Conventional wisdom around Washington seems to hold that all those mixed-use residential and retail towers that have popped up through the gentrifying corridors of Northwest D.C. will be largely left empty, or at least, that we won’t see many more of them. After all, the housing bubble has burst badly here, the economy is weak, and no one can take out a loan to even open a restaurant, right?
Well, apparently not. Four large developers have submitted plans to develop a 67-acre parcel of land on the Anacostia River in Southeast D.C. This is hardly the most desirable location in town — on the other side of the river sits one of the most impoverished, crime-ridden areas of the entire Eastern Seaboard. But Capitol Hill’s eastward creep has been so dramatic that it now extends almost to the river. Hence the development’s name, Hill East.
Three developers have given various ambitious plans for mixed-use mega-projects that would involve office, residential and retail space. One also includes an ice-skating rink. The fourth argues that loans will not be available to developers and instead they should build the streets and sewers and sell the parcels to developers in years to come. That prediction, of course, may be vindicated.
But it seems to me that D.C. is in an almost uniquely strong position compared to other cities at the moment. The manufacturing, finance, tourism and real estate sectors that propped up cities such as New York, Charlotte, St. Louis and Las Vegas may be weakening, but that just means more federal government spending, and it all emanates from D.C. Everything from lobbying to stem cell research will be keeping D.C. afloat — or so the city, and local developers, apparently think.
Ben Adler is a journalist in New York. He is a former reporter for Grist, The Nation, Newsweek and Politico, and he has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian and The New Republic.