As a teen growing up in Northern Virginia in the early 80s I'd venture downtown with some of my buddies to witness firsthand the depravity that was on display on 14th Street. I really was too stupid to realize how dangerous it was to go down there to park and watch hookers pick up johns, dealers sell their weed/coke/whatever and pimps managing their "personnel." To me and my buddies it was like going to live theater, except that when we saw the inevitable beatings, assaults and brawls and realized that the blood that was spilled and the bullets that flew were very real, we retreated to our suburbs and ventured downtown only to visit the clubs in Georgetown or Foggy Bottom.
It's from that perspective that I read this article in the Washington Post about the gentrification of the 14th St. corridor. Whether or not you're a fan of gentrification you have to be amazed at how a city can literally be transformed.
The formerly riot-scarred corridor has gone into gentrification overdrive, a boom fueled by investors looking for a safe place to park hundreds of millions of dollars, the relative ease of obtaining a liquor license, and the arrival of thousands of new residents longing to live downtown.
The result: more than 1,200 condos and apartments and 100,000 square feet of retail are being built or have hit the market in just the past nine months. At the same time, at least 25 bars and restaurants have opened or are under construction along 14th Street, adding more than 2,000 seats to the city’s dining scene at warp speed…
The street’s renaissance began decades ago, with the establishment of Studio Theatre (founded in 1978 and expanded in 1987) and other performing arts venues. But the pace of change accelerated after a successful community lobbying effort to lure Whole Foods Market to P Street, between 14th and 15th streets. A steady progression of improvements followed, with carryouts, auto repair garages and pawnshops giving way to sit-down Thai restaurants, fitness studios and window displays of $5,000 sectional sofas.
This next part interested me from a professional standpoint since I work for an apartment trade association:
Veteran commercial real estate broker Andrew McAllister, who has done $1 billion worth of business along 14th, likened the District’s post-recession situation to last call on a Friday night.
Were we the “best-looking chick? We were the only chick at the bar,” he said.
Washington quickly found itself at the center of a national apartment building boom, spurred by the transformation of millions of former homeowners and would-be home buyers into renters. Many of them experienced unemployment or had their credit ratings decimated by foreclosure. Others couldn’t muster the bigger down payments required to obtain mortgage loans.
Washington’s status as an oasis of job security, in particular, made it one of the nation’s top destinations for the young, highly educated and affluent, putting the city on track to drawmore newcomers between 2009 and 2011 than it had during the previous decade.
A note for our folks here in the Triad: notice how important jobs were to the revitalization of downtown Washington? Our small cities are doing a great job focusing on the redevelopment of their downtowns, but until we get significant job growth it will be hard for our cities to really take off.