Diamond in the Rough

Incentives, investment dollars headed for R.I. Avenue

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 4, 2010; C01

City officials have dubbed the three-mile stretch of Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast Washington the “Diamond of the District,” but it’s a diamond in the rough: an area where it is easier to come across a tire shop or a used auto parts center than it is to find a sit-down restaurant or a place to purchase a fancy pair of shoes.

Now, officials, community leaders and residents are hoping that a small, mixed-used project at the Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood Metrorail station will be the vehicle to transform the corridor between Third Street and Eastern Avenue from a strip filled with vacant properties and warehouses to a vibrant destination where people can shop, live, work and play.

The District recently closed a financing deal with Urban Atlantic of Bethesda and A&R Development of Baltimore, a development team that will bring 274 apartments and 70,000 square feet of retail space to the Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood Station area. Construction, which will shut down the Metro station’s parking lot April 30, will begin in the next several weeks. The 8.5-acre project is scheduled to be completed by fall 2011.

“This project will be an anchor for the Rhode Island Avenue neighborhood . . . and it’s part of the overall economic plan for the corridor,” said Valerie Santos, deputy mayor for planning and economic development.

A draft report released in January that surveyed 248 residents in neighborhoods abutting Rhode Island Avenue NE found that most rated the corridor poor or very poor for its physical appearance, the variety of goods and services it offers, and its sense of neighborhood identity.

“There are no sit-down restaurants, and we are excited about the opportunity to have that potentially on Rhode Island Avenue,” said William Shelton, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member in Ward 5. “Rhode Island Avenue has long been forgotten by a lot of people. We hope that along with Home Depot and Giant, that this will shine a light on Rhode Island Avenue and spur more interest in bringing small- and medium-sized retail folks into the area.”

Linda Davis, president of Urban Atlantic, said she could not comment on which retailers will be at the location. She has letters of intent, but no deals have been finalized. Ten percent of the retail space will be set aside for local business owners, a request the residents made, Davis said.

The project is nine years in the making.

Developers ran into trouble in 2003, during negotiations with Metro over parking and land. The developers wanted to build a garage that would reduce Metro parking spaces from 387 to 215.

Steven Goldin, director of real estate for Metro, said the agency ultimately settled on the 215-car garage. Metro customers will be able to use the project’s private garages.

“It’s emblematic of what we want to work on here,” Goldin said of other transit-oriented projects working out shared parking agreements. “It allows the developer to spend less on parking. Instead of spending it on parking, we can capture that for the agency by charging more for the land.”

While the developer and Metro settled on a ground lease, the city helped move the project forward by agreeing to provide financing through a $7.2 million payment in lieu of taxes to the developers.

Santos said Rhode Island Avenue NE is part of the city’s Great Streets program, an effort that targets underinvested roads for development by offering public money to leverage private investment. The $7.2 million is part of a $200 million plan to invest in new mixed-use projects and storefront, transportation, streetscape and transit improvements along nine corridors, including Minnesota Avenue NE/SE, Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE and Benning Road NE.

Davis said the city financing will pay for the Metro garage. The developer is also receiving additional financing from a traditional federal loan backed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Urban Atlantic is also in a federal new markets program that provides a tax credit for investments in distressed communities. Davis would not provide specific details about the federal financing.

Davis said the development will have a “Main Street kind of feel, with lush trees, similar to Shirlington in Virginia. . . . We’d just like to bring Class-A-level retail there. We want to be a catalyst for the rest of the avenue to be developed.”

6 thoughts on “Diamond in the Rough

  1. I found the Comments to the WaPo article very interesting. Here are 9 comments that were posted with dates and times.

    connste wrote:
    They can invest all they want, but until DC divests the large slums like Edgewood Terrace and other neighboring harbors where criminals take refuge, any new development will fail. A fancy new shopping center just means the thugs won’t have to go all the way to Georgetown to commit crimes, since their targets will be coming to their hood now.
    4/5/2010 10:13:42 AM

    dcisajoke wrote:
    If the city wants to have real success in this area, then Brookland Manor projects needs to be shut down immediately. That place is a cesspool of crime. The thugs that live there will rob the new development every chance they get. The area doesn’t have a chance if those projects are allowed to stay. They are ugly and a blight to the entire area.
    4/4/2010 8:47:07 PM

