The east side has not failed to attract either experienced developers or ambitious plans. But so far, little has materialized to signal the progress that is likely to transform the neighborhood - even if that term barely applies now - into a viable commercial and residential center. Even the feature that divides the two sides, the tracks that emanate from Union Station, will eventually disappear beneath the urban landscape as Akridge's Burnham Place unifies the neighborhood and buries the current boundary. In 2013, maybe.
For the present, however, most developers with east-of-the-tracks plots seem content to let their west side neighbors build out the new downtown neighborhood while they consider options and hone their plans. “Most of NoMa is on the west side of the tracks, but a few key parcels are on the east side that are a key link from the historic Capitol Hill to the new neighborhood. It is important to have that bridge,” said Elizabeth Price, President of NoMa BID.
One block east of the tracks, the Wilkes Company has plans for a mixed-use set of buildings with over 300 residences and 250,000 s.f. of office space just across M street from Douglas Development's 300,000-s.f. office, 225-residence development of the Uline Arena. The two intend to develop their projects jointly, but both have yet to even put up a sign.
According to Sandy Wilkes, Chairman of the Wilkes Company, "We are still in a planning phase and we're trying to understand exactly what the opportunity is in that place and what zoning strategies we might deploy to bring this about. It is still early for us, our general instinct is that there is going to be a natural tendency for NoMa to develop more actively on west side. We have the luxury of being patient on the east side, but our sense is that while Constitution Square and other projects are underway, the real time for us is in a two to three year time frame. We are constantly thinking about fine-tuning and timing. We are going to let our friends and colleagues on the west side lead the way and then get way more focused in 24 -36 months."
Also facing each other, at least someday, at 3rd and K Streets, NE, will be Greenbaum and Rose's Capitol Cab property and Cohen Companies' Union Place, planned as part of the NoMa development surge. And while the G 'N R site sits indefinitely, Union Place at least is forging ahead.
Michelle Pilon, project coordinator for Cohen Companies’ “Loree Grand” says Phase One of Union Place is on schedule to deliver in late 2009 and the team is in the process of getting a foundation grade permit so it can begin construction.
The Loree Grand will include 212 apartments in a ten-story building, some of which will be workforce housing; eleven percent will be "affordable." In addition to the residential components, this phase will include an interior public courtyard, 4,000 s.f. of retail space, one underground parking space per resident, and a “green” roof.The residential floor plans of the first phase will range from junior one-bedroom units starting at 516 s.f. to 1,400-s.f. apartments with two bedroom and a den. Phase two will rise 14 stories and deliver over 400 residential units, though the inevitable rental vs. condo debate has not yet been settled. Developers are already planning to install wide sidewalks to create a "boulevard effect." Meanwhile, Greenebaum and Rose is waiting on a sunnier economy.
For Greenebaum and Rose, instead of the traditional “go rental” approach to the less-than-stellar market, the developers' project on the former Capitol Cab property is on hold. The developers bought the land at market price in 2003 after winning a legal battle over a competing developer that sought to buy the cab company’s debt, pay $50,000 for the land, and have the right to foreclose on the cab company’s owners’ homes.
Greenebaum and Rose’s current plan will cost over $20 million and include a six story, 92,800-s.f. residential building designed by Davis Carter Scott. It will have 112 condominium units and underground parking. Someday. “Nothing has been built,” said Greenebaum and Rose partner, Sam Rose. “For now, it’s a piece of land with a permit. We’re not starting until the world looks prettier.”
Noma BID Director Price said their property will only become more valuable as the neighborhood continues to evolve. “Long standing parcels are going up in market value; Greyhound announced that they would sell, and that was one of last pieces of puzzle, whether Greenebaum and Rose would sell, I don’t know. They’ve been around longer than anybody and we owe a lot to them to committing to building First Street. The developers’ options are wide open," she said.