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Identity and History Hang On Tight In Shaw & Mt. Vernon Triangle

Shaw and Mt. Vernon Triangle may be some of the few DC-area markets where developers are taking great pains to make sure new projects look fresh but don’t overtake the neighborhood’s history and edgy identity. We heard how it’s being done yesterday morning at the historic Howard Theatre.


Smaller projects make up the DNA of neighborhoods, which is good for Shaw since it’s quickly running out of big parcels, Roadside Development founding partner Richard Lake explained to a crowd of about 200. Developers in Shaw understand the history of the neighborhood and the grit that residents have created, and they’re taking historic buildings and converting them and expanding them—a different trend than other neighborhoods where developers may start from scratch

“If you force developers to work with changing times, they can develop wonderful things,” he says. His concern is being able to maintain the identity and affordability of Shaw.


Some of Shaw’s identity has come from its mix of retailers. JBG Cos’ Atlantic Plumbing project, which includes 708 upscale apartments and condos and 19k SF of retail space, has 31 retailers—two-thirds of them unique mom-and-pops and regional chains, says JBG SVP Bryan Moll (holding the mic).

The company tried to find the best up-and-coming retail tenants that weren’t in shopping malls, and luckily they all wanted to be near each other. When a certain large coffee chain wanted space at the site, the company turned them down. 

The coffee chain "wasn’t the curated retail that we planned for that corner at 9th and U. Placing it at that marquee would change the feel of the area,” Bryan says.

MRP Residential principal Matt Robinson, whose company is in the early stages of developing residential and retail at 965 Florida Ave, says the more unique retail has slowly moved eastward, and the most recent “nail in the coffin” is the new (more upscale) La-Z-Boy Furniture store in Logan Circle.


But identity wasn’t always there. In fact, some people didn’t even know what to call the neighborhood. (Moseley Construction president Johnny Moseley, a panel moderator, tells us Shaw is named after a Civil War colonel.)

JBG SVP James Nozar (above) says the company created a quarterly newsletter called “D/City” in 2008 when it started working on the Atlantic Plumbing site to create a neighborhood identity. The publication, which has an Instagram following of 10,000 people, helps market neighborhood events and businesses.

JBG will break ground on a third parcel at the Atlantic Plumbing site in Q1, bringing two multifamily buildings with another 25k SF of retail. 


Not only is Shaw attracting unique retailers, but it’s also attracting unique designShalom Baranes Associates principal Robert Sponseller (holding the mic) says traditional design and contemporary design can be compatible. But it’s taken DC a long time to really embrace contemporary design. Now there’s an awakening for it, as long as it’s high quality. Ditto Residential president Martin Ditto, whose firm is delivering five Shaw projects in the next few months, says he’s worked hard to educate the community on good, modern design and how it can work well with the traditional design of Shaw’s historic buildings.



Our second panel tackled Mt. Vernon Triangle, a friendly neighbor to Shaw. One of its pioneers is Wilkes Co president Berkeley Shervin, who bought its first property in the triangle in the early '80s. The neighborhood was edgy, with lots of surface parking lots, pawn shops and lawyers needing to be close to the courts. He knew it was ripe for revitalization. 

The company started conversations with the Williams Administration in the early 2000s about Mt. Vernon Triangle’s opportunistic location. It just so happened the city was working on getting residents to come back to the city after they had left for the ‘burbs. Zoning regs to add residential were put in place before office regs, and the city invested $8M in streetscape features.

The Mt. Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District (similar to a Business Improvement District, but with residents) was also launched. Claire Schaefer Oleksiak (left) has been president of the CID since 2013, but announced this week she’s stepping down.


Since Wilkes started developing in Mt. Vernon Triangle, the market has successfully added residential and several office tenants. One of them is the DC Bar. After looking at 40 properties, the organization, currently on K Street, chose to buy a site at 901 4th St NW. It’s only 10 blocks from its current HQ, but Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner and DC Bar board member Stephen Glover (holding the mic) says the staff is excited about the completely different dynamic of the neighborhood. 

Boston Properties VP Pete Otteni (right) also added to the legal community in Mt. Vernon Triangle by bringing Arnold & Porter to 601 Massachusetts Ave. He says the firm wanted a vibrant location where it could attract and retain the best people.

His firm is also working on 1001 6th St NW, a 500k SF office building that includes 29k SF of retailPete says because of the building’s large floor plates, it can accommodate traditional office users that want closed offices, as well as companies that want open floors. Much like residential, the amenities in and out of the building have to be appealing to tenants. Boston designed a special bike room and fitness center for the building, as well as a lobby and 30k SF rooftop deck where people can work. 


Much like Shaw, Mt. Vernon Triangle is also attracting unique retailers, which has been the mission of Streetsence retail strategist Andrew Poncher, who also lives in the neighborhood. He helped lure A Baked Joint, which has a loyal following and lines out the door of its Georgetown store, Baked and Wired. It’s a similar phenomenon in the Triangle, but it also helps further solidify the neighborhood’s identity when people can walk into a business and see the owners waiting on customers. “We get calls from national groups, but we’re really focused on creating emotional connections,” says Andrew. 

Click here for a rundown of projects in Shaw and Mt. Vernon Triangle.