Greater Greater Washington

Restaurants and bars enhance commercial district diversity

Does Barracks Row have too many restaurants? In November 2010, ANC6B established a Retail Mix Task Force (RMTF), which entertained, but ultimately rejected, the idea of pursuing a moratorium on liquor license applications on Barracks Row. Restaurants, it decided, complement other activities.


Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Not only did the RMTF reject the moratorium, but it also suggested other measures to improve the area. The task force recommended expansion of Performance Parking and the creation of a collaborative marketing campaign for the area.

Even though the task force spared Barracks Row from a moratorium, many residents still mistakenly believe that restaurants open at the expense of a retail diversity.

The task force report wrote that not long ago Barracks Rows was "often avoided in the evening." Since then the neighborhood adjacent 8th Street SE has seen home prices surge and crime fall as businesses began to invest in retail space. Even as Barracks Row filled up with attractive eateries and swanky bars, the ANC's attitude toward new dining establishments is surprisingly standoffish.

Just a month or so after the Retail Mix Task Force issued its findings, I found myself in attendance at the season two finale of The Sunday Circus at the Fridge Gallery, a two-hour long performance featuring over half a dozen performance artists from the DC area and beyond.

Tucked away into a rear alley connecting Barracks Row to 9th Street SE, The Fridge is a showcase for art with a multipurpose twist. With classes offered weekly, an on-going schedule of performances, and plenty of wall space devoted to aspiring and well-known artists alike, the gallery is both a rich and productive venue.

This establishment is thriving, and no matter what the ANC might suspect, it is not thriving in spite of taverns and cafes, but because of them. Smart bar and restaurant owners value a diversified commercial terrain that attracts new customers.

Restaurateurs brought more life to Barracks Row and are more than willing to put their money where their real estate is. After all, educational events, gallery openings, and shows all draw hungry crowds.

If you don't believe me, head over to the Fridge for a Sunday afternoon art class. You'll see the list of sponsors that reads like a Barracks Row restaurant guide. Local restaurateurs are invested and investing in the Row's success.

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Ksenia Kaladiouk lives in Southeast DC, where she spends her time writing, sketching, running, taking photos, scheming and studying the flying trapeze. She is particularly interested in the history of urban development, education, the effects of space on the rise and fall of cultural and commercial institutions, and vice versa. 

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I'm really glad to read this defense of retaurant and bar venues on Barracks Row. The argument that more restaurants results in less retail has always confused me. As a Hill resident, I can definitely say that due to Barracks Row's turnaround, I now spend more time (read: money) in these local establishments instead of trecking across town. The fear that BR will become another Adams Morgan is misplaced. The ANC and neighbors have done a nice job of control its growth and keeping the area entertaining, safe and family-friendly.

Here's hoping for more restaurants, and maybe a couple of more late-night bars...

by MJ on Apr 14, 2011 3:59 pm • linkreport

Agree with MJ about defending restaurants from this whole moratorium situation. And for the most part, the restaurant owners are very supportive of the community, which is amazing.

But I have to say - people go to the Fridge because it's the Fridge and it's frigging awesome. The Fridge's clientele is not exactly the same as the people who frequent barracks row on weekends. I would argue that the fridge brings its own audience and that the businesses on barracks row actually benefit more from picking them up as customers than vice versa.

I think Fridge could be located in the middle of a ring of fire and backyard chickens and people would still find a way to get to it because like I said, it's a fantastic -- and much needed -- concept

by Jonny on Apr 14, 2011 4:17 pm • linkreport

the NIMBYs all living around "Barracks Row" [ a realtor's name , BTW] have dumped on the revived 8th street, quickly forgetting that just 10 years ago it was a real dump- and dangerous to boot. Most of these NIMBYs are older, car-oriented and paranoid naysayers who are also against new streetcars, new development, new investment, and new people moving into the area. These people need to forget it and leave- and go back to the states they all came from- because at heart they are NOT urban dwellers and do not seem to share the fun attitude that these new people are bringing to the area. As far as the parking fanatics are concerned- they should just go to the subway platform at Eastern Market station on a Saturday morning and watch all of the HUNDREDS and HUNDREDS of people arriving to WALK over to 8th street and the Eastern Market- yes- these people take transit and are NOT driving. Many are predicting- with very good logic- that the new & proposed super garage to be built under the low density Hines development will FAIL because no one but the old people will use it. Many of us can't wait for the day so as to be able to say "told you so !!!"It is very sad that these naysayers have so much clout with their CHRS and Comittee of 100- which- by the way- are NOT ELECTED bodies that truly speak for everyone or for every property owner.

