For the past two decades, major cities nationwide have redeveloped their waterfronts, attracting major new businesses and generating billions in revenue while Washington's miles of underused waterfront property sat untouched.
Heading into 2012, several area waterfronts along the Potomac and Anacostia rivers are poised to join the revitalization movement -- but some projects face a tougher road than others.
In the District, development is coming to areas that have a history of being overlooked by the city. From the ballpark neighborhood in Southeast to the fish market in Southwest, area residents in the coming year will begin to see real signs of a long-promised rebirth of those neglected areas.
|Connect Anacostia Riverwalk trail to Buzzard Point, more mixed-use residential development near river, more than a dozen restaurants expected over next two years.|
|Mixed-income housing, an arts center and several hotels are planned. Widen/lengthen marinas, public space/vistas at Ninth, Seventh and Water streets, redesign area around Fish Market similar to Seattle's Pike Place.|
|Redevelop North & South Robinson Terminals, connect/enhance existing park space to create riverwalk, create public plaza with retail at base of King Street.|
But farther south in Alexandria, residents are pushing back against a planned development on the historic waterfront because they are worried the project will destroy the port town's character.
The biggest changes are coming to the Capitol Riverfront along the Anacostia River, where Washingtonians have griped about slim entertainment offerings to supplement Nationals Park ever since the ballpark opened in 2008. Now, 12 restaurants are slated to open in 2012 and more than 1,000 residences are scheduled to be finished over the next two years, including a high-profile, mixed-use residential property across the street from the ballpark. The former industrial area is expected to take on the look that other cities like Baltimore and Pittsburgh achieved with their ballparks.
"Retailers are the last into any market and we've been waiting a while," Michael Stevens, executive director of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District, said recently. "But I think it's about to pop."
In Alexandria, though, the sour sentiment toward development from some of Old Town's well-heeled residents has stymied the ambitions of city planners.
Andrew Macdonald, co-founder of Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan, said some residents feel Alexandria is too focused on adding revenue generators to the waterfront.
"We have a Colonial spirit -- it behooves us to build upon that," he said. "Don't [build] things that block people from the river, don't put things that destroy the historical perspective."
The city council has scheduled a hearing and vote for January on an advisory report containing recommendations from a citizen work group. However, still left to hash out next year are the most polarizing issues: How much density and development should be allowed; whether to allow hotels; and how to pay for the revitalization.
Tom Murphy, an expert with the Urban Land Institute, said Alexandria's proposed development differs from D.C.'s plans in that it's happening in an area that's already an upscale attraction.
"Everybody opposes development because they don't want more traffic," Murphy said. "And change is difficult sometimes. ... And sometimes the issues are not addressable because people just oppose change in general."
Back in the District, a third planned revitalization on the Southwest waterfront is making headway after winning zoning approval for the first stage of development. Once a thriving port, the Southwest waterfront fell into decline and became home to poorer residents in the 1900s. Then in the '50s, the Southeast/Southwest Freeway development isolated the area from the rest of the city.
The District years ago designated redevelopment of the waterfront as a priority. But the process has gotten bogged down in the bureaucracy associated with obtaining land from the federal government and obtaining approval from local and federal authorities.
"I could give you a list as long as my arm of all the people we're dealing with down here," said Shawn Seaman, a project director for the waterfront.
Seaman said the project planners should get the go-ahead to break ground late next year.