People flock to live in D.C.'s Capitol Riverfront area despite commercial stall

By Tracey L. Longo
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, March 27, 2010

When fans descend on Nationals Park for the team's home opener against the Philadelphia Phillies on April 5, they'll notice big league changes in the neighborhood surrounding the three-year-old stadium. Commercial development, which had been on a tear before the recession, remains stalled. But residents are streaming in.

Since April, more than 1,700 people have moved into the area, bringing the number of residents to 2,700, according to the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District. Residential properties are more than 85 percent leased or 75 percent sold, on average. (The Onyx on First, a high-rise luxury rental building on First Street SE, is 97 percent leased.)

New townhouses priced in the mid-$600,000s are selling out before they're built, according to developers and BID officials. Condominium and apartment buildings are drawing newcomers, attracted by the proximity to employment sites such as the Transportation Department's new headquarters as much as for baseball.

For Tom and Laurie Park, empty nesters with two kids in college, it was the quest for a better quality of life that led them to buy a one-bedroom in the Velocity condominium when the luxury high-rise opened in October.

Laurie Park works as director of financial management at the Transportation Department, which is only two blocks from their door. They're keeping their house in Fredericksburg, which backs up to picturesque parkland, to use on weekends.

"The cultural life is just better in D.C.," Tom Park said. "It was taking us two to two and a half hours to commute in from Fredericksburg every day. It got worse every year. When the DOT moved its headquarters here to the Navy Yard, we kept our eye on new construction. We visited the model 10 times before we bought.

"I think we do have all the services we need here," Park said. "Our dogs love it. We're looking forward to using the roof deck. It's a nice place to go in the evening with a Scotch and watch the moon come up. And we'll definitely take in a few ballgames."

Baseball fans arriving from the M Street SE side of the stadium may see boarded-up commercial buildings and construction fencing, but Park said he thinks it's only a matter of time before developers' plans materialize.

"This area and its location is just too inviting," he said. "We need more restaurants, but they'll come as the people move in. Full development may be five years away, but we're willing to wait."

Gone are the 23 acres of the old Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg Dwellings housing complex that dominated the area for more than 60 years. New is the new five-acre waterfront Diamond Teague Park directly behind the stadium. The park's piers provide dockage for water taxis that shuttle people from Alexandria, National Harbor and the stadium.

In addition to the Parks' home, the Velocity, which has 14 floors and 200 units, ballpark visitors may also notice the 237 new Capitol Yards rental units, plus the 160 townhouses that have been finished as the first phase of Capitol Quarter, a 322-unit development. Just five blocks south of the Capitol and west of the Barracks Row restaurant district, the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood has 1.5 miles of frontage along the Anacostia River and shares its northern border with Capitol Hill. The neighborhood is served by the Navy Yard and Capitol South Metro stations.

"This is one of our strongest developments. We had people camping out to buy presale," said Brian Allan Jackson, senior vice president of EYA, developer of the Capitol Quarter townhouses.

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