by w on Apr 14, 2011 4:48 pm • linkreport

I'm from DC and I hadn't even HEARD of Barracks Row until about two years ago. The reason I head over there now is either a) to eat out, b) to go to Eastern Market, or c) go to the costume shop. Sometimes I walk through the neighborhoods too. Not only that, but tangential to Barracks Row are the numerous shops on Pennsylvania Avenue and 7th Street. I would never have seen these if the restaurants on 8th Street hadn't drawn me to the neighborhood. Frager's Hardware is a much busier place because of it. More eyes on the street, more money in the pockets of local investors, more investment in the neighborhood, greater property values, lower crime=. It seems like a win, win, win, win, win to me. Let's not let a few antsy neighbors who apparently haven't heard of ear plugs (I can't fathom why they'd be needed anyway--the street is still peaceful in the evening) and appreciate low property values and crime spoil the party. In fact, one of the only reasons I'm considering renting or, in the future, purchasing in that neighborhood is BECAUSE of the local restaurant scene.

by Eric on Apr 14, 2011 4:51 pm • linkreport

Well, this expresses a limited understanding of the market and what is happening. Restaurants do crowd out retail, because they can and do pay higher rents. But the overall problem is more serious in that DC's commercial properties in districts such as Barracks Row are overvalued compared to the revenue potential of retail businesses located in the various footprints of the properties. Therefore, the rents are too high compared to the revenue potential of retail businesses. Therefore, either retailers don't open, or they fail.

The other problem is that relative to market size, DC probably has "too many" neighborhood commercial districts, or at the least too much retail space to be able to support it all. That's why we have lots of empty spaces, or marginal spaces.

Compare greater Capitol Hill to say, Bethesda Row. I was there for a few minutes on Sunday. They have a curated farmers market that competes favorably with Eastern Market, plus they have movie theaters, plus they have dozens of restaurants, plus they have a fair number of retail stores of a variety of types, including apparel. They also have a marketing booth, it's a node on the Capital Crescent bike trail, etc.

Considering that I sit on the Eastern Market Community Advisory Council, I was "chilled" seeing how successful Bethesda Row was, in terms of how these commercial districts compete against each other in the context of the regional retail landscape. I don't see Capitol Hill, including Barracks Row as very much competitive except in the context of maybe Capitol Hill has more captive customers and therefore doesn't have to be as competitive. But it sure reduces the likelihood of non-residents coming to sample the district (except in the context of needing something to do after or before a baseball game--proximity-based needs).

For a few years, I have argued that the Eastern market district needs a master plan, and that it needs to be part of a greater Capitol Hill Destination Development, Management, and Marketing Plan.

I feel that way now more than ever. This retail mix effort only touches a little bit of the overall "problem" that exists and persists.

by Richard Layman on Apr 14, 2011 4:54 pm • linkreport

@Ksneia, I don't understand why you say ANC-6B "is" stand-offish about new restaurant businesses. We had an election last November, and tossed some moratorium proponents off the ANC. Since that election, ANC-6B has moved liquor license and restaurant design Historic Preservation cases along expeditiously. Ironically, the only current ANC commissioners still "stand-offish" about new restaurants on the current ANC-6B are the one's GGW endorsed!

by Trulee Pist on Apr 14, 2011 4:56 pm • linkreport

@Trulee

Well, even expeditious movement on ANC terms might still seem stand-offish to causal observers.

by Alex B. on Apr 14, 2011 5:15 pm • linkreport

There's also the fact that the existing retail spaces are narrow and irregular, which is often a challenge for retail but an asset for restaurants. Being a new development, that's an advantage that Bethesda Row has over 8th St SE. There's also the leasing and retail mix angle - since Bethesda Row is controlled my a single landlord, they can manipulate the retail mix far more effectively than anyone can on 8th St, where you have a lot of self-interested parties pursuing their own goals.

The Hine redevelopment has the opportunity to increase the supply of retail spaces more suitable to the selling of goods - it also can be a key linkage between the retail corridors on 7th north of Pennsylvania and 8th south of Pennsylvania.

