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Even for D.C.’s fastest-changing neighborhood, this week is something of a landmark. On Friday, Mayor Vince Gray will cut the ribbon on the Capitol Riverfront’s Canal Park. It’s been a long time coming: Gray’s predecessor Adrian Fenty unveiled a watery design for the park back in 2007 (mimicking the canal there that once connected the Anacostia and Potomac), then threw up his arms in pit-stained celebration of the groundbreaking of the current design in 2010, with a targeted completion date of fall 2011.

You’ll notice it’s now fall 2012, but no matter; the grand opening should be cause for much celebration in the neighborhood. The park’s ice skating rink will open at noon on Friday, with two hours of free skating (and rentals). And prolific Capitol Hill restaurateur Xavier Cervera will open the doors to his new restaurant Park Tavern, an island in the middle of the park, for appetizers and drinks. (The official opening of the restaurant is still several weeks away.)

I took a tour of the restaurant and park with Cervera and local ANC commissioner David Garber on Friday. Here’s a quick preview of things to come.

First, the restaurant, one of many coming to the area in the next few months. Chef Robert Wood, previously of Cervera’s Chespeake Room, will fire up flatbreads, steaks, and fish in the wood-fired oven. “Progressive, regional, seasonal” is how Cervera describes the cuisine. In the center of the restaurant, guests can choose from a number of beer taps at the bar. (Cervera says he’ll have the obligatory low-end beer—-Miller Light, maybe—-as well as some classier stuff.)

The restaurant will feature outdoor seating alongside the skating rink. Here, Cervera and Garber discuss the plans where outdoor guests will soon be dining:

The roof of the LEED Gold building will be open to the public. It affords nice views of the skating rink, where skaters will maneuver around two tree-filled islands.

The restaurant and park will be at the heart of the neighborhood that’s springing up around them, including the latest stage of the Capper/Carrollsburg Hope IV redevelopment project on the empty lots just east of the park.

But it’s an open question whether the neighborhood can support the sudden influx of eateries.

“You drive down here at night, it’s tumbleweeds, man,” says Cervera. “There’s no people down here.”

There are currently about 18,000 workers* in the neighborhood by day, says Cervera, but that’s expected to go up to 90,000 in three to four years as new office buildings are constructed. The resident population is approaching 4,000. Cervera hopes that the park will help attract more diners to the area.

“I have a good feeling about this place,” he says. “I think the rink will be an attraction.”

In the warmer seasons, the rink will become an open park with fountains. And the big white cube behind the restaurant will be an attraction of its own, with curated illuminations that’ll include words, art, and baseball updates from nearby Nationals Park.

The pace of change in the Capitol Riverfront can be a bit dizzying at times, but they’re certainly getting one thing right that’s sometimes left out: If you have the chance to build a neighborhood more or less from scratch, be sure to anchor it with a park before it’s too late.

*UPDATE: Garber says that Cervera may be underselling the neighborhood: According to the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District, “the Front is already home to a mixed-use community of over 35,000 daytime employees in 7.2 million SF of office including the Washington Navy Yard and U.S. Department of Transportation.”