Development Creating ‘Epicenter Of Commerce In Historic Anacostia’ Delivers First Phase
A coterie of D.C. officials and business partners unveiled the completed first phase of a highly touted Anacostia project Monday that will bring hundreds of office workers and new retail to the historically underserved neighborhood.
Mayor Muriel Bowser joined developer The Menkiti Group to both cut the ribbon on Phase 1 and break ground on Phase 2 of the MLK Gateway project, which occupies two parcels on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE and Good Hope Road. The mixed-use development will eventually house a new headquarters for the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development.
The project’s first phase opened with 20K SF of office space leased to cybersecurity firm Enlightened for its new headquarters and 14K SF of retail, including a Capital One Café and a restaurant from Ward 8’s The Gaston Group.
“This community was clear about what it cared about,” Menkiti Group CEO Bo Menkiti said at the ceremony. “We heard clearly the community's care and focus on a vision to create pathways to opportunities for local residents and small businesses, a vision to provide neighborhood-serving goods and services and a vision to return the corner of Good Hope Road and MLK to an epicenter of commerce in historic Anacostia.”
Enlightened plans to bring 150 employees into the neighborhood, said Antwanye Ford, the firm’s president and CEO, bringing greater daytime foot traffic to an area that has historically suffered from a lack of investment.
Bowser nominated Ford to lead the city’s Workforce Investment Council after Enlightened signed on as an anchor tenant for the MLK Gateway project in 2016, and in a speech he thanked her for promoting investment in Ward 8.
“I just want to thank my mayor for her leadership, her vision, her support in, as I called it, turning an RFP process into a manifestation of change in this particular city,” Ford said.
Ward 8 Council Member Trayon White Sr. — who recently announced a run for Bowser’s seat in 2022 — said he was initially skeptical of the project, but was eventually swayed by the opportunity to employ local business owners. White has introduced legislation that would establish “displacement risk zones” in wards 7 and 8 in an attempt to prevent new developments from pushing out vulnerable residents.
“I always say when there's no vision, people perish,” White said on stage. “Part of my commitment was to ensure that when we have projects built in Ward 8 that we have people from Ward 8 working on these projects. And I'm not just talking about laborers or people in the streets with signs, we want to make sure we have business owners working on this project.”
City officials struck an upbeat tone when describing MLK Gateway, which they said is a step forward in addressing the lack of job opportunities, financial services and sit-down restaurant spaces in Ward 8.
The mixed-use development received debt, grant and equity funding from LISC, a D.C.-based community development finance institution. PNC Bank, RMS Investment Group and City First Bank of DC all partnered on Phase 1, while a group of 10 public and private entities combined to finance the development of Phase 2, according to the mayor’s office.
The developers used $4.25M in New Market Tax Credits and $3.3M in opportunity zone equity, both federal programs designed to entice developers to underserved areas, for the two phases of the project. The city’s Neighborhood Prosperity Fund has pledged roughly $1M toward the construction of the project.
Bowser said MLK Gateway demonstrates the fund’s ability to provide pre-development funding and get projects underway east of the river.
“We had to make these projects work economically,” Bowser said. “Sometimes the government has to make sure there's money for pre-development and putting the pieces together and convincing the business owners that they've gotta believe like we believe that Anacostia is a good bet, and that's what the Neighborhood Prosperity Fund allowed us to do.”