Lumber and hardware store executive John W. Hechinger said yesterday he wants the District of Columbia to seek available federal funds to help build a $15.2 million shopping center on the site where his firm now operates a lumber yard and warehouse at the end of the decaying H Street corridor in Northeast Washington.
The shopping center project, according to Hechinger, could be assured the support of more than $11 million in private investment capital if the District could obtain an additional $3.5 million in federal funds to help attract the initial investors.
Already rebuffed in his efforts to have District officials approve the property as the site for a proposed convention center. Hechinger said turning the warehouse area into a commercial retail center with a much-needed supermarket and "in-town mall" could help greatly in revitalizing that section of the city.
"H Street is probably as blighted an area as there is in America," said Hechinger, whose proposed shopping mall would be built on two triangular-shaped parcels amounting to about 430,000 square feet. The mall would be situated at the intersection of Maryland Avenue. Benning Road, Bladenaburg Road, H Street and 15th Street NE and bounded also by 17th Street and Neal Street NE.
The Hechinger group presented its shopping center proposal to city planners last Friday and has also secured the unanimous support of a coalition of neighborhood organizations in the area.
The District must apply by April 29 for the federal funds - which are available through the Department of Housing and Urban Development under a new program known as the Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG).
UDAG funds, about $400 million annually, are distributed to qualifying, so-called distressed cities for projects where private capital has been invested in amounts that far exceed the sought-after federal money.
In addition to competing with other U.S. cities for the grant, the Hechinger proposal also must compete initially with several projects in D.C. that have been proposed by private groups.
So far eight proposals, including Hechinger's, have been presented to the city's Department of Housing and Community Development. They are being reviewed by a special screening panel, which will make recommendations on their merits to Major Walter E. Washington.
The other proposals include $1.4 million for a low-and moderate-income housing project at the east end of East Capitol Street; $1 million for a dental health center on Georgia Avenue NW; a $105,000 loan for a shopping center at Stanton Plaza SE; $5 million for the Patented Package Corp., a manufacturing firm; $3 million for a multi-use building at One Thomas Circle NW, and $1 million in grants and loans for the Benning Road Minnesota Avenue Shopping Center NE. Other proposals are being prepared.
In arguing on behalf of his shopping center proposal, Hechinger said the wide streets, the view of the Capitol and the location of major highway intersections made his site a superior choice for a quality retail and commercial shopping center development.
The project is being designed by architect Arthur Cotton Moore's firm, which plans to incorporate some of the ideas used in its successful Canal Square shopping mall development in Georgetown.
Hechinger said that rejection of his shopping center proposal, coupled with the city's earlier refusal to consider the site for a convention center, "would represent an abandonment of the Northeast (part of town), practically dooming it to be a wasteland."
He complained that "60 per cent of the decision makers in this town don't know the Northeast exists, and most of the Board of Trade members are suburbanites."
Ben Gilbert, director of the city's Municipal Planning Office, declined to respond to Hechinger's comments except to say that his staff has always thought a shopping center would be an appropriate use of the Hechinger site.
If completed, the proposed shopping mall would include a Hechinger store, another large department store, and about 50 smaller shops that would be available for small and minority-run businesses.