Where are all the pioneers?

Guest editorial

The Woodridge “main street,” let’s call it the section of Rhode Island Avenue between 18th and South Dakota, is sadly lacking in vibrancy.  True, there are bright spots (Art Enables, Rita’s Water Ice, just to name a few), but a number of the storefronts are abandoned, jailed in with rusted-over bars, or are housing obscure religious congregations that do little to spur economic development.  The tension here is that this strip of Rhode Island Ave does not reflect the residents who surround this area, but because the neglect is so visible, it acts like a wet blanket on those who might consider it as the next Cleveland Park.

What we need are a few good entrepreneurs like the ones who just opened Boundary Stone 20+ blocks to our west on RIA.  We need entrepreneurs like those down at the RIA Metro and over at Colonel Brooks to view the Woodridge Main Street as a serious opportunity to invest in a locale before property becomes too expensive.

But it is a recession (more or less)!

So what.  Residents of Woodridge, Brookland, Langdon, Brentwood and Fort Lincoln still need to eat, recession or not.  Right now we drive to other parts of DC, MD and VA when we want a slice of fire-brick-oven pizza and a cup of fro-yo.  These same residents are also interested in buying a nice bottle of wine (alcohol sales are recession-proof!) from a store that does not transact business through a bullet-proof window.  Seriously.  And try getting your dry-cleaning done up here…  A great many of us are professionals, both young and new to the neighborhood and seasoned folks who have worked downtown and lived up here for years – we all wear some “dry-clean only” and we all need amenities that support professionals!   Need a bone for Fido on your way home from Langdon Dog Park?  Have fun walking to H Street to get that bone.

Right now there are a number of properties on the Woodridge RIA main street that are for sale or lease, just to list a few: 2000-2002 RIA, 2008, 2010, 2300, 2304, 2310…

What we need are pioneers to join the businesses that have already made the leap.  So, thinking of expanding your business to a new location or starting a new one?  The community support is here!

If you live in the neighborhood and want to express your opinions on what you would like to see come to RIA, join the Friends of Rhode Island Avenue and take the survey: http://www.friendsofria.org/you-choose

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23 thoughts on “Where are all the pioneers?

  1. Cleveland Park? Hmmm. I remember a little while back (just a few years ago) another group wanted to make that area like the Del Ray section of Alexandria. (I like Del Ray. It’s quaint and very community supportive.) They even wanted a Yoga store. They tried to get some huge structure at Eastern & RIA as a gateway entrance to the city. What are the rates of the unoccupied buildings that are for lease or sale? That would help to know. Also, let’s get some of the active businesses you mentioned on the LivingSocial/Groupon sites. Everybody loves a good deal, even the locals.

  2. BEEN ON RIA ALL MY LIFE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    AS A 3RD GENERATION RIA RESIDENT, I AM BOTH AMAZED @ THE GROWTH OF RIA AND DISSAPOINTED IN THE LACK OF QUALITY BUSINESSES & RESTAURANTS ON THE AVENUE. I TRAVEL TO DIFFERENT AREAS OF THE CITY FOR DINING, ENTERTAINMENT AND EVEN EXERCISE. I AM ACTIVELY SEARCHING FOR A SPACE TO RENT FOR MY ZUMBA* CLASSES IN WHICH I AM CURRENTLY TEACHING IN SE & NW,DC AS WELL AS FT WASHINGTON,MD; I WOULD LOVE TO BRING ZUMBA TO MY OWN AREA OF “RIA”. PLEASE CONTACT ME IF YOU HAVE A SPACE TO RENT (LARGE SPACE FOR UP TO 50 PEOPLE/1-2 HR EVENINGS)
    HELP KEEP OUR RESIDENTS HEALTHY AND OUR COMMUNITY PROSPEROUS.

    1. Vicki, have you thought about space-sharing with someone who might need a large space as well, such as a yoga instructor? At a recent presentation by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that was held along #RIA, in one of the recently renovated spaces for lease, they suggested that space-sharing is a great investment for those who don’t need an entire space all day long. You might want to think about contacting some local Yoga studios that have recently popped up in other transitioning areas, such as Bloomingdale, and see if they would consider something like that along RIA.

      Also, you might want to email the FORIA group with your contact information. They know some of the folks with property for rent and would keep you in mind if anything comes up.

      PS – Zumba is awesome! I would love to be able to walk to a Zumba class after work!

  3. We’d love to see new development there! But it seems like one of the things holding it back might be the distance from a metro station. Yeah, there’s multiple bus options there, but without more parking (and I’m not endorsing the promotion of driving, just making a point) or an easy stroll from a metro station, it might not get the attention from developers that we’d like. It would be wonderful to think that just the neighborhood patronage would be enough to attract great businesses, but from a financial standpoint, those new businesses would need to attract from more than just the immediate vicinity.