Either way, there certainly aren't anywhere near too many restaurants along 8th St right now.

by Alex B. on Apr 14, 2011 5:40 pm • linkreport

@Alex B., so snarky! I hope you are not implying that Ksenia is making a "casual observation" with this post.

On the contrary, it looks like she's tried to dig into the issue of the complementary value of restaurants to a commercial district, and she's done a good job overall.

I felt she fell short in failing to note that, other than three Commissioners GGW endorsed for re-election, the rest of ANC-6B has done an excellent job this year of moving forward on Der Biergarten, Pacifico, Nooshi, Moby Dick and also made progress on a lot of other issues in the neighborhood.

Hurray for hard-working ANC-6B! (On top of everything else, one of our ANC-6B commissioners took the time to participate in the recent civil disobedience, and we now refer to that Commissioner as #8-of-41-for-51.)

by Trulee Pist on Apr 14, 2011 5:48 pm • linkreport

That's true - snark aside, 6B has been much better this year.

by Alex B. on Apr 14, 2011 5:55 pm • linkreport

@Richard Lyman

Considering that I sit on the Eastern Market Community Advisory Council, I was "chilled" seeing how successful Bethesda Row was

One of the things that's always puzzled me is why the vendors *inside* Eastern Market are so inferior to pretty much any "destination" market in the region. Do they all hold 500-year leases on their spaces? Seafood? Awful. Two produce vendors, and the quality is worse than Safeway. the bakery is worse than Marvelous Market.

Is there some way to improve the quality, or are we just doomed? How do they do it in Baltimore or Philly?

by oboe on Apr 14, 2011 6:21 pm • linkreport

If you think the bakery isn't up to Marvelous standards then you have never tried the cookies at that bakery. My mouth waters at the thought. Many of the other vendors I could take or leave, but comparing them to Baltimore or Philly is crucial those markets are much much larger. A better comparison would be Annapolis Market which Eastern Market shines against, but that isn't saying much...

On could argue one of the best things to happen to Eastern Market was the fire. The Market House got a good through cleaning, the community rallied with support and there was lots of media coverage.

The popularity of 8th Street wasn't far behind.

However the businesses on 8th have some valid concerns. Several business (Capitol Hill bikes, Chateau Animaux, Groovy) have had to move when landlords start seeing the dollar signs that a restaurant will bring in. The restaurants have no issue gutting/repair/ADAing businesses.

Moreover, it is a cause of concern how few people own the restaurants on 8th Street. Maggie Malone, Chesapeake Room, Lola and the new oyster house all under the same management. Then there is Matchbox, DC3, Ted's Bulletin group. Not to say these aren't tasty places or that the owners are bad, but it is a bit scary that that one or two people can practically own a street.

by clarice reed on Apr 14, 2011 8:36 pm • linkreport

Where is the good retail in Washington, DC?

There is much less selection on city retail shelves, with the exception of Georgetown. Possible reasons: ease of access and escalating rent. We are not a people used to operating in small spaces. As a result, there are fewer businesses of quality with decent pricing willing to supply us in the city. These suppliers don’t want to fight and squeeze through small spaces. And, good, useful, established businesses inevitably close up shop due to increasing rent. The retail we end up with is more often than not, not the retail we need. So we inevitably think that the city has little to offer, and those with a car shop in the suburbs, and there’s the cycle. The fact is, there is not the same choice in our supermarkets and other stores that there is for those using cars in the suburbs. A CVS in suburban Alexandria, for example, will have a greater selection of lightbulbs than one in Columbia Heights or Adams Morgan. The quality is, by and large, lower in the city. I won’t even mention clothes shopping.

As for restaurants, the best ethnic dining is unquestionably in the suburbs. It’s affordable too.

Someone please tell me: where is the decent retail in Washington?

by Jazzy on Apr 14, 2011 10:16 pm • linkreport

. Restaurants do crowd out retail, because they can and do pay higher rents

That's only because retail has no place else to go because DC residents shut out and restrict any available commercial use of property, stigmatizing and condemning any attempts at retail development, whose proximity they do not wish to be corrupted by. So with the limited retail space available, only restaurants are viable.

