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)?