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Developer Q&A: Duane Gautier Of Arch Development Corp

ARCH Development Corp CEO Duane Guatier, got his first taste of life in Anacostia in 1961 when he worked as an intern in DC. A resident of the "thriving small business community," Duane felt a deep connection with the neighborhood and would ultimately play a significant role in spurring its rebuild.

Bisnow caught up with Duane to discuss Anacostia's budding rebirth and the role that ARCH has played in jumpstarting the process.

ARCH Development's Duane Gautier

Bisnow: Can you describe what led to Anacostia's downturn?

Duane: I remember when Anacostia was a thriving small business community in the early '60s. It was generally a working class community with some middle class residents as well. However, the riots taking place during that time in Washington, DC, would have an impact. Although they did not actually occur in Anacostia, the riots were followed by groups moving out and low-income housing being dumped in the neighborhood. By the '70s, Anacostia was devastated. 

Bisnow: What has ARCH done to help reverse Anacostia's fortunes?

Duane: In 2005, we decided that we needed to foster some economic development in Anacostia. In the early 2000s there were a lot of vacant storefronts.

In 2012, ARCH ran a festival called LUMEN8ANACOSTIA. It was aimed at uniting artists, creative organizations, local merchants and community members in an all-night festival of art light and art. We brought 3,500 people to Anacostia for an event. We featured pop-up stores in vacant storefronts. There was no drugs, there was nothing like that. In fact, afterwards the police said we had done a great job.

When we ran the festival again about 13 months later, we couldn't really have any pop-up stores. Of the original eight vacant storefronts used in the first festival, only two were still vacant. Landlords started to realize that yes, people will come to Anacostia if there is something to come to. The festival helped with that.

We weren't the cause of the change. I think we were the catalyst. There were other happenings such as rents in other parts of the area becoming very expensive that played a role.

Bisnow: Tell us about the successful HIVE incubators

Duane: We started The HIVE and we had enough space for about 10 members and I thought it would take about five months to fill it. It took about six weeks. Now we're up to about 53, 54 members and that's why we've expanded to the HIVE 2.0. The average time between someone leaving The HIVE and someone taking their spot is about three-four days.

Bisnow: Another one of your undertakings is the Anacostia Arts Center. Has that been a success?

Duane: At the Arts Center we had more than 25k people attend or take part in activities last year. That's not an estimate. That's a stat. 

Bisnow: What's in ARCH's future? Will you be getting in on the recent development boom and perhaps launching a large project?

Duane: We actually believe that the large projects should be done by the private sector. You have Busboys & Poets that is opening up a 10k SF facility. You also have the Anacostia Gateway project the government put out. What's happening now is you're seeing large developers coming in. You have to remember that this is a historic area.

We want to make sure that the small businesses that have stuck it out all of these years can remain in Anacostia. We do have one small project that is currently in the works. We own a building at 2208 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. It is near the Metro and it was 2,400 SF.

We will expand it by 5,000 SF by the end of September. Retail will be on the first floor and office space on the second floor. The façade stays historic but the inside will be more modern. 

Bisnow: What is your vision for Anacostia's future?

Duane: We want to keep what Anacostia was. It was an inner-city neighborhood where there was a mixture of stores that the residents wanted. We'd love to see more office space being built and some not-low-income housing. We want to see more disposable income coming into the neighborhood but we want everything to be on a smaller scale. There's no reason to build a 10-story building. It has to fit into the character that Anacostia has had.