Between the high-volume Columbia Heights retail district to the south and a planned Walmart in Brightwood to the north, upper 14th Street occupies a precarious position in the District’s retail landscape.
Planners are working to make sure the future of 14th Street NW is one with vibrant, neighborhood-serving retail nodes. The DC Office of Planning is working with consultants and the public to create a revitalization strategy for the corridor.
On January 19 at Kingsbury School, the DC Office of Planning and its consultants presented the results of an existing conditions inventory and market analysis. They presented the first draft of a course that steers the corridor’s commercial nodes on a route that avoids direct competition with national chains, focusing instead of developing distinct niches that can’t be served by a big box.
14th Street between Spring Road and Longfellow Street contains three main retail nodes identified in the study. From the south, the first is between Spring Road and Shepherd Street; the second, centered on WMATA’s bus barn, is between Webster and Decatur streets; and the third, between Jefferson and Longfellow streets, is centered on the intersection with Colorado Avenue.
Project consultants presented on residential and non-retail potential, retail conditions and concepts for streetscape possibilities.
Streetsense’s Heather Arnold talked about retail strategies for the corridor. She performed an inventory of existing retail services in the corridor and analyzed spending habits by residents, area employees, and visitors to see what types of purchases currently being made outside the neighborhood could instead be made on 14th Street.
Arnold noted that retail along the corridor should serve a different purpose than Walmart or Target. Instead of competing on price or selection, retailers must serve a different need by being representative of the neighborhood and offering convenience and quality service. There is little market demand to construct new retail space in the area, Arnold said, but there will be normal retail turnover in the next decade.
The retail node near the WMATA bus barn seems strongly positioned to fill neighborhood needs. A small grocery could serve as an anchor for the area to keep more retail dollars in the neighborhood.
Because it is a local-serving retail strip not far from big-box retailers, this node shares many parallels with Mt. Pleasant Street, a revitalization project Arnold and Ferretti are also working on with DC Office of Planning. Arnold noted that attempting to attract customers from across the city “would cause more problems than it would solve,” leading to potential parking and noise issues. In addition to neighborhood residents, employees at the bus barn already form a base of customers for retail in this area.
Analysis for the northernmost node, centered on Colorado Avenue, had to be reset after the plans for Walmart were announced. Because proximity to Walmart would significantly impact what kind of retail could be successful at this end of the corridor, Arnold recommended that the area build upon the relocation of renowned artist Sam Gilliam to the neighborhood and build an arts cluster, creating a destination for unique products that have no overlap with Walmart’s offerings.
This concept for this type of arts cluster is consistent with Office of Planning’s own Creative Action Agenda, which seeks to foster artistic and creative industries within the District.
Abby Ferretti of Partners for Economic Solutions presented a study on the market in the corridor. Her analysis examined supply and demand for residential and non-retail commercial space within the corridor.
Ferretti identified three market demographics that might play an increasingly important role in the neighborhood: millennials drawn to walkable urban neighborhoods; Latino families that expect to see increased income in the coming years; and single women looking to purchase residential units.
In the next decade, Ferretti forecast that the 14th Street corridor would see 300 new rental units and 120 new for-sale residential units, created through either new construction or conversion. Because the area is not a regional office or retail destination, Ferretti expects that the corridor would see modest growth in the amount of non-retail commercial space, growing by 18,960 square feet over the next decade.
Since the area is a quieter residential neighborhood that is convenient to downtown but off the beaten path for tourists, one possibility for new non-retail businesses is bed and breakfasts. Ferretti cited a cluster of B&B’s along 12th Street NE in Brookland as an example for the corridor.
Otto Condon of ZGF Architects & Planners also presented at the meeting. Noting that neighborhoods in this area are generally oriented north-south along major streets such as 14th Street and Georgia Avenue, he raised some possibilities for strengthening east-west connections between these corridors.
There are specific sites within the three retail nodes that offer opportunities for streetscape improvements, such as parking lots near the WMATA bus barn, surface parking and traffic islands near Colorado Avenue and some building facades north of Spring Road. Specific streetscape recommendations will be made later in the study process.
The study’s southern boundary is Spring Road. The commercial zone in this area
extends south to Monroe Street in Columbia Heights. This plan will address the connection to Columbia Heights, even though it is officially focused on an area entirely within Ward 4.
Heather Arnold noted that the commercial area south of Shepherd Street attracts customers from Columbia Heights. “While we aren’t suggesting that this area becomes some kind of Columbia Heights North, we are suggesting it would be foolish…not to benefit from that customer draw a couple blocks to the south,” she said. The major challenge to drawing customers northward, she noted, is the derelict block between Meridian Place and Oak Street.
Despite stopping short at the Ward 4 boundary, the 14th Street Revitalization Strategy is taking a holistic approach to revitalizing retail nodes that are not usually in the spotlight of the city’s economic development agenda.