Balducci's, the gourmet supermarket chain, said it is negotiating to build a store near the MCI Center in the District -- a deal that, if completed, would represent the first new grocery store in downtown Washington in more than a decade.

The talks are a major coup for developers and residential groups, who have lobbied hard for a downtown grocery store, long seen as the missing ingredient in the area's resurgence.

Thousands of new condominium units have cropped up in the area over the past decade -- with some one-bedroom apartments priced at more than $500,000 -- but residents complain they must leave the neighborhood, either by car or Metro, to shop for routine groceries.

Local retail brokers said the grocer's interest highlights the retail revival underway in the old downtown shopping district east of the White House, an area still dotted by fast-food restaurants, banks and cell phone stores.

Lured by the growing residential population, nine national retailers -- including Hennes & Mauritz AB, Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc., Barnes & Noble Inc. and Urban Outfitters Inc. -- have opened stores downtown over the past five years, more than twice the number in the preceding five years, records show.

Joel Danick, Balducci's chief operating officer, said the chain has signed a letter of intent to open a store on Seventh Street between D and E streets Northwest on the ground floor of the Jefferson at Penn Quarter, which houses 428 residential units and the 250-seat Woolly Mammoth Theater.

No lease has been executed, meaning the deal could still potentially unravel, but those involved played down that prospect yesterday. A downtown Balducci's could open by spring 2006.

Balducci's, which has five stores in the region, also plans to open another in Rockville's Congressional Plaza and one in Annapolis's Harbour Center.

Eric Rubin, whose firm, Madison Retail Group, represents the landlord in the District negotiations, said the store's extensive prepared foods counter would also appeal to downtown workers commuting home to the suburbs, in addition to residents.

"Instead of getting into their car, driving through all that traffic and then going shopping, they can pick it up outside their office and then head home," he said.

Jo-Ann Neuhaus, executive director of the Pennsylvania Quarter Neighborhood Association, said there is an "enormous need for a grocer to meet the needs of new residents" in the area. "People are driving out to Virginia, or the upper reaches of Northwest D.C. to buy their groceries right now."

Danick, the Balducci's executive, said the store would stock a variety of everyday household paper items and cleansers, in addition to the cured meats, fresh fish, and fine wine that have turned it into a hot spot for the region's well-heeled.

Miles E. Groves, 52, who moved to the Penn Quarter neighborhood with his wife in 1996, said neighbors have been "pleading and praying for a grocery store." Groves, who does not drive, takes the subway to a supermarket.

"To feel like a neighborhood, you'd like to have a neighborhood grocery store," he said. "We have a CVS. But CVS only goes so far."