This afternoon, two development teams are meeting with a panel of city officials. The future of Florida Avenue NW north of U Street hangs in the balance. Will the neighborhood get a Harris Teeter supermarket, an extension of W Street, apartments, and a hotel? Or a specialty goods market, a grand concourse, restaurants, and a business incubator? We could know by the end of the week.
In February, two teams submitted proposals for the vacant city-owned parcel of land at 965 Florida Ave. NW, an increasingly valuable plot sandwiched between the U Street area, Howard University, Pleasant Plains, and Columbia Heights. One came from MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group, the other from The JBG Companies, Gragg & Associates, and Moddie Turay Co. The JBG team is meeting with a group of officials from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, the Office of Planning, and the District Department of Transportation at noon today to present its proposal; the Ellis team is meeting with the panel later this afternoon. And according to the JBG team, the city will pick one of the two teams to develop the property by the end of the week. (A DMPED spokeswoman couldn’t be immediately reached to confirm this.)
JBG would appear to have a leg up in the process, because DMPED officials have said they would prefer a proposal that incorporates adjacent property. JBG owns the parcel immediately to the south of 965 Florida, which it acquired in 2011 and has held off on developing in anticipation of the city’s request for proposals for 965 Florida, according to JBG’s James Nozar.
The JBG proposal includes a Harris Teeter supermarket—-the North Carolina-based chain has signed a letter of intent—-with entrances on both Florida Avenue and 9th Street, and an additional 28,000 square feet of retail. Above the supermarket and retail would sit 525 apartment units, including 230 micro-units, ranging from studios to three-bedroom units in the 800-square-foot range. On the property already owned by JBG, the proposal includes 70,000 square feet of office space and a 120-room hotel, both extending over a newly created block of W Street east of Florida Avenue, and 100 condo units south of W Street. The project includes 101 units of affordable housing, 21 of which are in the condo building. There would be an interim market on the property until construction begins—-probably fall 2014—-and once the project is done, New York’s Brooklyn Flea would operate a weekend market on W Street.
Here are the latest renderings from the JBG team:
The Ellis plan envisions a residential building, a grand concourse, and a large-ground floor market that Ellis Development Group President and CEO Chip Ellis compares to Union Market and Eastern Market. While the proposal doesn’t incorporate any property beyond the 965 Florida parcel, Ellis thinks it has advantages—-particularly for neighboring Howard.
“We think our proposal is more conducive to the community’s needs as well as compatible with the actual streetscape and what’s around the site, which is Howard University,” says Ellis, who graduated from Howard. “We think our design is superior, in that it doesn’t disconnect the Howard University community from the Shaw community.” Unlike the JBG plan, Ellis says, his proposal doesn’t cut the university off from the neighborhood with “a fortress.” (Gragg & Associates’ Vance Gragg counters that a supermarket and the other amenities of his team’s proposal will help the struggling Howard with its recruitment. “They’re in one of those down cycles, but they’re not out of the game,” he says.) Ellis also says that a specialty market will draw more bikers and pedestrians and fewer cars than a supermarket.
Here are the latest renderings from Ellis:
Each proposal has won the support of multiple local neighborhood associations and advisory neighborhood commissioners. Ellis has a letter of support from Howard University, while 62 percent of respondents to a survey conducted by the Georgia Avenue Community Development Task Force preferred the JBG proposal, versus just 17 percent who preferred the Ellis proposal.
Then there’s the question of supermarkets. The broader U Street/Logan Circle area is experiencing an invasion of new grocery stores, including a Fresh Grocer at the Howard Town Center site just around the corner from 965 Florida. Nozar says that market research commissioned by JBG has found that there’s a demand for an additional three grocery stores in the area, and that the Harris Teeter and Fresh Grocer would “feed off each other” since they serve different functions. “We couldn’t get a grocery store to give us a letter of intent if they didn’t think they could do good business here,” says Gragg.
But Ellis is skeptical that there’s room for all this new grocery retail. “We don’t believe two supermarkets can exist in basically the same square block without one of them failing,” he says. “What we are proposing is complementary to the Howard Town Center supermarket and fulfills the demands of the single resident or student in the area that doesn’t cook much and the person who is looking for something unique.”
Ellis thinks that despite the JGB team’s apparent advantages, he still stands a good chance. “I don’t think it’s a stacked deck for JBG,” he says. “I’ve never looked at it that way.” We’ll learn soon how the city looks at it.