The Washington Post

Douglas Development plans apartments and retail for former Hecht’s Co. warehouse

The Hecht Co. warehouse is one of the most visible properties in the District, on display to thousands of cars a day passing by on New York Avenue NE, but for years it has had little to flaunt.

That’s about to change.

The Art Deco building, once a major distribution center for the Hecht Co. before it was acquired by Macy’s, has been vacant for years, and its last owner ended up in foreclosure trying to figure out how to return it to use.

Enter D.C. developer Douglas Jemal, who acquired the property three years ago and announced Tuesday at a chilly news conference full of D.C. politicos that he planned to restore the property into a 300-unit apartment building along with more than 1,000 parking spaces and shops including an organic market and fitness center.

Speaking in a knit cap to a crowd gathered in the unheated, concrete shell, Jemal said his plans for the warehouse showed how far the city itself had come.

“The department store business went kaput. The building was empty. The New York Avenue corridor sat in disrepair ever since any of us could remember. It’s a new day today. A day of development, a day of the future, and a day for Washington that is going to turn this neighborhood into a beautiful gateway site,” he said.

Jemal, who runs his business with sons Norman and Matthew, brought to the event a Ford built in 1935 — the year construction began on the Hecht’s warehouse — to signify the kind of care that he said went into the creation of cars and buildings in that era. In 2006 the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Construction has already begun on the rear parking garage, and Jemal said that he had lined up two retailers, Mom’s Organic Market and Planet Fitness, to open as part of the 250,000 square feet of retail Douglas Development plans.

Although Washington is undergoing a boom in apartment construction, there is no guarantee that the fortunes will flow as far from downtown as the Hecht’s building, which at 1401 New York Ave. NE is more than a mile from a Metro station and far from many of the emerging restaurants and nightlife spots that have made D.C. popular among recent college graduates willing to fork over luxury apartment rents.

Jeff Miller, director of real estate for the D.C. government, acknowledged that owners of other new apartment buildings in the area were beginning to have difficulty getting the rents for which they had hoped, but he said that with the city’s population gains and the building’s unique character, the Hecht’s project was likely to fare better.

“We’re gaining about 1,100 people a month. So there’s clearly a pent-up demand,” Miller said.

The significance of the building and its revival were demonstrated by the attendance of D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and three members of the D.C. Council, all of whom are running to replace him.

Capital Business is The Post’s weekly focusing on the region’s business community.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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