Since January, 2003
 Sliding from Before to After

After three years of operating The Bullpen(s) on one of the empty lots just north of Nationals Park, landowner Akridge and Bullpen/Georgetown Events owner Bo Blair are opting to try something new for the 2012 season: "Fairgrounds," a combination food, market and events space that will be open seven days a week from the beginning of baseball season through October 1.
Modeled on Brooklyn's Dekalb Market and designed by Schlesinger Associate Architects, Fairgrounds will use salvaged shipping containers as retail spaces for vendors, in a program overseen by Diverse Markets Management, the people behind the flea market across from Eastern Market and the downtown holiday market. DMM touts a database of more than 2,000 vendors that it says it will tap into to "keep the market busy and diversified."
The Market (seen above and at left, click to enlarge) will be positioned on the Das Bullpen site at Half and M, across from the Navy Yard Metro station entrance. It will include "permanent" food truck versions of two of Blair's restaurants: Bayou and its New Orleans/Southern-themed food and drinks, and Surfside with its beach-type offerings. There are also plans still being worked out to have a rotating roster of additional food trucks every non-game day.
This space will open at 11:30 am every day; on game days, the market and food trucks will remain open until two hours after the game ends; otherwise, it will stay open at least through Happy Hour, or later if patrons are still around. There will be a "spectator" deck built on top of the shipping containers as well as a music stage, with plans to continue to have local and regional bands play on game days. And of course there will be 20 HD televisions and plenty of cornhole sets. (Which I totally don't get, but you kids have fun with it.)
Nats fans already quivering in fear can rest easy knowing that the two liquor licenses that were in place for the Bullpens are still active for this new venture, and a permanent bar will be built in addition to the drinks served by the Bayou and Surfside trucks.
To the south of the main food area, there is a larger open area where Fairgrounds can offer bigger events. The site will host another series of Truckeroo food truck festivals throughout the summer, along with potential music events, arts festivals, farmers' markets, etc. Every Sunday, there will be a "Family Day," with children's concerts, face painting, balloon artists, and the like. The area can also be rented for private events.
The Market's offerings can also be expanded on days when there are ballgames that might be bigger draws than others (*cough*Yankees*cough*).
Shipping containers and pallets will replace the existing long black fences all along Half Street and along M (as you can see in the drawing at top left), with possibly some work done by local artists to liven up the containers even more.
But, in what will probably be even bigger news to people who have been watching this area closely for a long time, Akridge says that they hope to begin construction this summer on the first phase of their 700,000-square-foot Half Street mixed-use development. Their intent would be to start with the 280ish-unit residential building on the south end of the block (directly across from the stadium), and the Fairgrounds' design would make it easy to just move the wall of containers further north on the site to still leave an events area available if indeed they do get underway before the end of the baseball season. The project also includes plans for two office buildings on the north end of the block, along with ground-floor retail along Half, M, N, and a pedestrian walk between the office buildings.
At Monday night's ANC 6D meeting where these plans were presented, the commissioners expressed enthusiasm, and a resolution of support was passed 6-0. Blair and his team are working with DCRA and other city agencies to get necessary approvals and permits in place so that containers can be brought in and the market can get underway by the start of the baseball season. (Whether that means the official home opener on April 12 or the April 3 home exhibition vs. the Red Sox remains to be seen. It will certainly be easy to see when the shipping containers start to arrive.)
Comments (30)
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Eric says: (2/14/12 1:40 AM)
Fantastic. I LOVE IT. Now let's hope they can spread the word to get people from all over the city to check it out. This will be unlike anything in DC!

lester says: (2/14/12 12:31 PM)
I think from the outside at street level, this is going to look like a junkyard. Yay. Shipping containers aren't very attractive.

MJM says: (2/14/12 12:45 PM)
Maybe the shipping containers will be the tipping point to bring the Winter Classic to Nats stadium. And if Akridge wants to be patriotic they should buy the excess shipping containers from the bases in Afghanistan.

Chris says: (2/14/12 1:41 PM)
lester: Check out this "shipping container architecture" page: link It looks like there are some attractive markets in other cities that use upcycled shipping containers.

lester says: (2/14/12 2:01 PM)
Chris: Some of those links look OK in the right setting, however, I didn't sign up to live next door to an outdoor fairground made of salvaged containers. I'm not even sure how this usage conforms to the zoning of the lot, even on a "temporary" basis.