DC is extremely business hostile-- they don't want to live near it, they don't want to see it, and they don't want to deal with business owners. It is ghettoized into limited, restricted areas and then the owners are harassed and criticized for only opening restaurants.

by Tyro on Apr 14, 2011 10:40 pm • linkreport

We've done pretty well on 14th below U holding out for quality residential, local retail and legitimate restaurants. A long time ago we decided we wanted to be more like lower Connecticut Ave. with a mix of local retail and restaurants and not yet another Adams Morgan. It took a lot of work and a long time but now we're happy we held out.

by Tom Coumaris on Apr 15, 2011 1:47 am • linkreport

Oboe -- doomed is the answer. Although I was sick and unable to attend the recent presentation about a proposed new organizational structure for the market, so I am still out of the loop on that. Maybe it will create the right structure for change.

Yes, the merchants want leases that are as long as humanly possible. (Recently, they asked for 20 year leases. For the same reason as you indicate, I was opposed.)

The other problem is that the "legislation" which created the current structure grandfathered in all the businesses for the most part.

I have been calling for a master plan for a few years, and have suggested planning the retail mix more carefully. (One thing I advocate for is converting North Hall into food to expand and extend the food offerings, but the legislation requires that North Hall stay as an arts facility, even though Hine had a much better auditorium.)

But I was shocked recently to see a reasonably decent retail mix study in the 1987 Eastern Market study documents.

Basically, the ability to plan and bring about better retail there is very difficult because of the structure. If the new structure comes with the same kind of grandfathering of business interests, it might be hard to get real improvements.

by Richard Layman on Apr 15, 2011 7:06 am • linkreport

Tyro -- I don't agree with you. There are millions of square feet of retail space available in spaces throughout the city, and plenty more space is zoned for retail. (Although as Alex B. points out, many of the old spaces are not what chains are looking for.)

For the most part, citizens/ANCs etc. don't have any input into the retail that opens. One exception is fast food and gas stations in certain retail zones. And while not a zoning issue, yes, the way that citizens weigh in on alcoholic beverage licensing is a constraint. But other than that, there aren't many problems as far as it relates to getting business licenses, other than big issues with regulations, e.g., http://www.claremont.org/projects/pageid.2020/default.asp

The real issue is more complex (and is complicated by the point that Alex B. makes, that many of the extant spaces are problematic). It has to do with the fact that the retail sector for the most part has "chained up" but for the most part chains aren't interested in urban markets, especially submarkets like Capitol Hill, which don't have big enough populations to draw on to attract the kinds of stores people want.

So you need to grow your own retailers/rebuild the entrepreurship culture, system, and network. That we haven't done very well. I outlined a model on how to do it (partly based on other examples such as the Historic Downtown LA Retail Project) but I never got a chance to try to test and implement it (the consultant I was working with on commercial district revitalization planning flaked out, and over time I shifted more to transportation related work).

Past blog entries:

- http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2007/02/store-siting-decisions-reprinted-from.html

- http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2007/02/why-future-of-urban-retail-isnt-chains.html

- http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2007/10/data-not-sentiment-drives-retail-site.html

To understand more generally how the process works, you might be interested in this explanation from the Mississippi State U Extension program:

- http://msucares.com/pubs/publications/p2321.pdf

The best general publication is _Marketing an Image for Main Street_ published by the National Main Street Center. But you have to buy it...

And there is the UWEX website for the Downtown and Commercial Business District Market Analysis and Toolbox, which is excellent:

- http://www.uwex.edu/ces/cced/downtowns/dma/index.cfm

by Richard Layman on Apr 15, 2011 7:17 am • linkreport

I hate to be a broken record also on rents, but that is a huge issue. We don't have the best old buildings for retail, because mostly they are small.

Our rents are 50% to 150% higher, generally, in the marginal commercial districts, compared to thriving independent commercial districts in places like Richmond, Baltimore, Frederick, even Philadelphia.

Combine that with a relatively small population and an overabundance of neighborhood commercial districts (too much potential supply) and it becomes an even bigger problem.

- http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2009/09/cleveland-park-retail-my-off-hand.html

- http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2009/09/commercial-retail-rents-2.html

by Richard Layman on Apr 15, 2011 7:21 am • linkreport

If people are interested in this topic, there are many resources listed in the right sidebar of my blog, but maybe these two publications are all you really need to read, other than those cited above:

- http://www.uli.org/ResearchAndPublications/Reports/~/media/Documents/ResearchAndPublications/Reports/TenPrinciples/TP_NeighborhoodRetail.ashx

- http://www.danth.com/pdf/MilderBusinessRecruitmentAll.pdf

(And note that publications are fixing malls and suburban places are equally relevant because it's about the approach and principles more than it is about the place:

- http://www.uli.org/ResearchAndPublications/Reports/~/media/Documents/ResearchAndPublications/Reports/TenPrinciples/TP_TownCenters.ashx )

Plus this one on independent retail:

- http://www.retail-revival.com/home.htm

by Richard Layman on Apr 15, 2011 7:27 am • linkreport

@RL -- Your rent argument does not make sense. If they are too high but there are so many places, then why are the rents not decreasing?

by goldfish on Apr 15, 2011 7:29 am • linkreport

@Layman

Seats on the current Eastern Market board are assigned to organizations. What organization do you represent on the board, and what is your relationship with that organization?

by Trulee Pist on Apr 15, 2011 9:25 am • linkreport

@Richard Layman:

If the new structure comes with the same kind of grandfathering of business interests, it might be hard to get real improvements.

Is there any legitimate place for community input in the process.

I've argued for years now that we should have a relegation system similar to what they have in European soccer: open the "temporary" building (i.e. the East Hall) to vendors who would like to compete with the entrenched vendors. Every year, we take a community vote: The lowest vote getters are relegated from the main building to the "temporary" building. The highest vote-getters in the temporary building are promoted to the main building. The lowest vote-getters in the temporary building are unceremoniously shown the door.

The world in which I am king is a Hobbsian, ruthless struggle for survival--at least for apathetic businesses camping on prime publicly-owned real-estate.

Sadly, one is unlikely to establish and ascend to a position of absolute monarchy via the posting of snark-tinged comments on the internet.

by oboe on Apr 15, 2011 10:13 am • linkreport

@clarice

I agree with you. I don't mind the restaurants, but the power that the Matchbox/Lola's group has in blocking out competitors.

by bettbos on Apr 15, 2011 10:19 am • linkreport

I agree that restaurants bring other types of retail, but Barracks Row is a maturing area. Take a look at Adams Morgan, which has virtual restaurant saturation. When a restaurant fails in that neighborhood (and it happens a lot), usually another restaurant or restaurant-lounge hybrid fills its space fairly quickly. It leads to some retail diversity, like say clothing stores, bookstores, furniture stores or hardware stores to be crowded out. Adams Morgan is a destination area, the rents are too high, which is why either only restaurant/bars or national chains like CVS or 7-Eleven can usually afford to fill the space.

by Scoot on Apr 15, 2011 11:16 am • linkreport

Is there any legitimate place for community input in the process.

Not really, no. I don't know anything about what businesses are viable or what's needed. It's better to have different new and interesting businesses rotate and try out to fill that space rather than leaving it in the hands of busybodies who have nothing better to do than vote for their friends' businesses or businesses they're getting kickbacks from.

by JustMe on Apr 15, 2011 11:43 am • linkreport

And what is the deal with the 6B commissioners having drinks at Chesapeake House immediately following a meeting where they discussed new restaurant permitting issues? Did they pay for all their drinks?

by bettbox on Apr 15, 2011 12:03 pm • linkreport

Yes--we did. $45 per. But perception is reality--so fair observation. For the record, we were discussing Hine process and procedures. Any other questions?

On another topic, I think the pending Eastern Market legislation will specifically avoid addressing the grandfathering issue, for the very reasons cited here--to give the EM Authority the legislation will create the ability to better control vendor quality. With that said, how does one provide stability and certainty to vendors who've invested their lives in building a business? Vendors on the inside, for example, are basically brick and mortar businesses, who should be able to build something that they can sell, should they so choose. That's difficult if they're competing for space year-in and year-out.

I'm not criticizing the complaint--it's valid, but it exists in tension with some other objectives. I think one way to improve the quality is to put in place a creative, well qualified, full-time market manager who is accountable to a professional board (not the city). The MM could work with the vendors to improve their products and make them more appealing to the changing tastes in the neighborhood. The EM Task Force report recommends a structure like this.

