CITYSCAPE: THE OTHER RIVER : The Anacostia Waterfront Initiative
Betting Big on Near Southeast
City Planners See Great Promise in a Long-Neglected Neighborhood
By Benjamin Forgey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 15, 2004; Page C01
Fourth in a five-part series
Optimists have said it for decades: The time is coming soon for the Near Southeast. But then, year after year, nothing happened.
Today, however, there is reason to believe. Although it's still pretty much a desolate checkerboard of working warehouses and vacant lots, this important, up-for-grabs segment of the city is changing fast.
For that reason, this large chunk of territory between the Southeast Freeway and the banks of the Anacostia River is a prime focus of the city's ambitious Anacostia Waterfront Initiative.
In a sense, the plan for this district is not about its mostly forgotten waterfront. It is, rather, about urban regeneration, about reviving a river's edge to attract, coordinate and control public and private investment.
Taking in 378 acres, the plan is the biggest urban renewal effort in Washington in more than 30 years, comparable to the gigantic federal plan that reconfigured Southwest Washington from the 1950s through the 1970s.
Actually, if you add nearby Buzzard Point and the western edge of South Capitol Street to the total -- territories technically excluded from the plan but crucial to it -- the Near Southeast effort is the largest in the city's history.
A brief rundown of what planners foresee in the next two decades:
• The area's residential population will increase from 1,850 today to more than 11,000.
• Employment in the district will rise from about 19,000 today, concentrated in or close by the Washington Navy Yard, to more than 96,000.
• Space occupied by retailers and restaurants will go up dramatically, from less than 50,000 square feet to approximately 750,000 square feet, much of it spread throughout the area in mandated ground-floor retail stores.
Fueling these optimistic predictions has been the recent transformation of the 205-year-old Navy Yard from post-World War II backwater to bustling command center. With dozens of new or retrofitted buildings, the yard now hosts a daily workforce of more than 11,000.
Businesses with close ties to the Navy have followed. In the last three years, five large -- if architecturally undistinguished -- office buildings have appeared on once-desolate M Street SE.
Furthermore, after four disappointing decades, the long-planned Southeast Federal Center on former Navy Yard land finally seems ready to come out of the ground. Excavation has begun for a new headquarters of the federal Department of Transportation, a 1.35 million-square-foot, Michael Graves-designed behemoth facing M Street between Second and Fourth streets SE.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company