The main entrance to DC USA in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington DC. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)

Leasing activity is heating up at DC USA, a retail complex in the District’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, where several national chains are slated to open stores within the next six months.

Modell’s Sporting Goods plans to set up shop at the mall in early June, filling 7,500 square feet of space for its second store in the District. DSW Shoes is advertising for a store manager to run its store when it launches in the fall. That’s around the same time Panera Bread is scheduled to move into its new 4,086-square-foot digs.

And those are just the signed leases. All of the remaining slots at the 550,000-square-foot shopping center are in various stages of negotiations, said Drew Greenwald, president of Grid Properties, the New York outfit that owns the site. At the moment, the complex is 85 percent occupied, anchored by the big-box trifecta of Target, Best Buy and Bed Bath & Beyond.

“The way the economy has been, most tenants have not been in expansion mode,” Greenwald said. “You have a situation now where it’s much harder to match up the good tenant looking and the right tenant for your project.”

To be sure, there’s no shortage of retail in Columbia Heights. Neighborhood storefronts are home to the likes of Radio Shack, Vitamin Shoppe, Five Guys and Ruby Tuesday. Greenwald pointed out, however, that there is a lack of retail diversity — no bookstores, few clothing stores.

“We like to look for the types of tenants that are missing from the mix . . . smaller apparel tenants, smaller speciality tenants,” he said. Women’s apparel store Lane Bryant shuttered its doors at DC USA last month, vacating the space Modell’s will take over.

Local brokers say the pool of available space is shrinking, with ground-floor retail at residential buildings, such as Highland Park and Kenyon Square, all leased up.

“There’s been a lot of transactions in that trade area; it has great density and diverse socioeconomics,” said KLNB Retail broker Benjamin Becker, who is marketing a storefront at 3018 14th St. “We’ve gotten a few dozen inquiries, mostly from national food retailers.”

Since launching in 2008, DC USA has served as a catalyst for new stores and restaurants. The project, responsible for the first Target in the District, changed the retail landscape of Columbia Heights — once dominated by takeout joints — setting the tone for stores to follow.

While the community benefits from the convenience of having the likes of Marshall’s and Staples at its doorstep, reservations persist. As more national chains absorb available space, some observers question how much room will be left for independent retailers.

“Chains have such an upper hand that independent business owners are always at a disadvantage,” said Stacey Price, a spokeswoman for Think Local First DC. “It would be nice to have a greater mix.”

About 11 percent, or 15,000 square feet, of retail space at DC USA has been set aside for locally owned or small businesses. Half of that space is leased to a Peruvian restaurant and a local IHOP franchisee. Greenwald said those types of tenants receive an average 30 percent discount on their rent, which he would not disclose. Rental rates at DC USA are being advertised on CoStar at $40 to $90 per square foot.