More to come on EM.

by B Pate on Apr 15, 2011 3:34 pm • linkreport

Vendors on the inside, for example, are basically brick and mortar businesses, who should be able to build something that they can sell, should they so choose. That's difficult if they're competing for space year-in and year-out.

I'm not sure I understand this. The appearance--at least--is that now EM vendors are a collection of folks who've been touched by the hand of fate to occupy incredibly valuable *public* real-estate with no strings attached. There's a massive public subsidy going on just by nature of allowing them to occupy that space. It's some of the highest-profile retail in the city--it's essentially a massive marketing subsidy.

The idea that these vendors shouldn't be competing for that space on quality of services year in and year out, seems "off" to me. There's no public interest served by guaranteeing that Mr X be allowed to provide mediocre services in perpetuity. And the EM management should be representing the public interest in the same way a landlord represents the landlord's interest.

It may be harsh to put it so bluntly, but this kind of thinking is the main reason why quasi-public services are so crappy in this city.

Take cabs for instance: why shouldn't out-of-district cab operators be heavily represented on the Taxicab Board? After all, who has a greater interest in the industry than the taxicab drivers? Yet from the perspective of a District resident, the taxi drivers' interests are completely irrelevant--at least those interests that don't happen to coincide with the public's.

But back to EM: why on Earth should vendors be building something they can sell should they so choose? I mean, obviously that's great for them; but as a DC resident, why the Hell should I care?

by oboe on Apr 15, 2011 4:39 pm • linkreport

1. WRT the group I represent on EMCAC it is the Eastern Market Preservation and Development Corp. The organization is on its last legs and likely in the reorganization it won't have an automatic seat on the board. (I could work to revive the org. but don't have the time, TP, maybe you could do it.) EMPDC was responsible for preventing Eastern Market from being converted into a food court in the 1980s.

2. Oboe, I have been out of the loop on the specifics of the new proposal as I mentioned. There will be hearings etc. Again, I have to get up to speed on what's been proposed.

3. Your idea wrt East Hall is a good one. It's a nonstarter though because of the development of the site as something else. But it could be done with North Hall.

4. If there had been a master plan for the "Eastern Market District," it would have been more prescriptive on dealing with say the first two floors of the Hine redevelopment and specific food-related retail could have been included (an expansion so to speak of EM) + arts uses, maybe with some public monies to make it happen.

As I say all the time, an RFP isn't a plan, although to his credit CM Wells got a lot more public input into this project than happened with comparable projects elsewhere in the city.

by Richard Layman on Apr 15, 2011 7:09 pm • linkreport

goldfish -- you'd need to read my voluminous writings on the property tax value issue. I didn't lay out the whole argument above, but the prices exist independent of market demand, there is almost no connection in fact. That's the basic problem.

1. The downtown real estate market is a market composed of national and international actors. These actors are not motivated solely by local market considerations and value. The DC properties are comparatively speaking great investments globally, which raises prices and drive investment, because they'd rather own property in DC than Greece, Ireland, Iceland, etc. Some other submarkets such as Capitol Hill, to some extent Georgetown, Friendship Heights, etc. are also attractive to non-local operators.

2. This is complicated by the general market in the US and here, and transit sites and their attractiveness. So even certain properties next to subway sites are now of interest to regional/national actors.

But partly these actors, even if based locally, are sometimes active in multiple markets, given the expertise and scale they've developed here. E.g., Pritzker being a part investor in the Brookland Square project.

2. This shapes the property tax method of valuation of commercial property so that for all intents and purposes, all commercial property in the city is valued more or less as if it can be a downtown office building, owned by a German pension fund. (It's a bit of an overstatement but it's basically true.)

3. So neighborhood commercial property gets overvalued with respect to how much it is worth both as a locally owned asset and in terms of how much it is worth based on the revenue potential of the various income flows of the property. (That's discussed more in the posts ostensibly about Cleveland Park.)

4. Although, part of the overvaluation comes because most commercial properties can also be expanded usually to include housing, so that is figured in the value.

5. OTR has not developed a differentiated system for valuing commercial properties in neighborhood commercial districts, instead maintaining the overvaluation of neighborhood commercial district properties. It's what leads to things like Milton McGinty wanting to tear down his theater because of how it's valued. (Although Mr. McGinty has other issues.)

