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Chase Bank To Open In Historic Anacostia As Neighborhood Experiences Retail Transformation

JPMorgan Chase will replace a local restaurant in Historic Anacostia with a bank branch as part of its D.C. expansion. The deal is the latest in a series of major regional and national companies planning moves to the Southeast D.C. neighborhood that is poised for a major transformation in the coming years. 

The now-closed Uniontown Bar & Grill in Anacostia will be replaced by a Chase Bank.

Landlord Curtis Investment Group signed the nation's largest bank at 2200 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, the storefront where Uniontown Bar & Grill closed its business in recent months.

Within three blocks of that space, national coffee giant Starbucks and regional restaurant chain Busboys and Poets are preparing to open their first east-of-the-river locations, and multiple developments are planned that will bring new housing and office space to the historic neighborhood. 

Charles Wilson, a former ANC commissioner and head of multiple Anacostia neighborhood groups, first reported on his blog that Chase would replace Uniontown, and Curtis Investment Group confirmed it to Bisnow. Wilson said Uniontown was having problems and became less popular among neighbors in recent years, so people were not too disappointed to see it close, but he said many wish it had been replaced by another restaurant. 

“It’s mixed feelings, because we’re losing a restaurant in a neighborhood that desperately needs more sit-down restaurants,” Wilson said. “There are three or four banks within less than a square mile — Bank of America, PNC Bank and Industrial Bank — so you begin to ask what’s the value of another banking facility … another restaurant or café or some type of eating facility would have been great.”

JPMorgan Chase announced in September it would invest $10M in driving economic growth in Wards 7 and 8, D.C.'s most historically underserved communities. Wilson said the new branch could be a positive if it helps spur more investment. 

"Any time you have another banking partner who wants to make sincere investments in projects like the 11th Street Bridge, there's definitely good things to come out of that," Wilson said. 

Busboys and Poets, a restaurant chain known for opening in parts of the city undergoing dramatic change, began constructing its Anacostia location in October 2016. The opening date has been pushed back multiple times, but neighborhood business leader Duane Gautier said he sees people working on it every day and expects it to be open by the spring. Busboys owner Andy Shallal did not immediately return a request for comment. 

Gautier is CEO of Arch Development, an Anacostia-based nonprofit that runs multiple business incubators and art galleries in the neighborhood. He said Busboys will be a big step up from Uniontown and could create momentum for additional openings. 

“I think it’s a positive, but it’s not going to be the savior of Anacostia, which it has been touted to be,” Gautier said of Busboys. “It will draw in people. A couple local restaurants are happy it’s moving in because people will come down and go to Busboys but not always, so we think it’s going to spur other small cafés and restaurants.”

A rendering of the Maple View Flats project in Anacostia

Starbucks signed on in October to open at Maple View Flats, a 114-unit, all-affordable development at 2228 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE. The $50M project from Chapman Development and Bozzuto Construction has been the subject of controversy.

Ward 8 Council Member Trayon White led protests in March calling on the Maple View Flats development team to hire more workers from the neighborhood. Residents have also expressed concerns over the design of the project and the level of community engagement from the developer and the city. Neighbors had hoped for some type of market in the project's 14,500 SF of retail, given that the area is often described as a food desert, but Gautier said it appears to be planned for a day care facility, a deal also reported by a local blog. 

The entrance of Starbucks into the neighborhood has created some angst among neighbors, Gautier said, but he believes it will ultimately be a positive benefit. He said the store is part of a Starbucks initiative to bring jobs to emerging areas and it will only hire locally and not be pressured to turn a profit immediately. 

“There is some opposition saying, ‘Why can’t we have a local person?' But realistically a business like Starbucks, a corporation of that size can subsidize until it becomes profitable, even if it takes three to four years,” Gautier said. “A local person who tries to open a shop doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to operate at a loss. In my mind, it’s a positive thing because they will hire local and provide training.”  

A rendering of MLK Gateway, The Menkiti Group's development planned in Anacostia.

Menkiti Group CEO Bo Menkiti, the developer behind Anacostia's MLK Gateway project, said he is aiming to strike the right balance between national chains and local businesses as he looks to fill out the project's retail space. 

"Having a few national tenants is good. It brings proven operators who can sustain and thrive and also provides credit enhancement to a project that makes it able for one to engage local businesses," Menkiti said. "We believe, ultimately, it's the local neighborhood flavor that creates the place. We want to make sure its local, neighborhood-serving retail with appropriate and strong national tenants mixed in." 

Menkiti said he expects construction to begin on MLK Gateway early next year. The project at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road is slated to include 22K SF of retail and 28,500 SF of office space. The developer reached a deal with Enlightened, a minority-owned cybersecurity consulting group, to move its headquarters from Northwest D.C. to the project, a move Menkiti said will help boost the neighborhood's retail businesses. 

“It’s critical to have daytime activity and traffic, and this will add to that,” Menkiti said. “It’s really important to activate and make it more of an 18-hour neighborhood where there’s actually activity in the day and during the evenings. It sends a powerful message that a technology company doing innovative things would choose to locate in Anacostia.”  

Menkiti said it is still early in his project's life cycle to sign retail tenants, but he is targeting a market, a sit-down restaurant, a café and other local retailers. Gautier said multiple small businesses working in Arch Development's incubators have discussed potentially moving into the retail space at MLK Gateway. He said aspiring retail operators in the neighborhood have struggled to find available space to meet their needs. 

"That’s one of the problems in Anacostia, there is really not the sort of retail space currently, although it's being developed for people to expand," Gautier said.  

A rendering of the next building planned at Anacostia's Reunion Square development

Another project going through planning will bring retail and office space to the W Street SE and Shannon Place intersection, one block off on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. The building, slated to include 281K SF of office and 7K SF of retail, would be the fourth of nine planned buildings at Reunion Square, a complex currently occupied by multiple D.C. agencies. 

Curtis and Four Points submitted the plan for the project in March, and they are still going through the Zoning Commission process. The development team has not said if it would break ground speculatively or wait for leases before starting construction. 

A few blocks west on Poplar Point, Redbrick LMD is hoping to lure a major office tenant to its planned five-building Columbian Quarter project. The 2.3M SF development was included in D.C.'s Amazon HQ2 bid and has been in the running for at least two 1M SF-plus federal agencies, but it is currently stalled in court by an appeal. 

Landing a tech giant or major government agency could escalate the pace of Anacostia's development. But even without a big office win, Gautier is still optimistic about the new retail businesses that will come to the projects planned in the neighborhood. 

“They are definitely going to bring in retail space that I believe will be filled by the time they’re built,” Gautier said of the planned developments. “These things are not going to be done until 2021 to 2025, which gives us a lot of time to develop the right retail for them.”