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Friday, May 01, 2009

Convention Center Retail

It’s a shame that several years after its opening, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center has retail spaces that have not yet been occupied. I peruse local real estate listings a lot, yet cannot find anything marketing the convention center's empty perimeter spaces. It seems unlikely that the convention center ever signed a retail broker to manage its retail, as it attempted to do last year. For the sake of our neighborhood residents and businesses, I hope that the convention center will place renewed emphasis on retaining its current retail tenants and on attracting new ones.

First, especially in this economy, the convention center needs to do more to help its current tenants succeed. One major step the convention center could take is to resolve amicably the lawsuit in which it is involved with several tenants. It does not seem that such a resolution is coming anytime soon (they have a pretrial date coming up in about a month). I imagine the litigation isn't helping the convention center's ability to attract new tenants and that the attorney fees are not the most desirable use of the tenants' or the convention center's resources. Also, as discussed here recently, the convention center could do a much better job of internal marketing of and directing convention-goers to its shops (and other local businesses). Finally, the convention center should create a more lively streetscape through hanging flower baskets on the adjacent streetlights and through installing more festive and inviting signage for its retail tenants (the current red and black vertical banners leave much to be desired visually, in my opinion).

Second, the convention center needs to market actively and to be flexible in its leasing of its empty retail spaces. As I indicated a few weeks ago, I think most of the convention center's retail spaces fall in an area ideally situated for neighborhood and specialty retail (as opposed to convention-oriented retail -- I will elaborate on this topic soon). There is unmet demand for retailers and restaurants in our neighborhood, so these spaces need not be empty. However, the convention center needs to be willing to minimize its potential tenant's investment risks.
I think the convention center's mostly vacant retail strip on N Street has the potential to be a really cool haven of commerce, with its wide sidewalk and beautiful views of The Exchange and the Immaculate Conception Church. The stretch is currently a lifeless canyon that provides no foot traffic to surrounding businesses and that is conducive to malfeasance. I am most anxious to see the convention center's corner space at 9th and N filled. As demonstrated in the above rendering, wouldn’t it be neat to have a nice casual restaurant with outdoor seating assume that prime spot (I could see a Pieworks Pizza Restaurant with outdoor seating open there)?


8thQ said...

Your image paints a compelling picture of the potential for 9th St. could be! The current facade of the convention center is not too friendly for retail. Having those establishments taking ownership of the sidewalk outside of their businesses would help infuse the street with character. Some of the most pleasant shopping areas in DC are ones which are organic in nature where the buildings are uniquely styled and the sidewalk is decorated with outdoor cafes and planters.

I can see your vision coming true when and if 9th street moves closer to its revitalization. To make your vision a reality you need two things to happen: 1) Retail needs to be across the street from other retail or it dies. A one sided street of retail is not possible. That is why the convention center retail has never taken off yet because the other side of the street is full of (mostly) abandoned buildings. 2) we need a nexus of residential units within walking distance to support the retail. It seems the convention center traffic does not support enough retail alone or more retail would have moved in to serve a need. That tells me we need more residents in the area to shop there. Once the O Street Market Development happens and Kelsey Gardens redevelopment happens that will go along way to supply more foot traffic. But then again, those developments will have their own retail programs to compete with 9th Street.

I may be rampbling, but you got me thinking about this so here is my last thought. It seems that this portion of 9th Street will be a more “regional” serving retail in character rather than a neighborhood serving retail. That would mean to me we need more unique restaurants to open up in order to draw and attract a larger customer base. Restaurants like Corduroy and Old Dominion is a great start. What sort of other attractions could be put here in order to get people from Dupont, China Town, Adams Morgan to come to Shaw to shop?

Shaw Rez said...

Great thoughts, 8thQ!

re: exising retail nearby, I totally agree that retail feeds off of retail. I do think the retail offerings on 9th across from the CC are strong and getting stronger (e.g., Old City Green, Maruka, Long View, Modern Liquors, and Wag Time). Douglas Development is currently redeveloping those 3 big red townhomes, which may bring additional retail to 9th, and has just leased the ground floor of The Exchange to be the headquarters of a bank and a bank branch for that bank (not too exciting, but one less empty storefront and a notable new business).

re: residences, I agree that we'll benefit from additional high density housing. But a recent study of the area indicates that there's already unmet demand.

re: attractions, when I say specialty retail, I mean retail that would attract people from outside the neighborhood, so we're on the same page. I think it could be neat to develop a cluster of related businesses so we become the go-to place for their merchandise (like a gallery district, or a home furnishings/home wares district, etc.).

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I live on 13th and N, and frequently walk down N Street to Immaculate Conception (I'm a parishioner) and a few other businesses like WagTime and, in the past, BeBar.

One thing that may be a barrier of sorts is the crack house on N near the corner of 9th that may be scaring some people away with all of the shady characters that hang around outside. I know the grandson of the woman who lives there was convicted of gun and drug-running, but there is obviously still a lot of suspect activity going on.

si said...

excellent post. I was in NYC for a convention recently and I was really struck by the differences. Up there the Javits center is located in a totally isolated area. Inside its nice & light filled & airy plus you can buy an $8 cup of tea but step outside and youve got a massive loading zone, no plants nothing across the street but a giant pit, industrial construction , and an honest to goodness JUNKYARD. Really crazy. there are NO neighbors so no one cares.

in DC tho they plunked the battleship down in a neighborhood. despite the concentration of vacant buildings there are people who live nearby and there was a desire to have it integrate and contribute to the area. unfortunately weve got deadbeat developers who were never prodded to develop and faced no consequences for slumbanking, like you all said the marketing for the cc retail itself was an unholy mess, and the thousands of people who flow into the center flow right back out the front door straight to PQ - not that I am begrudging them the business. Another issue I feel is a huge and probably insurmountable problem - tho i am no expert- is that the cc retail spaces are sparse, spread out & the are totally unconnected to the inside of the center. It seems to me that the planning was downright awful and does not bode well for the future. and who in their right mind would want to rent a retail space with no utility hookup? especially in this economy? oooo i could rant for eons.

Mr. 14th & You said...

Well put. Forget the development of the retail spaces *around* the convention center; how about filling the actual center spaces first?

Keep in mind though, this is the same organization (the Convention Center) that nearly evicted several of its tenants a year ago over a petty rent dispute. I wouldn't say that they're known for having fantastic tenant relationships.

uncle jessie said...

I get the feeling too that the median household income numbers being lower in Shaw, combined with unrealistic rents consistently scare off businesses who are looking for retail space close to downtown. Especially those looking at a boutique type business that may be niche and depend on very local traffic to keep it afloat.

After all, why would you roll the dice and pay the premium rates that firms like Douglas Development are charging when you know that there may not even be enough local affluence to keep you going near-term? It has to be a special business that is going to really draw people from outside the area.

So I'd like to see a higher density of market rate housing and developers who make a commitment to actually 'develop' the area, and not just speculate on it. Roadside seems to be on right track, if they can only get financing for the City Market at O and fill it up.

And it's a given that convention goers are currently a lost cause, thanks to the geniuses who designed the battleship as a 3-wall-fortress that opens to the outside world only onto downtown, and no real love from Jack Evans or the Convention Center Authority. Let's hope this changes once we get the hotel and the out-of-towners start staying north of Mass. Ave.

timrcarpenter said...

Woah, PieWorks? Is that a completely unsubstantiated rumor or do you know something? I worked at Pieworks for a year and a half in Shreveport and I still have the t-shirt. I would love it if they came here.

Shaw Rez said...

tim - Pieworks was just me dreaming.... There are no rumors of a franchise opening up in DC. I will be your best friend if you open one.... :-) I ate at the Greensboro location a lot and love it.

SWDC Blog said...

The guys who opened Be Bar a half block north were brilliant. Rent is cheap since foot traffic failed to appear, but there's a free Metro stop, and lots of parking.

Anonymous said...

does the government run this thing? if so, dont expect this situation to ever improve. what skin is it off their back if it all goes to hell?