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Where We Live: NoMa, in Northeast Washington, D.C.

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By Amy Reinink
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, July 10, 2010

Khalil Ghannam moved his home and founded his business in NoMa two years ago based on hope for what the neighborhood could become.

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Plans for the old railroad yard and warehouse district north of Capitol Hill and Union Station called for more than 20 million square feet of new mixed-use development over the next couple of decades, so Ghannam, 49, opened Pound Coffee on Second Street NE and waited.

Two years later, Ghannam and others who staked claims in NoMa in its earliest days say the neighborhood, named for its location north of Massachusetts Avenue, is on its way to becoming a full-fledged community, with a spate of new apartment and condominium buildings yielding a rapidly expanding pool of residents.

"I moved here simply to be near the shop," said Ghannam, who rents an apartment off New York Avenue. "But now you can really see the neighborhood starting to emerge and grow."

NoMa has its roots in a classic "build it, and they will come" scenario: Area merchants contributed to a public-private partnership to fund the construction of the New York Avenue Metro station in 2004, hoping that it would lure new business, said Elizabeth Price, president of the NoMa Business Improvement District.

In March 2007, the D.C. Council and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty approved a special assessment for commercial property owners in the 35-block area to fund the NoMa Business Improvement District, which provides services including maintenance, public safety and marketing.

Tenants started rolling in. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives set up shop in NoMa in August 2007. Sirius XM, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and CNN also have offices or headquarters in the neighborhood, and future tenants are expected to include NPR, the Community College of the District of Columbia and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ghannam opened Pound Coffee in a ground-floor retail space in the ATF building in April 2008, moving into a nearby apartment about the same time. Ghannam and other residents admit that they felt some isolation in the neighborhood's early days as the first retail and residential developments were completed.

"I'd get home from work and realize there really wasn't anywhere I could go without getting in the car," Ghannam said.

But that sense of isolation is becoming a memory as new buildings open almost monthly.

Just last month, the 212-unit Loree Grand at Union Place apartment building opened, as did a 340-bed intern-housing facility and the eight-mile Metropolitan Branch Trail, a paved trail that runs between Union Station and Silver Spring.

In August, the long-awaited Constitution Square development is slated to open with 440 apartments, a Hilton Garden Inn hotel and two office buildings. A Harris Teeter grocery store is slated to open in December.


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