City Paper is not for tourists
Last month, I asked if CityCenterDC, the mega-development on the former convention center site downtown, was becoming D.C.’s Rodeo Drive. The announced retailers at the time were high-end bag store Tumi, high-end bag store Kate Spade, high-end bag store Longchamp, high-end shoe store Allen Edmonds, and high-end checked-beige clothier Burberry.
But wait: There’s more!
Today, Jonathan O’Connell reports at the Washington Post that another retail lineup will soon be announced that’s likely to include Dior, Hermès, Paul Stuart, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Zadig & Voltaire. A rendering of a planned hotel on the second phase of the development prominently features the name “Giorgio Armani” in one of the retail slots. According to the Washington Business Journal, upscale shoe store Jimmy Choo, leather goods store Louis Vuitton, and cashmere store Loro Piana have also signed on.
One can argue that D.C. has traditionally been underserved by luxury retail; as Howard Riker of Hines, the developer behind CityCenterDC, told me recently, “If one is staying at a hotel and goes to the concierge and asks, ‘Where can I shop?,’ there’s a pretty good chance over the past 20 years that the concierge says, ‘Go to Tysons,’ or maybe Friendship Heights.” And the influx of high-end retailers is good news for Hines, which collects the rent, and the city treasury, which collects the sales tax.
But is it the best use of the space for the city as a whole? Remember, this was city-owned land, and so the D.C. government got to lay out its conditions and desires when soliciting bids for the space. Hines has promised CityCenterDC will be “an authentic place for urban residents to socialize outside their homes” and “the unequivocal centerpiece of Downtown DC.” Yes, there will be a central plaza area with restaurants and a small park to the north of the development, but for the most part, the people socializing at CityCenterDC will be those who can afford to shop at the store or eat at the pricey eateries. The residences there aren’t cheap either; apartments are renting for up to $7,500 a month, while the likes of Sen. Claire McCaskill and Attorney General Eric Holder have been buying condos for $2.7 million and $1.5 million, respectively. Ninety-two of the 674 units at CityCenterDC will be affordable apartments, per an agreement with the city. But none will be for very low-income renters: The income cap for half will be 60 percent of area median income and for the other half will be 80 percent of area median income; the latter, given the high average incomes in the D.C. suburbs, will be open to families of four making up to $86,000 a year.
Of course, the city can argue that on such prime real estate, it makes more sense to maximize revenue and use that revenue to build affordable housing elsewhere than to force the developer to produce lots of affordable housing on-site. But while CityCenterDC is shaping up to be a major revenue generator, it doesn’t look like it’ll be a primary gathering space for the masses.
This post has been updated to include a report from the Washington Business Journal.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery