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First came the bag stores. The upscale luggage shop Tumi was the first announced retailer at CityCenterDC, the mixed-use development by Houston-based Hines Interests that’s nearing completion. Then came high-end handbag store Kate Spade, followed by high-end handbag store Longchamp. Also arriving is Allen Edmonds, which sells men’s shoes in the $300 range. And Michael Neibauer reported this week that a permit has been issued for a Burberry location at CityCenterDC.

With all this luxury retail, one begins to think that the rumored Apple Store at CityCenterDC didn’t work out because it was too déclassé.

What accounts for this sudden influx of upscale retail into a downtown more accustomed to the likes of H&M and Urban Outfitters? According to Hines’ Howard Riker, a number of factors.

First, downtown has come a long way in recent years. “I think that downtown has gone through a significant evolution over the last 30 to 40 years, and it’s really become a seven-day-a-week, 15- to 18-hour environment,” he says. Downtown D.C., he says, is the third-largest office market in the country (behind Midtown Manhattan and downtown Chicago), and “a lot of their employees are more affluent than maybe the broader employment base in the D.C. metropolitan area.”

Additionally, there’s been a lot of housing development in and around downtown, culminating, of course, in CityCenterDC itself. On top of that, the opening of the new convention center a decade ago has brought well-heeled professionals to the neighborhood. Hotels also bring wealthy visitors; Riker estimates that there are 15,000 hotel rooms within 20 blocks of the development site.

“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,” he says. Now that’s starting to change.

The millions of tourists visiting the museums and monuments, the fans attending sports events, and movie- and theatergoers round out the downtown population willing to drop a few bucks—-or a few hundred—-on fashion.

But why CityCenterDC specifically? Riker repeatedly invokes one term: co-tenancy. By building 300,000 square feet of retail space all managed by one company, and all close together, Riker says Hines has created an environment conducive to a unified retail experience. There’ll be more than 50 retailers lining H Street NW (where Riker says Tumi and Allen Edmonds were attracted by the chance to locate across the street from the Grand Hyatt), I Street, a pedestrian alley, and a central plaza.

“When we were competing for the site, we recognized that there was an opportunity to provide a critical mass of fashion and specialty downtown, and specifically target that retail to residents and office workers,” he says.

As for why the Apple Store didn’t work out, Howard declines to comment. But he does say a restaurant has committed to part of the site in question—-at the northwest corner of the development—-and he expects the rest to be filled out soon, potentially by another restaurant.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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