By Mary Beth Ray and Marlene Berlin
Welcome to what will be one of DC’s most vibrant retail streets – Connecticut Avenue along the Van Ness corridor.
We need to do a lot of work to reach that goal, it’s true. But after the June 26th Vibrant Retail Streets workshop sponsored by the DC Office of Planning (OP) and Streetsense, we are moving closer. The workshop gave us a fresh and powerful way to look at our retail space, as it is today, and as we want it to be in the near future.
The Van Ness team won a seat at the workshop through a competitive process, and consisted of Zach Friedlis of B.F. Saul, Marlene Berlin of the Forest Hills Connection, and Mary Beth Ray, Commissioner for ANC 3F03. The team joined other winning neighborhood representatives from Adams Morgan, Deanwood, Mt. Pleasant, Fairlawn and Brightwood. The seminar resembled a graduate-level course in retail and urban planning, but included hands-on discussions focused on individual neighborhoods.
For purposes of analysis, we defined our boundaries as Connecticut Avenue from Van Ness to Albemarle. We dug into reams of data collected and analyzed by the Street Sense researchers. There are 37 retailers/prospective tenants and 14 property owners in our area. We asked ourselves: What do our retailers and their customers need to succeed? What are the biggest impediments to our street’s vibrancy and what can we do about it? How do we find the equilibrium between supply (stores) and demand (spending)?
Retail categories include neighborhood goods and services (NG&S) such as a grocery, pharmacy, and florist; food and beverage (F&B) such as restaurants, cafes and bars; and general merchandise, apparel, furnishings & other (GAFO). Most people want to shop close to home for such things as groceries, but they are more willing to travel to eat out and shop for a Mother’s Day gift. How can Van Ness capture those shoppers? We are surrounded by interesting stores in Cleveland Park and Chevy Chase, so how can we distinguish ourselves from those neighborhoods?
In short, we have a lot going for us. Data collected shows that we have huge potential in all three categories. We have an affluent, well-educated population, a Metro station, daily traffic count of 37,000, and a low vacancy rate. We are a key access point to beautiful Rock Creek Park, and we are graced with many embassies.
We do have a lot to overcome – clunky and outdated architecture, a disjointed mixture of residential and retail, way too much concrete and environmentally unfriendly designs, a lack of charming local shops, no street life, a dearth of good restaurants and the lack of a business management team, a necessary component to any vibrant retail area.
We left the workshop with some lofty goals:
- Create a business management structure and establish funding for that structure
- Create a marketing brochure including renderings to promote Van Ness to prospective retailers and developers
- Engage with UDC to return Connecticut Avenue retail space to its intended purpose, and relocate classrooms to existing classrooms on UDC campus
- Launch a tree box initiative to beautify our streetscape, improve stormwater management, and engage property owners in maintenance
- Plan and launch plaza activities to bring life to a dormant area. Plaza activities might include outdoor yoga classes on Saturday mornings, or embassy-sponsored musical events on Thursday evenings.
Our Van Ness team will meet again with Streetsense for technical assistance, and our Van Ness Vision Committee and ANC 3F will continue to work toward these goals as well. Stay tuned and get involved. Van Ness is open for business!
The following are materials provided to the Van Ness committee by Streetsense and OP (PDF files):
List of participating Van Ness businesses