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Can Big K catalyze commercial development in Anacostia?

Today, we have 2 articles on the Big K site in Historic Anacostia. Also see John Muller's piece.

Named for a defunct corner liquor store with an enormous "K" painted on its side, the true significance of the Big K site in Historic Anacostia lies in the three decrepit but once majestic wood-frame historic homes that sit on contiguous lots adjacent to the Big K itself.

Last week, the DC Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) released a Solicitation for Offers for the development of the Big K Site in Historic Anacostia. A Solicitation for Offers (SFO) is essentially the same as a Request for Proposals (RFP), an equally bureaucratic but slightly more familiar term.

The first Agency Goal listed in the solicitation is, "Consistency with the recommendations of the Big K Community Advisory Group." The Community Advisory Group was guided by two relatively conservative DHCD-commissioned market studies (housing & commercial). For the most part, the recommendations are straightforward and predictable:

  • Desire mixed-use project;
  • Project that will support/benefit the community;
  • Prefer commercial use over housing;
  • Full-service restaurant was top choice for retail; and
  • Interest in having cultural use / community garden on-site.
In this case, the desired mix of uses appears to exclude residential. The SFO states specifically that the Advisory Group recommends no housing at all. However, the solicitation also gives weight to the Comprehensive Plan, which values this type of metro-accessible site, located on a commercial corridor, as an opportunity for higher density mixed-use development that does include housing.

More importantly, adding households within walking distance of this site will increase the demand for retail goods and services, raising the feasibility of the project's commercial component.

Physically, the site has some constraints, though none are insurmountable. DHCD only owns 4 of the 5 properties on the block. The one that it does not control is currently operated as a used car lot. Prospective developers could sweeten their offers by gaining control of the car lot and proposing to pair it with the adjacent lot (2228 MLK) included in the solicitation that contains a historic single family home approved to be razed (Solution 1, below).

The Big K liquor store on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave and Morris Rd (2252 MLK) lies outside of the Historic District, but considering the historic nature of the overall site and the community's desire for preservation, it may be wise for a developer to save as much of the building as possible. With that said, there is still plenty of room for the structure to grow up and out (Solution 2), and even laterally behind the adjacent homes (Solution 3).

The two remaining detached, single family homes (2234 and 2238 MLK) are located smack in the middle of their respective lots and must be preserved. But why not move them up to the lot line (Solution 4)? If the additional density gained justifies the cost, this may be an option worth exploring.

Ultimately, what gets built at the Big K will depend on the creativity of the development teams that respond to the solicitation, particularly in their ability to lure commercial tenants and make effective use of the plentiful incentives available at this site. While DHCD does not explicitly offer a subsidy beyond, presumably, selling the property for less than the appraised value, the project may be able to take advantage of Historic Tax Credits, New Markets Tax Credits, and/or Tax Increment Financing. Plus, if a high quality proposal is received and championed by residents of Anacostia, the Mayor and Council may be able to find a way to make it work financially via grants or tax abatement.

Here's to hoping the Big K gets some visionary responses, and why wouldn't it? Developers, architects, and preservationists should be drooling over the opportunity to be able to say that their project triggered the revitalization of Historic Anacostia.

Chris Dickersin-Prokopp spends his days in Anacostia and nights in Petworth. He studied Latin American Studies and Urban Planning. He runs the blog R.U. Seriousing Me? and occasionally contributes to the Washington City Paper


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Sure the houses were beautiful and its still apparent but I don't see how even with moving the houses to the lot line you could really come up with something great. Especially if you want to add a residential component (which I think there should). Put up a plaque with pictures of the old homes but I have a hard time understand the preservation case when there are similar and maintained styles elsewhere.

by drumz on Jun 13, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

I kind of doubt that any of the structures on the site are salvageable. Based on the photos in the other post, they all look to be on the verge of collapse.

by andrew on Jun 13, 2012 2:13 pm • linkreport

I pray and hope the Mayor understands how the Anacostia Community feels about how important these properties are to the historic character of our community. Please read the article I wrote last year about Big K.

by Charles Wilson on Jun 13, 2012 2:20 pm • linkreport

Here's hoping for this block. Watching developers tear down as the first, second, third, and fourth choices in most instances, I'm not holding out that much hope, sadly.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Jun 13, 2012 4:27 pm • linkreport

I have to agree with Andrew on this one. Those structures aren't salvageable and need to be torn down. It's not worth the cost and time wasted, especially when there are similar structures in and around the city that are well-maintained and can serve as a flashback to a time long gone for people who like that kind of thing. Perhaps any new development there can take on the turn-of-the-century architecture that some of these preservation folks like. But to just sit on the property like a mother hen, do nothing and let another 3, 5, 10 years pass by is silly at best, and would be a continued detriment to the Anacostia community at worse.

by DC_LovesYou on Jun 14, 2012 12:29 am • linkreport

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