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A person in the business development field told me something interesting yesterday: People in his circle were starting to worry that NoMa, with all of of its recent large governmental leases, could start feeling like an office zone akin to the barren wasteland at L’Enfant Plaza and Federal Center, if landlords weren’t careful. NoMa’s glassy boxes, after all, are some of the only ones in the District that still have huge contiguous spaces; So far, the neighborhood contains 575,000 square feet for the Department of Justice, 200,000 for the District of Columbia Public Schools, 288,000 for the General Services Administration, 202,000 for the Securities and Exchange Commission, 167,000 for the Internal Revenue Service, and 160,000 for the Veterans Administration, to name the biggest occupants. There are a few media organizations and smaller non-profits and advocacy groups, but that’s a fraction of the total inventory.
Does a less-than-diverse tenant mix necessarily make for the kind of environment that plagues D Street SW, where people flood into work in the morning and scuttle away at night, leaving a ghostly landscape in their wake? Not according to Liz Price, who heads up the NoMA Business Improvement District.
“I don’t have any concerns about this becoming L’Enfant Plaza Two,” she said. The things that will save it include residential buildings like the Loree Grand, which has been filling up quickly, new cafes—all lunch-oriented at the moment, but a sit-down restaurant is apparently on the way—and the Harris Teeter, opening December 7th. Meanwhile, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development is targeting incentive programs for small businesses and non-profits to NoMa and the Capitol Riverfront. And the BID will be rolling out a branding campaign for the neighborhood early next year.
Plus, the fundamental difference between NoMa and the L’Enfant Plaza area is private ownership: Government agencies won’t necessarily stick around forever, like they would in the HUD building or at the Department of Energy. “In the future, they could become any kind of tenant,” says Price.
It’ll never be Georgetown, filled with boutique firms and crowded with people at night. And it hasn’t reached the heat level of Penn Quarter, with its high residential density and brand-name restaurants. But the federal and District workers in NoMa-based agencies can at least feel luckier than their L’Enfant Plaza-tethered brethren. If you’ve got to work in a government ghetto, this might be the best you could ask for.