Tuesday, October 13, 2009

dc's cityvista offers precedent for revitalizing wheaton

CityVista DC, 5th and K NW
At fourteen stories, a planned mixed-use complex based on D.C.'s CityVista would dwarf anything else in Downtown Wheaton. But is that necessarily a bad thing?

Last month, developers unveiled rough plans to redevelop the Safeway at Georgia and Reedie across from the Wheaton Metro, building five hundred apartments in a fourteen-story building atop a new supermarket. Understandably, local residents have had a lot of concerns about the project. The Good Eatin' in Wheaton blog notes that there isn't another building nearly as tall in the business district.

People have the right to be skeptical about any new development in Wheaton after twenty years of talk, an art-house theatre that shut down after two months, and fears that it'll become "another Silver Spring." To some, the number of proposed apartments seems too high. But as David Alpert of GGW pointed out on the Kojo Nnamdi Show yesterday, businesses need a critical mass of people to survive. Downtown Wheaton doesn't have the reputation or accessibility to rely on car traffic like it did in the 1950's. There have to be more people in the neighborhood who can walk to local shops.

The developer's precedent for the Georgia and Reedie proposal can be found nine Metro stops away at CityVista, a new development in Gallery Place Chinatown Mount Vernon Triangle? at 5th and K streets Northwest. Designed by Torti Gallas and Partners, responsible for dozens of multi-family communities throughout the region and nationally, the project includes three apartment and condo towers, two of which sit atop a base of retail shops and a Safeway.

Taylor Gourmet
Generous setbacks from K Street create space for sidewalk dining areas and a lot of landscaping. At the corner, the building cuts away to form a large courtyard, reducing its visual impact on the surroundings (currently a mix of parking lots and considerably shorter buildings). While the sidewalks last weekend were mobbed due to an event before the National Equality March, it felt less crowded than Ellsworth Drive on a Friday night.

Retail space in new apartment towers is hard to fill, and often goes to uses that don't create foot traffic. Real estate firm Edens & Avant (who also own the Burtonsville Crossing shopping center) have made CityVista a destination with local businesses like the popular restaurant/bar Busboys and Poets, 5th Street Hardware (a locally-owned franchise of Ace Hardware), and Taylor Gourmet, perhaps the only deli that's been lauded both for its food and its architecture.

Safeway, 5th and K
And, of course, there's a grocery store as well. The shopping experience at what District residents call the "Sexy Safeway" goes above and beyond what you get in the 1960's-era market at Georgia and Reedie now, from the faux-hardwood floors to the well-stocked produce section. There's even free parking for ninety minutes. It's in an underground garage, but I assume that anyone who patronizes the Safeway on Thayer Avenue would already be used to it.

You and I may not be able to put down $400k on a one-bedroom condominium here. But we can pretend like we can while patronizing businesses unique to D.C. The size may not seem like an obvious fit for Wheaton, but CityVista's celebration of local retailers sounds pretty appropriate for its business district.

Check out this photoset of CityVista in the District.


FourthandEye said...

Public art is also a part of the City Vista complex. A sculpture called "Lift Off" by David Block will be installed later this year.

Anonymous said...

So, will the fancy new Safeway come with new clientele to purchase the upscale items and more than one open checkout lane?

Thomas Hardman said...

Or, will all of those spaces wind up being subsidized for people who need "affordable space"?

In any case, with all of the foreclosed/distressed properties in the region and especially near Wheaton, the market probably can't support all of the upscale dwellers needed to make this profitable.

Of course, by the time this is done, maybe we'll be in the middle of the next planet-wrecking economic bubble and nobody will think twice to pay insanely high rent just to live above a train station.

Tom A. said...

The Wheaton map link is off.

I'm in support of the planned building, but I'd encourage them to do condos. I worry that Wheaton is going to become all rental. A mix is always better.