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H Street NE, The Next Hot Spot

Louis Dreyfus Property Group is building a 1.1-million-square-foot, three-building complex that stretches from H Street to F Street along 2nd Street. Two buildings in the complex are to house the new headquarters of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company is looking for a tenant for the third building. The project is scheduled to be completed by late 2007.

"We're big believers in that area," said Robert H. Braunohler, vice president for development with Louis Dreyfus. "It's just a matter of a few years before it really starts to take off."

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)

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Akridge, a District-based real estate development company, has a contract to purchase 15 acres of air rights above the rail yard on both sides of H Street for $10 million. The company proposes building 2 million square feet of space, in a mix that could include offices, stores, housing and a 400-room hotel.

Both Dreyfus's and Akridge's projects will abut the Hopscotch Bridge, which takes H Street over the railroad tracks behind Union Station. The bridge, built in the 1970s primarily to speed the commute from Maryland, gets its name from the mural that adorns it. When it was built, it effectively cut the H Street corridor off from other nearby neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill while greatly increasing high-speed traffic through the area.

"It's not going to feel like that horrible bridge anymore," said Shannon Small, vice president of marketing for Akridge. "With the buildings coming right up to it, the bridge is going to become a connection between the businesses on the west side and residential on the east side."

Braunohler said that, as part of getting D.C. approval for its project, Louis Dreyfus agreed to build a pedestrian walkway from H Street to Union Station through one of its buildings that has an entrance on the bridge.

Several new businesses have recently opened on H Street, including a couple of restaurants, a clothing store and an ice cream shop. The Atlas Theater, which will include two venues, is to open in October, joining the H Street Playhouse, which also recently opened on the street. A new coffee house is also planned.

What H Street merchants say they need, though, is more people to patronize their stores.

The new housing will certainly bring residents. How many people will come to H Street, and how much they will pay to be there, has yet to be tested.

Abdo Development builds top-of-the-line luxury condominiums, units with soaring glass windows, unusual loft spaces, open floor plans and high-end appliances and materials. For all that chic, the company fetches high prices, often pushing the price envelope in neighborhoods where they build. Will buyers pay amounts unheard of for near Northeast to live near H Street, next to the Hopscotch Bridge, even if it is in a meticulously restored historic building?

"I'm confident we can generate prices in the $500-a-square-foot range there," Abdo said. "I have no doubts." At $500 a square foot, a 1,000-square-foot condo would cost $500,000.

Home prices are certainly climbing on the leafy residential streets north of H Street, although they're nowhere near that high.

According to the area's multiple listing service, the average sales price of a home between H Street and Florida Avenue NE was $79,000 in 1999. By 2003, it had jumped to $226,000. Although residents do express some concern that expensive new development in the neighborhood could lead to displacement of long-time residents, most say it's not a huge factor for their neighborhood.

"I wonder sometimes if the same people that were here for the rough times will be able to stay for the good times," said resident and business owner Saleem, who grew up in a rowhouse just off H Street. "Folks who have lived here a long time mostly own their homes, though. So they have the option of staying, or selling for a lot of money and moving somewhere else."

The residential area north of H Street is mostly a patchwork of small tree-lined streets with modest rowhouses. "A renovated two-bedroom rowhouse recently sold for over $300,000 there," said Don Denton, manager of the Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Pardoe office on Capitol Hill. "We're shocked, but that's the way it is. There's been a sea change in mentality. Everyone is showing that area now. And we're seeing very little buyer resistance. Four to five years ago, that wasn't the case."

Denton said recent home buyers have been mostly young professionals who want to live in the city but have been priced out of Capitol Hill and other neighborhoods. "They're willing to sacrifice something in terms of neighborhoods in the short run to avoid that 1 1/2-hour commute every day," he said.

Chris Macks and his girlfriend Jennifer Char are two such recent buyers. The couple has a contract to buy a two-bedroom, one-bath rowhouse on I Street NE for $269,000.

"We didn't start out looking there," Macks said. "We wanted to live on Capitol Hill. But the only things we could afford there were absolute shells."

He said, "I can't honestly say I'll be strolling around the neighborhood at night. But I am going to get involved in the community. We're actually more excited to be part of an emerging area than an area that's completely gentrified."

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