    don_id wrote:
    I just looked at the Great Streets plan for Rhode Island Avenue. The Midas shop referred to in an earlier postedcomment will be replaced by mixed-use housing. I hope the Midas owner is aware of this. It would be great if Metro could put up notices about the lack of parking due to the construction of this complex scheduled for April 30. I’ve seen nothing so far at the Rhode Island/Brentwood Metro stop on my recent visits there. I go there because it’s has the only Home Depot in DC and offers a lot of nice things. Basically, Rhode Island Avenue serves as a corridor to get from Maryland to downtown DC.
    4/4/2010 5:29:09 PM

    knepp023 wrote:
    Actually What you are likely to find is A gun In your face. As someone who ran the Midas At Rhode Island ave and 16th Street for years I know all to well what type on individuals run around this area. All this will do is give the hoodlums more targets to go after, Anyone who goes to this area should know you “enter at your own risk and good luck If you are not Black you Will more then likely get Shot at..Your Offense will be the color of your skin or lack there of
    4/4/2010 12:41:45 PM

    thermowax wrote:
    “Main Street kind of feel, with lush trees, similar to Shirlington in Virginia. . . . We’d just like to bring Class-A-level retail there.”

    Ummm…. have you been there lately? It’s a dump. If I were a retailer there’s no way I’d sully my good name by opening a store there.
    4/4/2010 10:29:12 AM

    priveye wrote:
    Until DC gets rid of the projects and low income parasistes than investing money in this area is throwing good money after bad.
    4/4/2010 10:00:13 AM

    vargulv wrote:
    I disagree with you RealityChecker. Take a look at the 1st & R to Rhode Island area of Shaw/Bloomingdale. Look how high-quality outlets like Big Bear cafe with its farmer’s market and Timor Bodega and it’s wine tastings and sample dinners have acted as anchors to that neighborhood…
    4/4/2010 5:09:46 AM

    RealityCheckerInEffect wrote:
    What makes you think that community success is defined by ease of finding “a sit-down restaurant or a place to purchase a fancy pair of shoes.”?!

    Is that just a sad lead or a pathetically superficial measure of the prosperity and health of a community?
    4/3/2010 10:03:27 PM

  2. Well, I agree about Brookland Manor…

    That said, I’ve never found a gun in my face, and I probably have less melanin than 99% of the population (I think only albinos are paler than me, but, who knows, maybe they think I’m a vampire?). Most of my neighbors have been quite friendly and welcoming, in fact. I’d like to compare these comments to what was said about DC USA @ Columbia Heights when it was in development. I lived in Columbia Heights a number of years ago, and it was FAR worse then than RIA is today.

  3. I agree these comments are offline. But I’m happy if these types of people do not want to come where I live because negative comments about an area they obviously do not know that well do not a positive neighbor make. I have not had any problems since I moved here a couple of years ago and I am as pale as they get. That said I am careful just like I would be in any part of the city and try to be street smart. I also know many of my neighbors from the newest to the oldest and we all look out for eachother. There are many more great people than bad in the area – the bad just make the news more.

  4. These people had obviously never been to Logan 8+ years ago…it was TOTAL HOOD, and now it’s the hottest neighborhood in the city!

    This is all very exciting for our community…hope it spreads up RIA to my area (Woodridge)!

  5. Erom Brookland Yahoo Group on RIA Small Area Plan (posted 4-8-10:

    Commissioner Philip Blair announces an important meeting of Single Member District 5A10:

    Place: Woodridge Library, at the intersection of Rhode Iland Avenue, Hamlin Street, and 18th Street.

    Time: Saturday, 17 April, from 10:00 a.m. to Noon

    The chief subject of discussion will be the proposed Rhode Island Avenue Small Area Plan, the process such a plan goes through, and its possible effects on people who live, shop, or work along that corridor.

    We will also discuss some traffic calming issues (speed bumps and signage), the ANC5A Grants Program, and general zoning issues. Please contact me if you have any additional concerns. (A week-day Single-Member District is tentatively planned for Monday, 3 May: details will follow.)

    Philip Blair

    ANC 5A10

    1518 Kearney Street, NE

    Washington, DC 20017


    blair-rowan@ starpower. net

  6. Ms. D, thanks for the voice of common sense.

    The area is far from pretty, but I’ve never felt threatened there, and I’ve lived in the area 4 years.

    I do agree the Brookland Manor and Edgewood Terrace need to go. They bring the entire area down. BTW, I heard from a really long-term resident (20+ years) that Brookland Manor used to be called Brentwood Manor, but they changed the name to try and improve the reputation. That place is clearly Brentwood, not Brookland.

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