    All that being said, put me down for a big “yes” on hoping for big changes on RI!

    1. Please contemplate citizens movements to promote:
      1) bike lanes along RIA NE
      2) angled-in parking on sections of RIA like 18th Street/Adams Morgan
      3) demanding that the streetcar lines get built along RIA (they are already in the plan, but there’s no time frame)

      1. It would be great to have a bike station in front of the Woodridge library or further east of that. Brookland has at least 3: one in front of the CVS, one in front of Brooks Manion, and one on the CUA metro side. There is already a Zip car rental between 17th & 18th on RIA. That must attest to some good in this area or they never would have put one there. There are plenty of empty car lots that could be used for parking on RIA that surround this Main Street area. I’m sure the owner’s would appreciate the business.

        The last I heard about the streetcar lines is that since the H Street line doesn’t really have any place to go, they will extend that line to K Street and into Georgetown. That will be good for those areas. Then the other streetcar lines including RIA will be built. This was stated at the annual Ward 5 Business Dev Meeting held at Gallaudet in March.

    1. Flip It’s food is awesome and it’s a great addition to the neighborhood. We just had a great breakfast there this weekend. Good for Flip It for staking down their roots on RIA!!!!!

      But, Flip It owners, if you read this blog, your service does not meet the high quality standards set by your food. Please train these people! It’s so frustrating for your customers!

      Also, longer hours!!! We need dinner!

  4. I think we need to approach entrepreneurs like Joe Englert, who had the vision behind what H St is now becoming, and the means to make it happen. Upper RIA is very similar to H St in that there is some distance from the train station but real estate is relatively cheap and it is increasingly becoming populated with wealthier residents- all things working in it’s favor. What someone like Englert seeks to do is establish critical mass by buying up like 5-10 properties at once. He did this on H St and he seems to have had great success. Looking at it objectively, RIA is 1 of only a few viable strips left in the city where he could replicate this model. I would heavily recruit him.

  5. Thanks for the Guest Editorial, Friends of RIA. It’s great that you all have been so active in recent weeks/months. Have you all thought about pulling together a meeting of stakeholders to develop a strategy for revitalizing this main street area? I attended some of the Great Streets initiative meetings that the Mayor’s Office hosted back in 2009/2010 (under the Fenty administration) and they were looking for a community based group to work with in the redevelopment plans. I second the suggestion of bringing folks such as Joe Englert into the process, if not purely from the standpoint of getting their honest assessment about what needs to happen. I have been discouraged by the building owners in the area, such as Janice Booker, who have allowed their properties to sit vacant for so long but still charge steep rents (upwards of $5,000 a month for the spot next to Subs) or nearly $900,000 for the former hat store at 18th Street. I would love to consider starting a small business in the neighborhood, but given the risk of the investment, overhead costs such as rent need to be at a minimum. Bringing the building owners into the process might put a good type of social pressure on them to act while simultaneously bringing them into the process.

  6. “Have you all thought about pulling together a meeting of stakeholders…”

    YES. We’re thinking about hosting a happy hour in early November and a big party in early 2012 (after the holidays). Would readers of this blog be interested in attending a happy hour/strategic community planning session?

    About your interest in opening a business on RIA. There are a number of places on RIA for lease, and I am confident you can do better than $5K/month. One of Janice Booker’s old properties is now owned by the Menkiti Group and they are looking for tenants for 2008 and 2010 RIA (http://www.menkitigroup.com/). There are several other places for lease as well. And it may be possible to negotiate a lease for the bottom part of 2000 RIA (rather than buy it for $800K) — you should contact the realtor, Thomas @ TGCRE.com. If you’re really interested, email us and we’ll hook you up with a number of options.

    info @ friendsofria.org

  7. Interesting articles on fast-tracking Georgia Avenue street car:

    “District Might Fast Track Georgia Avenue Streetcar to Walter Reed” in the City Paper:
    http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2011/10/13/district-might-fast-track-georgia-avenue-streetcar-to-walter-reed/

    and

    “Georgia Avenue Streetcar May Move Up on List” in DCIST:
    http://dcist.com/2011/10/georgia_avenue_streetcar_may_move_u.php

    Here is phase 1 map:
    http://www.dcstreetcar.com/system-concept-phase-1.html

    Rhode Island Avenue is in phase 2.
    http://www.dcstreetcar.com/system-concept-phase-2.html

    1. This is indeed interesting Woodie. Good find. We need to approach Councilman Thomas about the possibility of pushing the RIA line up the list as well (although I’m sure everyone in every neighborhood expecting a streetcar line is contemplating the same thing right now)…

      This seems like a good time to note that Friends of RIA has amassed a library of documents, plans, etc. on its website that affect RIA, including the streetcar plans.
      http://www.friendsofria.org/plans-for-ria-ne

  8. Does anyone now anything about this meeting announcement being sent out from the Office of Harry Thomas, Jr..?

    Join Councilmember Harry Thomas in a visioning discussion…Speak Out and Give Voice!

