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‘No Man’s Land’: Non-Waterfront Southwest D.C. Projects Look To Fill Retail Gaps

The Wharf has brought a host of new restaurants and retailers to the waterfront, but developers of other Southwest D.C. projects that don't sit on the water say they have retail gaps they have been working to fill.

CoStar Group's Nick Mills, Mill Creek Residential's Josh Posnick, Republic Properties' Holly Hull, DCHFA's Christopher Donald and Telesis Corp.'s Marilyn Melkonian.

Mill Creek Residential completed its 276-unit Modern on M building at 1100 Sixth St. SW more than a year ago, but its 3,900 SF of ground-floor retail space has remained vacant. Mill Creek Managing Director Josh Posnick, speaking Wednesday at Bisnow's Southwest D.C. Surge event at Arena Stage, said the developer has taken its time to find the right type of tenant for the space.

"One challenge we had with our project is we had this retail piece at the corner of Sixth and M that we want to be really thoughtful about to create connections," Posnick said. "You come down M Street and it's pretty barren, you get toward our corner and it's still barren. We've got nothing in our storefront. Until you actually get down to The Wharf, you're still in what most would call kind of a no man's land."

Posnick said Mill Creek is nearing completion on a deal that would activate the building's retail. He said it is working with a small group of Southwest residents who created a nonprofit group and raised funds to open a community center in the space.

"They'll be activating that corner with community space, think coffee, small dining, cultural events, art events and things that will actually activate the community as opposed to just yet another yoga studio or restaurant," Posnick said. 

CoStar Group's Nick Mills, HYL Architecture's Whitney Loke, Savills' Scott Hoffman, WMATA's Nina Albert and the GSA's Dan Mathews.

As WMATA plans to move its headquarters from Chinatown to a redeveloped L'Enfant Plaza office building at 300 Seventh St. SW, the transit agency has surveyed its employees about what they want to see at their new office. The No. 1 response, WMATA Vice President of Real Estate Nina Albert said, was nearby retail. 

"In Southwest, the particular block we're on is a little bit of a dead zone right now," Albert said.

Albert said WMATA is devoting 10K SF of ground-floor space to retail, which she says will likely include a coffee shop and other convenience-oriented uses. She hopes to find a retail tenant to lease the space, but if that isn't possible, she said WMATA will have to get creative. 

"Because we're an owner-occupant, if there isn't a retail tenant that wants to be there, we will figure out how to activate that ground level and provide more services to our employees," Albert said. 

The new WMATA headquarters will be about a half-mile from The Wharf, a distance Albert said is slightly beyond the reach of employees who want to walk to lunch or visit its other retail businesses during the day. She said this is a difficulty many building owners in Southwest face. 

"That is the challenge of the day, which is how do we knit the fabric of this neighborhood so that it is walkable," Albert said. "I think all of us are probably looking at microcosms like, 'Here is my block, how do I make this happen?' But ultimately what it wants to become is a much more integrated, seamless set of experiences."

Southwest BID's Steve Moore and Hoffman & Associates' Mark Dorigan.

Hoffman & Associates CEO Mark Dorigan, one of the developers spearheading The Wharf, said the project has exceeded the company's expectations. In addition to the daily amenities it provides for the neighborhoods, he said it gives Southwest the capacity to host major events that draw large crowds.

Last year, Dorigan said The Wharf hosted 70 outdoor events that brought over 250,000 people to the waterfront. He also said The Anthem has sold over 400,000 tickets for more than 130 events. 

He said this was possible because of the critical mass the developer delivered with Phase 1 of the project. Phase 2, which broke ground last year, is expected to deliver another 1.2M SF of mixed-use development in 2022. 

"It has been, we believe, accretive to the entire community and has created some additional development opportunities for others," Dorigan said.

Southwest BID's Steve Moore and D.C. Council Member Charles Allen.

D.C. Council Member Charles Allen, whose Ward 6 constituency includes Southwest D.C., said The Wharf has been an important addition to the area. 

"From a community perspective, one of the things I always think about is that The Wharf is additive," Allen said. "A big development like this is creating new housing. It’s creating new jobs. It’s creating new opportunity. It’s helping activate a space. One of the things I love the most is that it helps bring people back to our water."