHER PUBLIC INVESTMENT As the District’s office building at 14th and U streets Northwest clearly demonstrated when it opened many years ago, government offices can spur the transformation of once-depressed areas. The District government has made three such commitments recently in Anacostia: the Gateway Government Center, the Unified Communications Center, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority/Anacostia Waterfront Corp. project. The government center at Martin Luther King Avenue and Good Hope Road will house the District’s Department of Transportation in a 300,000-square-foot facility. This project is expected to be developed in tandem with a 63,000-square-foot mixed-use private building that DRI Partners and the Anacostia Economic Development Corp. have in the works already. The WMATA/AWC project will provide approximately 200,000 square feet of new office space for these two governmental entities, along with supporting retail on Howard Road at the Anacostia Metro station. The UCC is a 130,000-square-foot project at 2720 Martin Luther King Ave. S.E. that recently opened and is already bringing city jobs and stability to the neighborhood. Other important public investments with a less-direct economic impact include a proposed river walk, a library, and a rebuilt Birney Elementary School, as well as smaller projects designed to restore streetscapes throughout Anacostia. Finally, of course, there is the Skyland Shopping Center, which, after much controversy and many false starts, appears to be heading for redevelopment. When completed and retenanted, it will reinforce the development momentum spurred by other public investment. PRIVATE OFFICE AND RETAIL PROJECTS The massive government investment in Ward 8 is helping to draw significant private investment as well. Major projects of note initiated by the private and nonprofit sectors include projects for the Salvation Army and the ARC, and the 114,000-square-foot Shops at Park Village project being developed by the William C. Smith Co. on the former Camp Simms site off of Alabama Avenue Southeast. Numerous charter schools, as well as many small retail projects, are being developed in this area. Further, if our own real estate practice is any indication, major efforts are under way to assemble sites for commercial-scale mixed-use development throughout Anacostia. HOMES AND MORE In addition to private-sector office and retail developments, major new residential developments east of the river include the 75-unit Asheford Court single-family community being developed by the William C. Smith Co. at Stanton Road and Alabama Avenue Southeast, the 210-unit Oxen Creek project on Mississippi Avenue Southeast, and the 600-unit HOPE VI Henson Ridge Project, also at Stanton Road and Alabama Avenue, led by Gene Ford’s City Urban Co. The District is also engaged in a planning effort with the goal of upgrading infrastructure at Barry Farm and adjoining neighborhoods, an effort which may produce 1,100 new housing units, 25,000 square feet of retail development along Firth Sterling Avenue, and a new recreation center. The recent investment and focus by the federal and District governments and the private sector east of the river signals a potential development boom in the coming months and years. Perhaps it’s inevitable that Ward 8 would become the District’s next development frontier, given the relatively small size of the District itself and the availability of large parcels of land east of the river. Uncertainty about federal development at St. Elizabeths and the enormous effort needed to complete projects under way, however, raise some anxiety about the future success of development here. Successful completion of substantial projects in Ward 8 will also depend on continued strong real estate fundamentals, such as low interest rates and a continued governmental focus. Nonetheless, those of us who practice locally in the real estate field all sense a level of activity, enthusiasm, and investment in Anacostia and its surrounding neighborhoods in Ward 8 that we have not seen before.
Richard Newman is a partner in the D.C. office of Arent Fox and co-chairs its local real estate practice group.

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