    PCDC’s Visioning Session
    Give Voice to your Vision for Ward 5,
    The Development of Rhode Island Ave., NE
    Retail and Commercial Activity & Affordable Housing !

    Saturday, November 5, 2011
    9 a.m.-12 p.m.

    Greater Mt. Calvary Family Life Center
    603 Rhode Island Avenue, NE

    Invited Guest Panelists:

    Victor Hoskins, Deputy Mayor for Econ Dev

    John Hall, Director, DHCD

    Steve Moore, Director DC Marketing-Economic Partnership

    Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr.

    Councilmember-at-Large Vincent Orange

    Residents, Voice your ideas, Get information and knowledge!

    We don’t have to wait for gentrification before RI Ave is developed?
    We can have quality retail stores, boutiques and healthy restaurants.
    Residents can play a major role in deciding the fate of RI Ave.
    Parking Available Across the Street at the Rhode Island Shopping Plaza
    How can we assure affordable housing on RI Ave.

    Parking Available Across the street at the Rhode Island Avenue Plaza
    or along Rhode Island Avenue NE in and around 4th Street

    For More Information, please contact:
    Hazel Thomas, Chair ▪ ▪ 202-491-9245
    Premier Community Development Corporation ▪1309 Rhode Island Ave. NE, Suite B ▪
    Washington, DC 20018

    1. update from Stephanie
      History of PCDC (taken from 2008 Urban Land Institute report)
      —————–
      “The surrounding community is stable, however, and the long-term, established
      households that live on residential side streets off of Rhode Island Avenue, NE would
      like to see this commercial corridor revitalized. This charge has been led by PCDC, a
      community membership organization formed in 1999 to improve housing, economic
      development and the quality of life in Ward 5.

      PCDC has evolved over time as a 501(c)(3) organization, with a full-time, paid Executive Director. PCDC is seeking grants to support operating costs, and has
      pursued funding from DC Main Streets, a program implemented by the District of
      Columbia with guidance from the National Trust for Historic Preservations’ Main Street Center. The Main Street program was developed to blend historic preservation with economic development in order to revitalize downtown and neighborhood business districts. While this designation was pending at the time of the panel, Ward 5 Council member Harry L. Thomas, Jr. has earmarked funding for the commercial corridor’s revitalization to implement the goals of the Main Street program.”
      —————–

      Apparently PCDC was not approved to be the operator of a Rhode Island Ave Main Street program, so RIA never got one. Not sure where the funds earmarked by CM Thomas for the Main Street program went (I’ve heard that they were redistributed throughout Ward 5). Also not sure what, if anything, PCDC did with the recommendations from the Urban Land Institute’s 2008 report (which you can download HERE).

      Perhaps they will revive their efforts at the November 5th meeting? Members of the Friends of RIA will attend (although we’re not connected with PCDC).

  9. Great study. Why wasn’t the public informed of these recommendations from the ULI’s 2008 report? (If we knew about this study we could have applied pressure on getting better businesses on RIA sooner.) This report needs to be updated to include the streetcar line and its impact on parking, etc. When will a comparison study be performed of retail sales, rentals, etc. on RIA, 12th Street, and the new RIA row project? Perspective business owners could benefit from such information in determining which retail area is best to set up business. I’ve heard HT tell people that he’s working on getting the Green Teams back on RIA through Great Street funding. Ward 5 has had two Main Street programs. Tried once in Brookland and now twice on North Capital.

  10. Also, the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is now fulfulling many of the functions of a Main Street Program. They got a grant for $50K and have been helping businesses on the RIA Mainstreet for the past 2 years with consulting, marketing, etc. At least $250K went toward streetscaping the 12th Street corridor. At least $250K went toward building the Langdon Dog Park. In fact, the largest development investment on the RIA Mainstreet was private and “secretive.” The amount probably comes close to what was invested in the RIA Row project! Don’t know how much it costs to fund the Green Teams, but they did help keep the RIA Mainstreet cleaner.

      1. This organization in the Mainstreet area is a private organization. It’s been mentioned on this blog in the past. But we’ve been warned about talking about it. That’s why it’s secretive. You might want to look in the archive of this blog to see if you can find out what I’m talking about. I think it’s great that so much money has been poured into the Mainstreet area for funding ths organization, but this organization also wants to keep itself in the private realm. Also, if you’ve iived in the area for the past two years you can see what’s new on this Mainstreet corridor and what’s not. I’m starting to see more of the businesses start interior renovations that were once vacant. Just hope something good will come of it.

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