update: read the lively comments to this post (we’re such passive-aggresionists (sic)–we just need a bar in the ‘hood where we can argue over beers.)
On the heels of Ward 5 Councilman Harry Thomas, Jr’s “2009 State of the Ward Address,” I bring you a report more specific for our neighborhood, Eckington:
The previous 12 months may not have produced a large number of changes and additions to the neighborhood, but in terms of “Before and After” Eckington looks a lot different.
The KFC at the corner of Florida Ave and North Capitol St closed its doors, its bulletproof glass counter, and its vast parking lot after 28 years due to the rising property values. Although the site remains vacant, and while rumors that an independent pizza restaurant may fill the location shortly give pause to the enthusiasm of the neighborhood’s first sit-down restaurant, the significance of this closing cannot be ignored.
New banners were hung from lightposts along a few defining streets. The confusion of visitors to our area probably reaches its apex at the intersection of Florida Ave and North Capitol St where 3 different banners–Eckington, Truxton, Bloomingdale–hang. More on this issue later.
The Metropolitan Branch Trail began its slow, interrupted by half a decade, movement as the defining characteristic of the east side of Eckington. Pepco finally signed over its 2-block stretch of land, allowing the awarding of the contract to design and build the stretch of the Trail from Franklin Ave. to New York Ave bridge. Work began in May at the northern end and must be completed by July 22.
The MBT has received a lot of attention on this blog, due to its transformative potential that many predict will benefit the neighborhood. It will provide a common route that will promote interaction between residents–particularly those from the northeast and southeast–where regular encounters had been lacking (due to the multitude of paths home via the grid pattern of our streets). It provides a uninterrupted path across the entire neighborhood and, via a defined path along sidewalks, connects our neighborhood to Catholic University, Union Station, and the National Mall.
With an actual trail in place, rather than a design proposal, efforts to connect the Trail to the Capital Crescent Trail, providing a complete circular path around the western portion of the city, will be provided with new steam. A developer of two office buildings being constructed on the corner of K St have proposed connecting to the elevated section of the Trail, including paying for new connections into the Union Station Metro. This would most likely provide the District with the impetus to complete, as in the orignial MBT plans, the 1-block elevation of the Trail from L St to K St along the so-called “Burnham Spine.”
Eckingtonians most likely hope that the Trail will highlight the unmoving eyesore east of Harry Thomas Way. This vacant lot, part of the tract of land Pepco purchased after the initial 1994 MBT plan, and upon which it build its new substation in the southern section, does not garner much attention currently. A scenic trail on one side and new residentual development on the other side will bring new attention to this plot of land that has no hope of being developed for commercial reasons anytime soon. Very early plans of the MBT envisioned this tract of land as an urban park, but died when the lot was purchased by Pepco.
The notion that a residential development could be financially viable that borders a power substation and a trainyard, sits almost underneath a major overpass, and entails over $40 million for the purchase of the land alone, is absurd. Pepco paid over $67 million for the entire lot, of which a tiny portion sits its substation (which is the reason it bought the land),but, as a large utility compaany, could hold this land for over a hundred years if it gets no offers that satisfy its internal rate of return.
A neighborhood without a park
Granting the District a right-of-way to this lot, in the same way it did for the MBT, would allow Pepco to retain ownership of the land and permit the city to construct a park on otherwise unused, overgrown land. The limited funds that would be required to construct the park would be more than paid back by the increased property values of the neighborhood–especially the new development across the street.
If one was to construct a circle of greatest diameter in the District without including a park, Eckington would fall directly in its center. This should be a large posterboard, which our councilman brings to every meeting regarding development, improvements funding, parks and recreation (oops!).
Whereas once the residents of the western section of Eckington had no reason to venture across North Capitol Street, much less saw any redeeming value in this area that shared the same name, the arrival of the MBT and the rise of NoMa will change both. This leads into the discussion of NoMa, the business district that begins in the southern tip of Eckington and proceeds south to Union Station.
NoMa had affected most of us Eckingtonians in the past year with the opening of 4 new restaurants. Five Guys was first, and while its menu is limited, its hours are generous: 11am – 10pm, 7 days a week. Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli and Sisters Pizza & Mussels followed with a more diverse set of offerings and Au Bon Pain rounded out the quartet this past spring with outdoor seating. Pound has its devoted clientele and is now open on Saturdays.
If one had not walked down 1st Street NE in a couple of years, the first thing that would be noticed upon the trip today would be the immense amount of shade. Once a forgotten street of vacant lots and parking lots, the strip has been home to numerous tower cranes as developers have gobbled up these tracts of land. While most projects to-date are office buildings, there are 2 hotels, a residential complex on 2nd, and a Harris Teeter grocery.
The hotels and residential units provide life in the neighborhood in the evening and weekends–a vital component that sometimes gets ignored in rapid developments (such as K Street NW). The Harris Teeter–slated to open mid-2010–will primarily draw residents from Capitol Hill north to Eckington, many of whom will be pedestrians with their urban collapsible grocery carts. This also provides another meeting locale for Eckingtonians as we learn each other from such frequent encounters and will offer other residents a sneak peek into our ‘hood.
NoMa is certainly not done making an impact on our neighborhood. The development of the new headquarters for NPR just commenced–extending the reach of development up North Capitol Street–and the Florida Ave/New York Ave intersection, infused with grant money to NoMa for its study, should be around the corner.
Yes, there was some unfortune in the past year. XM was merged with Sirius, and while the now New York-headquartered company states its intention to keep his D.C. facility running, there is no substitution for having the pioneer rooted squarely in our backyard. The St. Martin’s affordable housing development broke ground dispite years of opposition from neighborhood residents–their efforts to limit the impact, however, will provide some mitigation. I will leave it to commenters to list any other items that were unhelpful to the progression of our neighborhood.
Finally, I will ask that this upcoming year be marked by a renewed enthusiasm in our neighborhood and a reunification of the two sides of North Capitol.
Perhaps there was a time when the west side of Eckington was justified in distancing themselves from the east. But as housing prices of the east have risen–2007 marked the first time a greater number of $350,00-plus homes were sold in the east than in the west–and as amenities, both in Eckington and NoMa, have begun to crop up in the east, there is reason for the “Bloomingdale” moniker to pass into the distance. Branding efforts are more effective for a unified Eckington and the whole should be greater than the sum of its parts. I proposed a tongue-in-cheek campaign to promote branding as well as community pride and hope to followup on the idea.
Map displayed in National Museum of American History
We live in an historical area of the nation’s capital–we should be protective of its assets while open to certain changes that may alter the landscape. Here’s to another productive year in the progression of our neighborhood, Eckington.