His firm beat out Bethesda-based Clark Realty for the Children's Museum site. Clark, like other large developers, has also been looking in the area for development opportunities.
"The city is running out of affordable sites," said John Sunter, development executive with Clark Realty. "Price points have gone so high as to make them difficult to develop." Sunter said there has been competition from developers on several sites in the H Street area.
Roy Wellman looks over the produce at a new Saturday morning farmers' market set up at 6th and H streets NE.
(Hans Ericsson For The Washington Post)
Clark now has a contract to buy a five-acre site at the opposite end of the H Street corridor from the Children's Museum, at the site of the long-gone Sears, Roebuck building across from the Hechinger Mall at Maryland and Bladensburg avenues NE. The company hopes to build 230 rental apartments and 50 for-sale townhouses there by late 2006.
"We were very happy to find a site that large," Sunter said. "To have something this big as close to the Capitol as this, is quite rare." Sunter declined to disclose what his company has agreed to pay, but said prices in the H Street area were more affordable than in other more fashionable parts of the city.
One of the main draws of the area is that it is close to Union Station and the U.S. Capitol complex -- transportation, entertainment and employment centers for the District.
From his building, Abdo said, "It's a 7 1/2-minute walk to Union Station. And no other hub of transportation compares to Union Station in the District. Housing here makes a lot of sense." In addition, there will soon be a new Metro station within walking distance, at New York and Florida avenues NE.
Residents and businesses close to H Street say they welcome the housing plans.
"The museum project will be the shot in the arm that the neighborhood needs to really get going," said Charles Docter, chairman of the planning and zoning committee of the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission. "Everyone is delighted to see the museum property finally realize its potential. It's a sign that the rest of the neighborhood is going to be revitalized."
Anwar Saleem, owner of a beauty salon on H Street and a lifelong resident of the area, said: "People are welcoming this. We need people down here to shop in our stores."
Abdo Development will be asking D.C. officials for a higher level of density to compensate for the difficulties and costs involved in preserving two historic structures that together are some 90,000 square feet in size.
The company will present its plan to D.C. and community officials in a series of meetings over the coming months. D.C. officials said one of the amenities the District may ask for in return is an affordable housing component for the project.
"As long as it's for housing, you bet I'm in favor of higher density," said Docter, who for years has been a vocal advocate of new housing downtown.
In addition to housing, huge office buildings are planned or being built for the corridor. These projects have been in the works since before the District's plan for H Street was unveiled last year. And while neighbors may welcome housing, they're wary about office construction.
"In the past, offices have usually meant that people are lost to the District at night," Docter said.