Three decades after it was first conceived, the Fort Lincoln New Town at the northeast edge of the District may finally live up its "new town" moniker.
A new shopping center, a tourist welcome center and an office building/warehouse complex are being planned, as is a total of 345 new units of housing for the onetime civil war battery, which has been a work-in-progress since it was proposed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967.
City officials, community leaders and the Fort Lincoln developer say they are confident that despite many years of unrealized promises, at least part of the development now being talked about will go through.
"The private sector has stepped up to the plate," said D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), who represents the neighborhood. "The District government now needs to do its part."
According to Johnson's vision, the former site of a federal prison for young men would be transformed into a racially and socioeconomically integrated community, complete with housing, shopping, offices, a man-made lake and other amenities. Fort Lincoln in many ways has already proven to be a success when it comes to housing, although on a much smaller scale than Johnson imagined.
About 3,500 people live in the community bounded by Bladensburg Road NE, South Dakota and New York avenues and the Prince George's County line, in 600 condominiums, 158 upscale rental apartments, three 10-story elderly-housing apartment buildings and one public housing complex. There is an elementary school, a park and cultural center, eight tennis courts, two swimming pools and a lighted baseball field within Fort Lincoln, which offers panoramic views of the metropolitan area from atop its 200-foot-high rolling hills.
But the 330-acre development has never seen the kind of retail and other commercial development essential to the "new town" concept. Instead of a Crystal City-sized downtown with office towers, hotels, restaurants and stores, Fort Lincoln's business center today consists of little more than a beauty salon and an accountant. In the 1980s, plans for the commercial development were dramatically downsized, but even the more modest proposal--a traditional shopping center--has not been built.
Fort Lincoln New Town Corp., a private, for-profit group that has had control rights to the federal property since 1975, hopes soon to change that.
Premium Distributors of Washington DC, a beverage wholesaler, intends to build a 164,000-square-foot office, warehouse and distribution complex on 13 acres next to the intersection of Fort Lincoln Drive and Eastern Avenue NE. A total of 110 full-time employees would work in the one-story center, which would replace the company's current facility at 3350 New York Ave. NE, according to a zoning application for the project now before the city.
Nearby, a 400,000-square-foot shopping center would be built, consisting of a 65,000-square-foot grocery store, a discount department store or home improvement store and a strip of sit-down, family-style restaurants, among other tenants, said Robert Jeffers, a spokesman for Fort Lincoln New Town Corp. A lease with a grocery store anchor tenant has been prepared, but it has not yet been signed, Jeffers said.
In the earlier stages of development, it is a possible that a tourist welcome center would be built on six acres at New York and South Dakota avenues, a site passed by more than 100,000 cars daily as they enter and exit the city from Maryland.
The center would have 70 spaces for tour bus parking, with a food court, a multiplex movie theater and shuttle buses taking tourists to the Mall. But planning for this proposed $25 million complex is still in the early phases, and financing has not yet been identified.
The additional housing planned is broken up into three projects.
Construction of the 127-unit Wesley House Apartments and 125-unit Prince Hall Masons Family Apartments on Joshua Barney Drive are scheduled to begin before the end of the year. Both will be four-story apartment buildings, with rents starting at about $600 for a one-bedroom and targeting tenants who are age 55 or older.
The third piece is 93 single-family homes that will be built on Fort Lincoln Drive and Joshua Barney Drive, each with a two-car garage. The homes will sell for $175,000 to $225,000, Jeffers predicted. All three of the housing projects have the land-use approvals they need, but the single-family homes cannot be built until the developers and the city can resolve storm-water drainage issues at the site.
The storm drainage work could cost more than $1 million, with some of the improvements needed in neighboring Prince George's County, city officials said, acknowledging that the cross-jurisdiction work complicates the effort.
Fort Lincoln is an almost entirely African American community, instead of the racially mixed model Johnson had sought. But the new housing should help create about a 50-50 balance between middle- and lower-income families, instead of the current 70 percent low-income split, Jeffers said.
The commercial development will give Fort Lincoln residents and others who live nearby a neighborhood place to do their shopping. And it will give Ward 5 a reputation as a place that is home to more than just undesirable businesses such as trash transfer stations, Orange said.
"You will no longer have to travel for miles just to get basic necessities," Jeffers said.
There are significant incentives for companies to locate their businesses at Fort Lincoln, which is in a city enterprise zone. The first $15,000 worth of wages paid to employees who are District residents can result in a credit of up to $3,000 in wage taxes for the employer. For a supermarket that has 150 or so employees, the savings could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
Robert "Bob" King, president of the Fort Lincoln Civic Association and the community's representative to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said he is excited about the plans, which were recently endorsed by residents at a community meeting.
"We are a good 10 to 12 years behind schedule, but I firmly believe it will happen this time," said King, who moved to Fort Lincoln in 1976 when it first opened. "This is not just talk. These dreams are going to get translated into reality."
Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Doug Patton said he, too, is committed to trying to ensure that the development at Fort Lincoln moves forward.
"The general economy is good right now, but the salad days won't last forever," he said. "When you have the opportunity to make things happen, that is the time to move."
CAPTION: Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Robert King says area residents are excited about the redevelopment.