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Recession Leaves Southwest Revitalization Projects in Limbo Kick-Start Provided by Temporary Businesses

Shantella Y. Sherman | 7/30/2009, 6:01 a.m.

Two years ago, the District€s Southwest Waterfront was slated for several revitalization projects, anchored by the construction of the new Washington National€s baseball stadium and improvements to the Waterside Mall shopping center on 4th and M Streets. Caught in the midst of a recession and the loss of major investors, the once tranquil corridor now resembles a wasteland full of empty lots and partially constructed buildings.

Among the more obvious signs of economic slowdown are the properties that line M Street along the Navy Yard corridor. At least two of those properties, 100 M Street and 1015 Half Street, both owned by Opus East, sit in limbo due to the company€s liquidation. Based in Rockville, Md., Opus East filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Wed., July 1. In bankruptcy documents obtained by the Washington Informer, Opus Corporation, the parent company, outlined its plans to file Chapter 11 for reorganization purposes.
Opus claims that the deal with the potential buyer of the 100 M Street building, Mayfield Entry Realty Advisors, didn€t go through, leaving the 410,000-square-foot office building empty.

Maurice Clark, a 35-year resident of Southwest, said that the initial investment in the neighborhood occurred too rapidly to create genuine growth. He said that the bottom was bound to fall out, but hopes it won€t be at the expense of residents.

€It is an eyesore for sure when you see the expanse of the stadium and then look around it and there are all of these empty lots,€ Clark, 57, said.

€On the one hand, I don€t want just anything popping up to take the place of the elaborate things we were sold on to revitalize the neighborhood, but on the other, I don€t need my property value to plummet as we wait for new investors to become interested.€

Southwest ANC 6D Commissioner Bob Siegel told the community newspaper, The Southwester, that the rapid growth concerned him much earlier on because it consisted of €the construction of buildings with no tenants, which creates a glut and slows down development in the neighborhood.€

Given that developers envisioned several projects for the Southwest Waterfront-Navy Yard extension from 12th and M Streets Southeast to the Benjamin Banneker Overlook and the Maine Avenue Seafood Wharf, the disinterest in the area freezes almost $1.5 billion in development.

Fortunately for investors and residents alike, several temporary businesses have been approved for the area. At the top of the development list is the former H20 restaurant, located at 800 Water Street. The restaurant lost its liquor license following a series of altercations and a deadly shooting that occurred in front of the restaurant and bar in May 2007. The restaurant will re-open under its previous name, Hogates. Residents said they hoped that the name recognition alone would draw patrons to the area.

€The recession has made this entire area look like an unfinished movie set; cranes in one block, empty lots in the next. Hopefully, a restaurant with a proven track record and a 65-year-old reputation as a good, family-oriented place to dine, will help us out a bit,€ Francine Olivet, 61, said.

Olivet, a retired early education teacher, said that she hopes the new owner, a former H20 employee, Kristina Noell, will consider the community and its longstanding residents, rather than how best to make money -- creating a win-win situation for everyone. Olivet said the three existing Water Street properties, that include Pier 7, Zanzibar and Phillips Seafood, all have liquor licenses and create a rowdy nightclub atmosphere that lasts into the wee hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings.

€We don€t want anymore of that; enough really is enough,€ Olivet said.

The city took over the property in 2007 after its former owner, National Capital Revitalization Corporation dissolved. Noell reportedly contacted the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development in October 2008 about opening a new business in its place. And, while Noell has been granted a liquor license, she assures concerned residents that the new establishment will have a €Busboys & Poets-like feel€ without the books. She also promised to bring back Hogates€ famous rum buns.