July 22, 2008

The O Street Market

The O Street Market redevelopment is scheduled to break ground in fall of 2009, after years of delay and what sound to me like either innane beaurocratic hold-ups or flat out excuses. Now that it's finally on the way, I've been wondering about the sort of things we can expect.

The most exciting thing in the short-term, I guess, is that Shaw will be seeing some jobs. Roadside Development, the company that took control of the land in 2000, estimates that there will be up to 400 construction jobs and 400 permanent jobs, with an agreement that half of them will go to DC residents. I don't know how they're going to follow up on that agreement, but it sounds good.

Scheduled to be completed in 2012, the final "CityMarket at O" will include 150 condos, 400 rental units, somewhere between 80 and 100 units for low-income senior citizens, a 200 room hotel, over 500 parking spaces, and 87,000 square feet of retail space (which is 37,000 square feet above the much-hyped halfstreet development over by the new staduim). Because of both the access to fresh food and the much-needed senior housing, George Jones, our Executive Director, recently testified to support the development.

My only concern with the CityMarket plans remain economic. The 200 room hotel is supposed to repay 44% of the $35 million debt incurred by the city, but I can't imagine why anyone would want to build a hotel next to the market. Where are the people going to come from? The Convention Center that, right now, doesn't bring a dime into the Shaw area, much less a breathing human being? I very much doubt it. Something tells me we're going to need a more consistent source of revenue than a hotel.

The whole idea of tax-increment financing also gives me a couple of hang-ups. The plan presupposes that there will be an increase in taxes as a result of the development, which is kind of awkward for this area. If it doesn't work, we're stuck with another Convention Center on our backs. If it does work, a good portion of the residents who live around here will be pushed out because of the higher residential taxes leaving at least a slight period of flux when the businesses won't have a reliable consumer base. I'm happy we're taking the risk (because, frankly, it was the only way the O Street Market was going to get rebuilt), but tax-increment financing has run the whole spectrum between success and giant flop in other cities.

Overall, I think the good will outweigh the bad. The Giant, though it will be shut down for up to two years, will come back far larger, and hopefully with a better selection. With that and the market combined, Shaw could be a great urban hub.

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