When the housing market collapsed and took the economy with it, the area around the Nationals Park became Example A of how the fallout had affected Washington real estate.
Developers with the land near the ballpark had been promoting their planned condominiums, restaurants and bars with large, flashy banners for baseball fans to ogle as they walked to the game. But few of the projects started, and many of those that did struggled.
Now many of those developers in the area, having held on through the depths of the recession, are dusting off their plans and lining up investors. Their fate could well be a harbinger for how well the region’s real estate community fares in 2012.
A remake of former Navy Yard land by Forest City Washington is leading the resurgence. Called the Yards, the $2 billion project long has promised a mix of retail, housing and offices that would put the area on the map for something other than baseball.
Initial work resumed in August 2010 on Foundry Lofts, a high-end, 170-unit apartment building overlooking the project’s waterfront park. The first residents began moving in during the last week of November, according to Gary McManus, a spokesman for Forest City Washington. He said the apartments are about 50 percent leased, and that the company hopes the building will be fully leased by the spring. A Potbelly Sandwich Shop and Kruba Thai & Sushi restaurant have signed leases and expect to open in the first quarter.
Whether Forest City succeeds in renting out the Foundry Lofts likely will factor into the decision-making process of other developers planning to build apartments in the area. William C. Smith & Co., Akridge and Monument Realty are plotting apartments nearby, but none have begun construction. This could be the year for all three.
Developers also will be watching the horde of restaurants and retail that Forest City has attracted. Work just began on the Boilermaker Shops, another redevelopment project, and six restaurants have agreed to open there — nearly matching what the entire neighborhood currently offers. District Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) announced the lineup in an economic speech he gave on the site: Austin Grill Express, Buzz Bakery, Brb (Be Right Burger), Huey’s 24/7 Diner, Willie’s Brew & ’Que and a brewpub by the District-based Neighborhood Restaurant Group, operators of Vermillion, Churchkey and Rustico.
The Boilermaker Shops should be completed by the end of 2012, and four vacancies in the project still remain.
Two other buildings on the Yards are also on the way. Work is to begin any day on a 220-unit apartment building anchored by a 50,000-square-foot Harris Teeter grocery store and a gym, with completion set for 2013. And Forest City is marketing an office building with ground floor retail which — should the leasing fall into place — could be complete by 2013.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said MacFarlane Partners was involved in the Yards project. It has not been an investor for about two years. Also, the story incorrectly said Potbelly and Kruba Thai & Sushi would open in the second quarter; they are scheduled to open in the first.