[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab, published on December 30, 2013]
Washington D.C.’s Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center was arguably in need of a facelift, if nothing else. The 27-year-old office building, located at the corner of 14th and U Streets NW, has been showing its age amidst the increasingly high-end residential and retail construction projects peppering 14th street.
The announcement of the D.C. government’s plan, therefore, to shutter the Reeves Center, swapping its land for a similarly sized industrial-zoned parcel where a new soccer stadium will be built in southwest D.C., was initially seen as a shrewd business decision. Timing the real-estate market is always dicey business, but it’s tough to argue with the hotness of 14th Street real-estate right now, and a lot has been made about how much the District could receive in the deal.
The municipal center’s multiple transportation options create the sought-after “location, location, location.” Metrorail is just a block away at 13th and U, Metro buses pass the corner in all directions, the Circulator bus runs north-south on 14th, and Capital Bikeshare is on site.
Plans for the land swap remain in the formative stages, but the net gain to the District seems positive overall, with a “new Reeves Center” to be constructed in Anacostia, a shiny new soccer stadium near Nationals Park, and a cash injection into the city’s coffers. Residents of the 14th and U neighborhood, however, are concerned about what they will lose with the closing of the D.C. government building: chief among them, the 14th and U Farmers Market, and much-needed office space in the neighborhood.
Akridge, the developer that will take control of the property in the swap, would be tempted to construct another luxurious residential building to maximize its profits, but City Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward One) has said that he will oppose such a use of the property. At the December 17 Reeves Center disposition meeting, Graham said no to additional “market-rate” housing, stating, “We’ve got the luxury condo/rental thing covered [in this neighborhood]” to applause from the audience.
Graham’s comment was an understatement, as the one-mile stretch of 14th Street from Thomas Circle to Florida Avenue now surpasses Columbia Heights as the densest residential neighborhood in D.C., according to District officials. Furthermore, the Washington Post has reported that gentrification is in “overdrive” on 14th Street, stating that since the end of the recession in 2009, $524 million of new residential sales have taken place on 14th Street. Rents now average $2700 per month and two-bedroom condominiums sell at over $900,000.
The members of the public who expressed their opinions at the D.C. Department of General Services (DCDGS)-led disposition meeting seemed in agreement with Graham that the neighborhood is in need of office space to replace the Reeves Center. The lack of daytime commerce in the area was referred to by one participant as an “imbalance” affecting the viability of neighborhood businesses. Try to navigate the sidewalks of 14th and U at night, or attempt to acquire a Capital Bikeshare bike on weekday mornings, and you’ll be convinced these people are correct.
Since D.C. has the lowest office vacancy rate in the U.S., and with the redevelopment of the site still several years out (and several years away from the most recent U.S. recession) it seems realistic that office space would be a viable use of the site – as well as a profitable one for Akridge.
Another public demand heard loudly at the disposition meeting was a desire for the 14th and U Farmers Market to remain on site, or at least in the general vicinity. The market currently operates on the enormous 60-foot-wide sidewalks of the Reeves Center, but market founder and director Robin Shuster has said she could make due with 25-foot sidewalks, and has requested that D.C. accommodate this requirement in any future development of the site.
Graham and the DCDGS have said the District will take into consideration the public opinions regarding the disposition and future use of the Reeves Center and its valuable parcel. The land-swap deal with Akridge and the Reeves Center redevelopment process – should the deal go through – will be a process that will take several years.
Photo by Bossi.