H Street Group Pitches Major Hechinger Mall Development As Activity Moves Down Corridor
Five major thoroughfares, and the District's east-moving development wave, all meet at an apex in Northeast D.C. where a 36-year-old suburban-style shopping center sits on an 8.6-acre site. The Hechinger Mall's owner has been quiet about its plans for the property, but neighborhood organizations and nearby developers see it as a potential game-changer.
It was built in 1981 by Hechinger Enterprises after the old hardware store chain decided to move its corporate HQ from the site into the Maryland suburbs. At the time, it was the largest inner-city shopping center in the United States and drew customers from throughout the region. But today, the car-centric retail model is becoming defunct as transit-oriented mixed-use projects spring up throughout the city, and nearby stakeholders see the site as an opportunity for a major development.
The site, which is large enough to fit entire neighborhoods inside of it, sits at the Starburst Plaza intersection where H Street NE, Florida Avenue, Bladensburg Road, Maryland Avenue and Benning Road all intersect. Large developments are being built along the H Street corridor, and plans are in the works on all sides of the property, giving some the sense that a major Hechinger Mall redevelopment is inevitable.
Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. bought the property in 2005 for $25M. The New York-based investor has not made public any plans to redevelop the shopping center, but one neighborhood group is stepping in to chart a vision for its future.
H Street Main Street, part of the Department of Small and Local Business Development's D.C. Main Streets Program, has been working with consulting firm DLW LLC and architect My Ly Design to research potential uses for the site as it prepares to make a presentation to Ashkenazy.
“When the owner of the site decides to move forward, we would be willing to throw our support behind it, because it’s at a critical juncture for H Street and will benefit Bladensburg, Benning Road and the other corridors," DLW CEO Derrick Woody said. "It is at such a critical location.”
The team has sketched a vision for the site that could include several buildings up to 11 stories tall with as many as 3,000 multifamily units, ground-floor retail and potential hotel and office components.
The concept design includes the CVS across the street at the corner of Maryland Avenue and Bladensburg Road, a 1.5-acre site also containing low-rise retail surrounded by surface parking. Developer Eastbanc acquired that property in 2011 for $6.1M but has not released any plans for the site. Ashkenazy and Eastbanc both declined to comment on the proposed development.
In between the CVS and Hechinger Mall sites, the concept design creates a landscaped, pedestrian-only plaza that extends from the existing Starburst Plaza up to Neal Street, diverting traffic away from Maryland Avenue and creating a large area for outdoor events.
“The site is about the same size as CityCenter,” H Street Main Street Executive Director Anwar Saleem said. “If we look at placemaking and how people interact, the retail we didn’t get on H Street could come to that area. We think it will be a game-changer connecting H Street, Bladensburg, Benning, Trinidad and all of those areas.”
To move forward with such a large project, the owners would have to file a planned-unit development application with the Zoning Commission to increase the site's density. The site is currently zoned MU-7, allowing for medium-density mixed-use development.
But the Comprehensive Plan's Future Land Use Map recommends the site be increased to high-density commercial and medium-density residential. This could pave the way for a PUD to successfully increase the site's density, but that can be a difficult process for developers to navigate and approvals can be delayed and blocked by appeals in court.
The team behind the concept design also drew comparisons between the Hechinger Mall and H Street Connection, the former low-rise shopping center on the corridor between Eighth and 10th streets that Rappaport and WC Smith tore down last year to create a 419-unit mixed-use building with 44K SF of retail.
That project represents another big step east in the corridor's development progression, following major mixed-use projects The Apollo and Anthology on opposite sides of H Street between Sixth and Seventh streets.
The corridor's development boom has been aided by the opening of the D.C. Streetcar in February 2016. Plans have called for the Streetcar to extend east to the Benning Road Metro station and west to Georgetown, but reduced funding from the District has put those extensions in jeopardy.
As development moves east toward the Hechinger Mall, several projects are in various stages of planning and construction on all sides of the Starburst Plaza.
