The waterfront is almost always quiet in part because it’s an isolated stretch, cut off to the north by Interstate 395, to the west by the Washington Channel, and to the south by Fort McNair and the ominous-sounding Buzzard Point.
Southwest has long tried to get the rest of Washington to notice it for the right reasons. In the 1950s, city planners evicted nearly all of the quadrant’s residents and leveled most buildings, hoping to stop the steady stream of photographs that showed Southwest’s shantytowns.
In the years that followed, there were ineffective attempts to revitalize the area. Now developers are trying again, and this time, they say, they can do it right.
But what that means for some of the residents and longtime businesses is unclear. With billions of dollars pouring in, some fear that the change could leave them behind.
Last year, a shiny new Safeway replaced a forlorn version on Fourth Street. It was part of an $800 million development that also included the arrival of a Starbucks. The first sit-down restaurant the neighborhood has seen in years has also been built. Nearby, a glittering new home for Arena Stage opened along Maine Avenue.
Next year, a massive redevelopment is scheduled to begin on the waterfront.
District-based developers PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette have grand plans for $1.5 billion worth of apartments, cafes, restaurants, a cultural center and a square.
“Our plan is not at all like what happened 50 years ago,” said PN Hoffman head Monty Hoffman, who is careful with every word he chooses. “We want to add to the community, not take away.”
‘There’s money here’
Anyone who has been in Washington long enough knows Southwest’s beloved institution by its smell and the shouts of leathery fish handlers taking orders and flinging crabs.
The Maine Avenue fish market, a group of family-owned barges, has long been selling fish around a parking lot at the end of the wharf. A stall named Jessie Taylor has been selling seafood since the 1930s, others since 1856.
Chelton Evans, the 67-year-old president of the fish market, said that in the 1960s, his father and uncle would pick up fish from Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay, bring it back on a boat named Jessie Taylor and sell it. Now, most of it is trucked in.
Evans doesn’t own the pier attached to the fish market. He leases it, and it’s part of the redevelopment plans PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette have for Southwest. Hoffman said they will modernize the market but won’t alter it “too much.”
“Let’s put it this way: We won’t start selling T-shirts,” Hoffman said.
But the market Hoffman envisions sounds very different from what it is today, with a plan to sell local cheeses, clam chowder, honey and wine. Someday, the market may even include a beer garden and a sit-down cafe.