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This week, some prominent bloggers—-Felix Salmon, Megan McArdleMatt YglesiasDCist’s Sommer Mathis —-are hammering at a curious urban quandary: why some storefronts remain vacant on bustling commercial strips.

Think U Street, in particular. Or 14th Street. Or whatever remains boarded up on H Street around the Atlas District, especially in a year or two since the area is developing so rapidly.

Well, I’m going to take a summarizing approach to the subject because City Paper actually reported on this issue in 2007! Our piece, written by freelancer Jackie Kucinich, focused on U Street, near 14th Street.

Here are some reasons why certain properties may sit empty for years:

  • The properties are being rented out—the renters just fail to execute their plans. Shocker: It’s not always the landlord’s fault! One U Street property was rented out to a Burger King franchise for a decade, but the Burger King never opened.

  • The landlords have big dreams. Renter Schmenter—-Sometimes landlords drop ’em. After the Burger King flop, the owner of the above-mentioned property decided that he could cash in big time on this property if he bought land next door and opened a wonderful restaurant. Gentrification doesn’t just breed boutiques and Belgian brasseries! It also breeds grandiose visions.
  • Vacant property tax laws suck. Here’s Kucinich’s take on this issue: “The city’s vacant-property taxes are virtually the only torch the city has to hold to an owner’s feet; they are more than five times the residential rate and more than twice the commercial rate. Yet the vacant tax is riddled with exceptions. (Graham and Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh are pushing loophole-closing legislation in the D.C. Council. “The bill will cut way back on the exemptions that allow individuals to escape the vacant property rule,” Graham says.)”  Of course, I can’t imagine the city’s vacant property tax rate reduction is going to help.
  • High expectations. “His asking price is far beyond what is reasonable,” one local civic  leader said about a U Street landlord.

Image by Darrow Montgomery