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Establishments beginning to inhabit ghost town around Nationals Park
Question of the Day
“It’s very ghost townie,” Mr. Frederick said. “The problem after a game is that you either have to get on the Metro with the masses, which is not much fun, or you have to hike all the way to Capitol Hill or Eastern Market. That’s a 20-minute walk, and once you get there the restaurants are shutting down.
“I think more people would come to Nats games if there was a better bar and restaurant district. You get the baseball fans out there, but not the people who just want to hang out. And it’s unfortunate, because it’s a really great stadium.”
When the city broke ground on Nationals Park in 2006 — a nearly $700 million project that included new roads, sidewalks and parks, plus the demolition of more than 100 buildings — then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams said the ultimate goal was to revitalize the entire Anacostia River waterfront, an area best known for industrial blight and a group of adult nightclubs and video stores.
Private developers reportedly spent more than $2 billion on residential and commercial buildings in the area, including a new headquarters for the Department of Transportation. Planners envisioned something akin to Chinatown, a thriving, mixed-use neighborhood — restaurants and retail, condos and offices — anchored by a sports stadium.
Just months after the Nationals opened the new ballpark in the spring of 2008, however, the financial crisis erupted. A deep recession followed, derailing expected development.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Why aren’t there more places to eat and drink around the ballpark?’ ” said Michael Stevens, director of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District. “People don’t understand that you can’t just want to open a restaurant and go do it. It involves finding the appropriate space, negotiating a lease, getting a loan to finance operations.
“Well, banks were not lending money over the last three years. Most projects got put on hold.”
Among the casualties was Monument Reality’s $350 million Half Street project, located directly above the Navy Yard Metro station.
While one office building is finished, most of the planned 775,000-square-foot development — featuring street-level retail, residential towers and a hotel — remains a gaping hole in the ground, surrounded by a tarp-covered fence.
“The thought was that when the ballpark was built, the development in the surrounding neighborhood would coincide with the beginning years of the park,” said Andrew Feffer, chief operating officer of the Washington Nationals. “That didn’t happen because of the economy and the real estate market.
“But this is the only spot on water here in Washington other than Georgetown that is being developed. There’s no reason not to think that this could become a similar, really cool, hip place to live, work and play.”
The future is soon?
Mr. Stevens concurs. Over the past five years, he said, his organization has made more than 200 presentations to restaurant brokers and retail organizations, traveling to business conventions in New York and Las Vegas, encouraging investment in the ballpark neighborhood.
His pitch? It involves more than just, well, pitches.
“The Nationals are now drawing more than 2 million fans a year,” Mr. Stevens said. “But a baseball stadium that does 81 games a year, that alone can’t be the reason for restaurants to open.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Patrick Hruby is an award-winning journalist who holds degrees from Georgetown and Northwestern. He also contributes to ESPN.com and The Atlantic Online, and his work has been featured in The Best American Sports Writing. Follow him on Twitter (@patrick_hruby) and contact him at PatrickHruby.net.
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