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MLB's Delayed Opening Day Could Give Half Street A Proper Debut

The Washington Nationals were scheduled to host their first home game since winning the World Series on Thursday, and the new retailers on Half Street were supposed to make their long-awaited debut around the season opener.

With the world in crisis, neither of those milestones occurred. But for the developers right by the ballpark, the rain check might have a silver lining.

The Half Street corridor leading up to Nationals Park, photographed Wednesday.

Half Street, the corridor thousands of fans use to enter Nationals Park from the north, was lined with construction projects during the 2018 All-Star Game and during last year's World Series run. Now, as the baseball season has been delayed because of the coronavirus, the street remains under construction. 

The developers of the mixed-use projects on both sides of the street, JBG Smith and Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners, have signed a roster of retail tenants that are preparing to open. On the west side of the street, JBG Smith signed bakery and restaurant Gatsby, craft brewery and taproom Atlas Brew Works, Union Kitchen Grocery, ramen shop Basebowl, HipCityVeg, Coldstone and Compass Coffee. Jair Lynch on the opposite side inked a 24K SF deal with Punch Bowl Social, an experiential restaurant concept with bowling and other games.

The street itself is planned as a curbless, pedestrian-friendly walkway up to the park. The developers had once aimed to have the street ready by the time Nationals Park hosted the All-Star Game in July 2018.  Delays forced them to miss that mark, and last year developers said the street would be ready by this year's Nationals home opener on April 2.

As of Wednesday, when Bisnow visited the neighborhood, the street remained under construction and none of the retailers were ready to open, if they were legally allowed to. D.C. joined Maryland and Virginia Monday in ordering residents to stay at home and nonessential businesses — including bars and bowling alleys — to close.

The openings have been complicated not only by construction delays, but by the District limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery service to help stem the spread of the coronavirus. The developers didn't respond to requests for comment on the status of the retailers. 

Retailers in JBG Smith's building on the west side of the Half Street walkway, especially Atlas Brew Works, appear closer to opening than Punch Bowl Social.

Because construction of the retail corridor hasn't been completed by the scheduled opening day, the season's delay could allow the street to be ready by the time baseball is actually played, a minor bright spot in an otherwise unfortunate situation, Capitol Riverfront BID President Michael Stevens said.

"Half Street had been delayed for a number of years for a number of reasons and to see it so close, it’s disappointing," Stevens said. "But everyone will get over this disappointment, and this may give them time from a construction standpoint to make the street as ready as possible in a much more complete state than it would have been Thursday. I guess the silver lining is, maybe when things are ready to come back to normal and baseball is played again, that streets are better than ever."

The Atlas Brew Works location on Half Street.

The possibility of the retail-lined street being fully open for the next home game depends on when baseball is finally able to resume, and on how close the retailers are to opening. 

Atlas Brew Works, an Ivy City brewery opening its second location, received its certificate of occupancy March 20 for the Half Street space, building permits show. The brewery's Ivy City location remains operating for pickup and delivery, but it has not announced plans for the Half Street opening. 

An Atlas spokesperson, in an email to Bisnow, said the company is exploring opportunities for delivery at the Half Street location and should have an update in the coming days. 

None of the other retailers in the Half Street projects appear to have received certificates of occupancy, according to a review of building permits. The other retail storefronts in JBG Smith's building appear mostly completed, with doors installed and signs lining the windows, some of which say "coming soon" or "Spring 2020."

The corner of Jair Lynch's Half Street project, where Punch Bowl Social plans to open.

Punch Bowl Social, the lone tenant announced on the east side of the corridor, appears to have more construction left to finish than the retailers on the opposite side of the street. The company's website says the D.C. location is "coming soon," but Punch Bowl Social, like many retailers today, is going through a challenging period. 

The brand's majority owner, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc., last week closed all 19 Punch Bowl Social locations, laid off most of its staff and said it is keeping its focus during the pandemic on its core business: its 664 Cracker Barrel restaurants, MarketWatch reported

KLNB principal Stephen Combs, a broker who represented the developer in the Half Street lease, said the last he heard from Punch Bowl Social, it had not changed its plans to open in the space. But he expected it would be delayed beyond the previous opening target of this spring. 

"It's a crazy time," Combs said. "Anything can happen."