6. Anyway, I testified about this a bunch in 2003-2005, but Councilmembers like Jack Evans militantly refused to acknowledge the systemic nature of my analysis, which required more than just giving selective tax breaks to so called "heritage" retailers and restaurants such as Ben's Chili Bowl who happen to own their property.

I kept pointing out that this was a systematic problem impacting the quality and investment in neighborhood commercial districts and it should be addressed as a placemaking and quality of life issue generally, but that didn't matter to them.

by Richard Layman on Apr 15, 2011 7:38 pm • linkreport

ksenia, thank you very much for this article. i really just lucked out when i bought the building that is now the fridge in october 2008. i got a pretty good deal on it, as it is an alley building that no "typical" homeowner would want and very few business owners would know what to do with. fortunately for me, i did, and have been able to pursue my life's dream--the fridge!

at that time, though this street and neighborhood were already vibrant, i must say i love it even more with all the new businesses moving in (city bikes!) and the that restaurants and bars are not only bringing traffic/dollars to the neighborhood and tax dollars for our city, but are also creating much-needed jobs.

thanks again for the great piece, and for spurring a much-need conversation.

@jonny: thanks for the great feedback!

best,
a.

by alex on Apr 15, 2011 10:34 pm • linkreport

@RL -- Thanks for the response; you put in a lot more work than I would have given it!

But I am still not convinced. I was close to the leasing of a certain commercial space on Capitol Hill lately. It was of respectable size, bigger than the average retail space in BR. It had its problems and it took about 6 months, but we got our price. If the rents really are too high then we would not have leased it.

You say that the rents are too high, but still places are leased. As my dad says, price is the only something does not sell; this works the other way too.

by goldfish on Apr 16, 2011 1:17 am • linkreport

...price is the only reason something does not sell...

by goldfish on Apr 16, 2011 1:22 am • linkreport

Don't know enough on your particular situation, what you sell, where the space is, etc., why you can pay what you can pay. Then there is the concept, business plan and model, branding strategy etc. for your business, presumably robust and excellent.

- http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2007/09/why-ask-why-because.html

- http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2008/01/indepependent-retail-businesses-can.html

I was specifically talking about the price of space relative to retail productivity (as described in the piece in the context of Cleveland Park cited above). Because the buildings are overvalued it's why we have a lot of marginal retail space in the city.

Talk to people in commercial districts in the other places I mentioned about their cost/s.f. and you will be amazed. (It of course is an exact illustration of the point made in JJ about needing a large stock of old buildings as one of the four key factors in successful city districts.)

Lots of people get the lease, pay too much in rent, and fail.

by Richard Layman on Apr 16, 2011 3:42 am • linkreport

And to a. and goldfish a big warm goooooshy welcoming hug from one of your residential neighbors--old farts, but embracing of all the good changes on Capitol Hill.

That's how EMMCA residents treat their retail and restaurant neighbors.

by trulee pist on Apr 16, 2011 5:10 am • linkreport

There's only one major city in the country that can consistently fill out its downtown retail areas and that's New York. DC's commercial corridors aren't like Richmond, Frederick, Annapolis, etc. because its rents are too high. DC is a major city and nation's capital, not a small to mid-sized regional market. However, it also can't reach the standards of New York because it's not an economic alpha world city and therefore can't support the necessary infrastructure, density and concentration of wealth needed to create destination retail areas (except Georgetown and Chevy Chase, which itself is mostly on the Maryland side). Only New York has been able to transcend American sprawl patterns to any significant extent and that's mostly due to the unique geography and economic history of the area. Otherwise, three generations of Americans have grown up pretty exclusively with suburban malls (now reconfigured into limited "town centers"). Now for the past generation the commercial office job centers as well as residential growth in the capital area has migrated out to the suburbs, from Arlington and Alexandria, through western Fairfax County and into Loudoun County. Unless you're in a core government industry there's little reason and little sense in living in a central downtown DC neighborhood unless it's a concerted lifestyle decision. Despite this, a continued build-up of population downtown is needed because there's little market and less incentive for suburbanites (who, like it or not, are still the driving force of the regional economy) to trek down to DC and pay for parking to hunt for a shirt they can get cheaper and closer with less taxes and hassle nearby at Dulles Town Center. And no, most won't take metro or a bus to go shopping there either.

by Mike O on Apr 18, 2011 11:36 am • linkreport

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