It’s not often that a city gets to create an entirely new neighborhood almost from scratch, but that's what's been happening in Washington's Near Southeast area for nearly 10 years. With the demolition of more than 160 buildings and the arrival of Nationals Park , this area by the Washington Navy Yard, one mile south of the U.S. Capitol, seemed prime to explode after developers swooped in to buy up the land once occupied by public housing, strip clubs, asphalt plants and auto repair garages.
For most of that time, I've been keeping tabs on the neighborhood's news, with camera in hand, for my Web site, JDLand.com. I watched as the bursting of the real estate bubble hit the area hard, with most of the developments expected within a year or two of the ballpark’s 2008 opening going into a holding pattern.
A few projects were completed during the recession. But evaluations of the neighborhood's progress in becoming what land owners and city officials envision are still tied to the two mostly empty blocks between Nationals Park and the Navy Yard Metro station.
While there's been no movement on those high-visibility lots, the rest of Near Southeast has been getting a lot of good news in recent months, thanks to a number of high-profile and long-desired projects. Here's a rundown of the additions that residents, office workers and Nationals fans are most excited about:
* In late November, the first residents moved into the 160-unit Foundry Lofts apartment building at Third and Tingey streets SE. This project at The Yards spiffed up the former Navy Yard World War I-era Pattern Joiner Shop building, added two floors on top and now offers honest-to-goodness industrial loft-type spaces, along with lots of other amenities. (See photos from a pre-opening tour and more information and before-and-after photos.)
* Work is entering the home stretch on Canal Park, the neighborhood's third new park and its most centrally located, on three narrow blocks between I and M along Second Street SE, where the old Washington Canal used to flow. When it opens this summer, it will have interactive water fountains, sculptures that the kiddies can play on without being shooed away, and open lawns where outdoor events like movie nights and concerts will be held. And, come winter, there will be an ice rink. (See more information and "before" photos.)
* Speaking of parks, in late November the city cut the ribbon on a 627-foot-long bridge along the Anacostia River shoreline connecting the Yards Park with Diamond Teague Park, which sits just across Potomac Avenue from Nationals Park. The next time you go to a ballgame, be sure to build in some time to walk the bridge, especially if you haven't yet ventured to the highly regarded Yards Park.
* It's not usually news when a lot is cleared with no immediate plans for construction, but fans and baseball writers cheered when the six-acre Florida Rock concrete plant site directly across the street from the ballpark was recently dismantled. A residential building is expected to begin construction in 2013 as the first phase of this site's long-planned redevelopment.
* Developer William C. Smith last week announced to start construction this summer on the Park Chelsea, a 433-unit apartment building just south of the Southeast Freeway at 880 New Jersey Ave. SE.
That's a lot of new residential and recreational offerings, but what about food? Dining options--or, more accurately, the lack thereof--have been a sore point in Near Southeast for years. (Because, honestly, you can only eat at Subway and Five Guys so often, at least until your doctor intervenes.) Folks really, really (really!) want more choices, and in 2012 they're going to get plenty:
* The showiest new arrival won't open until late in the year, but the Boilermaker Shops, with its unique ultra-industrial space and six confirmed eateries should be an immediate hit. This 1919 Navy Yard building at Third and Tingey, just north of the Foundry Lofts, will be home to a new brewery from the Churchkey/Birch and Barley team, plus Austin Grill Express, BRB ("be right burger"), Huey's 24-7 Diner, Buzz Bakery and sports bar Willie's Brew and 'Que. The building is getting its new windows, making for some pretty cool construction-progress views.
* For hungry people who can't wait that long, Potbelly Sandwich Works and Kubra Thai and Sushi are both scheduled to open in the ground floor of the Foundry Lofts this spring.
* Canal Park Tavern, by Capitol Hill restaurant magnate Xavier Cervera, will open this summer in the new park's pavilion space near M Street, with a menu still to be announced.
* Looking a little further down the road, The Yards will also be home to the neighborhood's first grocery store when 1212 Fourth Street opens in about two years. Harris Teeter is signed to occupy much of the ground floor of a new, 220-unit apartment building at Fourth and M streets SE, where construction is just getting underway.
* In the meantime, caffeine-addicted residents have already gotten their lattes and cups of joe: Lot 38 Espresso, an Illy coffee bar and sandwich shop, opened just before Christmas at Second and L streets SE, across the street from the future Canal Park. (See how the corner has changed in nine years.)
As for those empty lots just north of Nationals Park that are still likely to remain the neighborhood's Progress Barometers: Like in baseball, hope springs eternal. Developers Monument Realty and Akridge have plans for considerable residential, retail and office space, but no start dates have been announced. Yet.
Neighborhood guide: Navy Yard.
Neighborhood guide: Capitol Hill
Neighborhood guide: Southwest Waterfront
Jacqueline Dupree, by day the newsroom intranet editor at The Washington Post, has been tracking and photographing the changes in Near Southeast Washington at JDLand.com since January 2003.