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With MLB All-Star Game, D.C.'s Fastest-Developing Neighborhood Gets A National Spotlight

Tens of thousands of baseball fans will descend upon D.C.'s Capitol Riverfront neighborhood this weekend ahead of Tuesday's Major League Baseball All-Star Game, and millions more will watch on television as the national spotlight shines on the fastest-growing neighborhood in D.C.

Fans at Nationals Park can see several nearby cranes in the sky as the neighborhood rapidly develops.

Developers and stakeholders in the neighborhood see the All-Star Game as an opportunity to showcase the rapid transformation the area has experienced over the last decade, to bring an influx of people to existing businesses and to potentially attract future residential, retail and office tenants. 

"From almost the minute my family was awarded ownership of the team, we lobbied for the chance to host the All-Star Game," Nationals Managing Principal Owner Mark Lerner said in written responses to Bisnow. "Now that it's here, it's even better than we imagined." 

Once a largely industrial area along the Anacostia River next to the Washington Navy Yard federal facility, the southeast D.C. neighborhood known as Capitol Riverfront has seen a monumental shift over the last decade. Starting with the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2007 move to a 1.35M SF facility on New Jersey Avenue SE and the 2008 opening of Nationals Park, the neighborhood has had projects bring thousands of multifamily units and millions of square feet of office space to the neighborhood, and it is still barely halfway done developing. 

"The ballpark was the spark, along with the Department of Transportation headquarters, that really put a spotlight on the neighborhood and all that it has to offer," said Lerner, also a principal of real estate development company Lerner Enterprises. "In addition, I think the ballpark is what made this a true neighborhood where people want to live and dine, not just a business district." 

Capitol Riverfront had 6,200 residential units at the end of 2017, with another 3,400 under construction and 2,000 more expected to break ground this year, according to the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District's 2017 annual report. That multifamily boom is expected to grow its population from 8,100 to 14,500 by 2020. It currently has 6.2M SF of office space and will add another 1M SF by 2020, and its 400K SF of retail space is expected to more than double by 2020. That growth could be even greater if Amazon chooses D.C.'s Anacostia Riverfront submission, much of which is concentrated in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood, for its second headquarters. 

The fountain at Yards Park in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood

A large portion of that residential and retail growth has come at The Yards, Forest City's 42-acre development to the east of the ballpark. The development features three multifamily buildings with two more under construction, several popular restaurants, plus Bluejacket Brewery and District Winery. Future phases will add 1,200 residential units, 1.5M SF of office, a 225-room hotel and 150K SF of retail to the site over the next 11 years. 

The Yards is hosting public events through Tuesday's All-Star Game aimed at giving the community and visitors free festivities to enjoy around the Midsummer Classic. Yards Park, a 5-acre public space along the waterfront, held a showing Thursday night of baseball film "A League of Their Own" and is hosting a concert Friday night. The park Saturday and Sunday will host All-Star Summer River Fest, featuring live music, pop-up bars, food vendors, baseball-themed activities and other games, plus a showing of "The Sandlot" Sunday evening. Also on Saturday, a 5K Color Run will begin in Yards Park. Then on Monday and Tuesday it will host viewing parties of the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game. 

Parcel A at The Yards, a large vacant site for future development at First and M streets SE, has been transformed for the week into MLB's Play Ball Park. The 56K SF area will feature a miniature baseball field for kids and other activities hosted by MLB, the Nationals, USA Baseball and USA Softball. Tickets to the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby cost hundreds of dollars, but there is a free Armed Services Classic softball tournament in the ballpark Friday night. 

With the high ticket price for the main events, Forest City Washington President Deborah Ratner Salzberg said she wanted to make sure there were free events available all week for the public to enjoy the atmosphere around the park. In addition to creating a vibrant All-Star Week experience, she thinks the festivities could draw more people to live in the neighborhood and lease Forest City's apartments. 

"We want to make sure people who haven't been here before have the opportunity to experience it," Ratner Salzberg said. "We find that once people discover our little oasis they keep coming back ... it will bring more people here and we'll have more leads when we open our two new buildings. We're excited about the exposure." 

The Half Street corridor, largely under construction, leading up to Nationals Park

While enough development has taken place east of the ballpark at The Yards to show off to visitors, much of the Half Street corridor leading from the Metro station to Nats Park from the north remains under construction. Development has been planned on the corridor since the stadium opened a decade ago, but scarce availability of financing following the recession forced Monument Realty to sell the sites and their timelines were delayed. 

Now, Jair Lynch's 1250 mixed-use project is under construction on the east side of Half Street, and JBG Smith's West Half is being built opposite it. Construction will be halted during All-Star week. The road was repaved and the fences around the sites will be hung with renderings showing visitors what is to come. 

One block west, JBG recently delivered 1221 Van, an apartment building with rooftop views into Nationals Park and ground-floor retail where restaurant and bar Mission is opening in time for the All-Star Game. When completed, Half Street is planned to have bars and restaurants spilling out onto the woonerf-style street before games, but All-Star Game attendees will just have to look at the displayed renderings. 

A rendering of the Half Street retail corridor, which is still under construction.

"I’m just a little disappointed that we didn’t get the whole Half Street development on the east and west side a little further along so we could have showcased that festival street," Akridge Chairman Chip Akridge said. "It's going to be a fabulous street, a European-style pedestrian street with no curbs or gutters and overhead lights and plantings and outdoor seating. I think it’ll be the best block in Washington." 

Akridge owns the Half Street parcel occupied by The Bullpen, a large outdoor venue with beer, food vendors and live music across from the Metro station that fills up with fans before baseball games. The venue will close after Akridge signs an office tenant to kick-start its planned development on the site. He said they are close to a deal, but said he plans to reopen The Bullpen less than a mile away on Akridge's development site next to Audi Field

Capitol Riverfront BID President Michael Stevens said he thinks visitors will be impressed by the amount of development occurring and if they are intrigued by the renderings, could come visit again to see it once Half Street is finished.

“When people come down and they get off the Metro, people are going to say ‘what happened here on Half Street?' There’s a lot of construction,” Stevens said. “The construction wraps will showcase individual projects and other amenities and say ‘here’s what’s coming to the ballpark.’ We think it builds excitement.”  

MRP Realty principal John Begert said the crowds could be challenging for residents of MRP's Dock 79 project, just south of Nationals Park, but he said many of them live there because of the atmosphere the ballpark creates. The scores of visitors will also create a boost for the development's retail tenants, Begert said, and could help generate interest for the project's 264-unit second phase, which is under construction. 

“It will be awesome,” Begert said. “People that are not baseball people will come and see it and will realize what we all realize, which is that the area down there is a very cool, unique spot with a lot of upside.”