At 1402 H St. NE, a triangular site across from Starburst Plaza where H Street and Florida Avenue intersect, developer Mehari Sequar is nearing completion on a 28-unit condo development with ground-floor retail. The Constellation on H building, set to deliver in October, will have 14 one-bedrooms ranging from $400K to $470K, seven two-bedrooms ranging from $625K to $700K, and seven duplex penthouse units on the fifth and sixth floors ranging from $800K to $1.2M.
Condos selling at that price point is a new phenomenon on the eastern end of H Street, said Urban Pace President Matt Dewey, who is managing sales for the building. Dewey also managed sales for The Maryland, an 84-unit condo building one block south at 1350 Maryland Ave. NE. When he was selling those units, which sold out about a year ago, he said the market was at about $600/SF, but they are already looking at $650/SF for the Constellation on H.
Ten years ago, when H Street was first becoming a nightlife destination, Dewey said people would come to visit for the night before going back home to Northwest D.C. Then about three years ago, when he began selling The Maryland's condos, he said people wanted to live there but viewed it as a discount option. With the addition of restaurants like Maketto and Granville Moore's and the new Whole Foods Market, he said it has become a top place people want to live.
“Now it’s one of the most sought-after locations for people to actually live in,” Dewey said. “They’re seeing how streets like 14th Street have just exploded, and you look at H Street and it’s essentially 14th Street on steroids from a development standpoint, with all of the rentals coming in.”
As home values continue to rise along H Street, Dewey expects people who want more affordable options will begin looking east.
“Bladensburg and Benning Road are places that are really going to take off as H Street matures and becomes more unaffordable,” Dewey said. “It’s on the next wave from a development standpoint. From a predevelopment standpoint, you look at it and you can see how everything is pushing east, but the actual for-sale market hasn’t gotten there just yet. There’s no doubt that it will.”
One of the largest projects planned along that next eastern stretch of the corridor is Valor Development's 285-unit The Valvare apartments at 1603 Benning Road NE.
Valor was also the developer behind The Maryland condo building. Valor Development principal Joe Bous said he hopes to break ground on the project within 18 months. He said the large number of PUDs currently facing appeal has him in wait-and-see mode, but he hopes to have more clarity around the process soon. The project is a long-term play anyway, and he sees The Valvare, sitting three blocks east of The Maryland, as a natural extension of the success the condo project experienced.
“When we bought the site for The Maryland it felt similar to the 1600 block of Benning now,” Bous said. “People thought, ‘Wow that’s really far out there,’ and then you wake up and it’s in the middle of everything ... We're making that leap to Benning Road. You don't have to be a visionary to see that's where development is going.”
Just north of the CVS site, the 257-unit Flats at Atlas apartments were built in 2012 at 1600 Maryland Ave. NE. The property sold last year to a JV of Kettler and Westbrook partners. The new owners have the option to build more residential development on the adjacent site, which sits across Maryland Avenue from the western side of the Hechinger Mall site. A spokesperson for Kettler said the developer is planning a 325-unit apartment project on the site but has not set a timeline for construction.
Across from the eastern side of Hechinger Mall, Capital City Real Estate is preparing to break ground in early 2018 on 1701 H, a 180-unit multifamily building. Capital City President Scott Zimmerman said he hopes to see development at the Hechinger Mall to better connect the 1701 H site with the rest of the corridor.
“We feel like we’re already very accessible with the streetcar and the walkability, but that would really fill in the gap and add a whole other dimension to what’s already there on the H Street Corridor," Zimmerman said of a potential Hechinger Mall development.
In the future, Bous said he sees the area becoming one cohesive corridor from Union Station all the way to the Anacostia River and the RFK Stadium site, where major development plans are in the works.
“All roads lead to RFK,” Bous said. “The more all of the gaps get filled in, the more it starts feeling like other parts of the city like Shaw and Logan Circle where one neighborhood rolls into the next. The more it fills out, the more people will view it as a place they want to live.”