- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2000

Hope to develop art-tech corridor

Activists are calling on the District to create housing and retail space in the city's burgeoning technology business district in Northeast, saying the area needs more amenities to attract tech workers.

A report to be delivered to city leaders this week by the D.C. Cultural Development Corp., a private group that advocates for local artists, recommends the District redevelop a handful of city-owned parcels into apartments, shops, restaurants and art galleries.

The parcels are in NoMa, the area north of Massachusetts Avenue that the city has designated as an arts-and-technology district. Officials have said the presence of artists and art galleries will give NoMa an urban, funky feel that will distinguish it from the suburban technology districts outside the District.

The city wants to use NoMa to attract some of the tech-oriented action that has transformed the economy in the D.C. suburbs, particularly the booming Northern Virginia area.

In addition to the lure of NoMa's distinctive arts-and-technology feel, the city is also considering a series of 11 tax breaks and other incentives designed to attract tech firms.

NoMa has attracted a handful of technology operations, and several developers are planning office space in the area.

"NoMa is also going to need neighborhood-serving retail and housing," said Patrick Phillips, an economic development consultant who conducted the yearlong study for the Cultural Development Corp. The group spent $200,000 on the report.

Mr. Phillips said one city-owned parcel that could be redeveloped is a 2.5-acre site in the Mount Vernon Triangle area between New York and Massachusetts avenues in Northeast. The new report recommends the city allow apartments or condominiums be built on the site.

Other city-owned parcels recommended for redevelopment include a site on M Street NE between North Capitol and First streets, and two sites along North Capitol Street itself.

At each site, Mr. Phillips said the report recommends the city allow a mix of housing including joint "live-work" space for artists and shops and restaurants.

D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr., the Ward 5 Democrat who represents most of the NoMa district, said planned Kmart and Giant Food stores on Rhode Island Avenue NE will bring more retail closer to NoMa, "but we also need retail in NoMa. We're going to need to offer these people places to eat and shop."

Marc A. Weiss, the former D.C. economic development official who created the concept for NoMa, said it "will take a while" before there are enough tech workers in the area to lure retailers and apartment builders.

"It's going to happen, but we'll probably have to move a little further along before we have the critical mass of bodies," Mr. Weiss said.

So far, only a handful of technology operations have set up shop in the NoMa district. Most of the operations are "data centers," facilities that house tech equipment but usually employ between 10 and 20 workers apiece.

The largest tech employer is XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc., an Internet-based broadcaster that moved its headquarters and about 180 workers into a former printing factory on Eckington Place NE.

Most of the new development planned for NoMa is office space, including a project by downtown D.C. developer Douglas Jemal.

In addition, Congress approved funding last week for a new Metro station at the corner of New York and Florida avenues NE, where the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms plans to build a new headquarters. Both projects are scheduled to be completed by 2004.

Hugh Panero, president and chief executive of XM Satellite, said the only eateries within walking distance of his office are a small sandwich shop and a handful of fast food joints. But he said he expects more shops and restaurants to be built as new employers move into the area.

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