JD says: (2/14/12 2:09 PM)
They're working with DCRA and the Office of Planning (which handles zoning issues), and there are no indications of issues, at least according to Bo Blair at last night's meeting. DCRA even tweeted a link to this post today saying how excited they are by the project.

As I said in the post, they're also planning to work with local artists to spruce up the parts of the containers that act as the fence.

G Street says: (2/14/12 4:57 PM)
Those shipping containers will come in handy as Bryce Harper starts unloading home runs out there.... Incoming!!!!!!!

Robert says: (2/14/12 8:57 PM)
This is a novel idea but must be meticulously planned and landscaped. This part of our neighborhood is barren as it stands and stacking (painted) salvaged containers on an empty lot next to other empty lots will only regress the profound progress made modernizing a former industrial wasteland. I hope there is scrutiny in approving plans for this development. I look forward to seeing how it will all come together.

lester says: (2/15/12 8:05 AM)

Given that they hope to have this up and running in ~ 2months, I'm not sure there is going to be any opportunity for public review of detailed plans, and am not sure there will be much detailed review at all for that matter. I've emailed David Garber about my concerns, and got back an indication they would be forwarded to the developer. I wasn't given any indication that there were any further ANC actions planned.

I will note that the above photos show absolutely zero landscaping.

One other note. There are 53 night games scheduled this season, meaning they plan to operate this thing until about 1am at least 53 times this year, many times during weeknights. There is a stage for live music. Were this an indoor venue, I would have *zero* concerns. As planned, the noise is going to travel a long, long ways, two hours after the ballgames are over.

JD says: (2/15/12 9:39 AM)
There's been pre- and post-game music at the Bullpen for three seasons, just FYI.

And landscaping is probably not really something the city is too much concerned about for a temporary site that probably won't exist three years from now. (Not like there was any for the Bullpens.)

MJM says: (2/15/12 11:41 AM)
I like keeping my door open to listen to the music - its not that loud but agreed on how it will look. Just hope it is designed right otherwise it could be a nightmare and there will probably be some 'positive' news article how the ballpark X years after construction can only attract shipping containers to Half St.

323 says: (2/15/12 11:54 AM)
@lester and @Robert, your opinion is this project will look like a junkyard. What is fact is that this project didnt exist, it would look like an empty lot. It is progress, a placeholder in a transitional neighborhood, and a creative use of what otherwise would be idle space. It's revenue and charachter for the neighborhood while we wait for the (hopefully) inevitable development. Regardless, i think all will be pleasantly surprised. I've been to DeKalb Market, and it is fantastic.

lester says: (2/15/12 12:04 PM)
@MJM I agree in the past the music hasn't been a problem (at Bullpen), with with an elevated stage located on shipping containers (to quote JD "There will be a "spectator" deck built on top of the shipping containers as well as a music stage, with plans to continue to have local and regional bands play on game days" which as I read as including an elevated stage) the up sizing of the facility and elevation of the stage would seem to indicate it will be a lot louder than what existed previously.

I never patronized Bullpen, but thought it was a good temporary use of space, and not any more blighted than an empty fenced in yard. This use is much less temporary I suspect (parts will require a foundation - such as the upended containers and stacked containers - or else they would fall during high winds). And I don't think reclaimed containers speaks of the direction those of us who invested in the neighborhood want to see it go. If this is an allowable use per zoning, what's to keep a developer from setting up a trailer park or modular office park on another vacant lot in the neighborhood?

PJY03 says: (2/15/12 3:18 PM)
Long time reader, first time commenter here. Up until now, the trend in comments about new consumer/retail offerings has been that things are too cookie-cutter and preppy and corporate... "no character" these people say. Now, the Bullpen is essentially remade into a Portland/Brooklyn-style hipster paradise version of itself complete with craft retailers and street food stalls and we're told... "hold on a minute... this is kind of a blight."

A modest prediction: At the end of the day, when Akridge et al build high rises in these lots, they're going to fill them with P.F. Changs' and Panera Breads'. And it'll look great, but everyone will complain that they miss the 'unique character' of the Fairgrounds.

@Lester's specific concern: The real estate in the area is far too valuable for any developer to use "stopgap" projects like this in unless it is filling what would otherwise be a vacant lot. Indeed, JD hints in the blog item that this new design concept for the bullpen is being used in part to enable Akridge to start building this summer. We're overthinking this, IMO. Considering all that happened in 2008-09, the BID, Forest City, the ANC, and others have done a fantastic job in keeping near Southeast development on track. Let's put a little more faith in the powers that be.

TheJCG says: (2/16/12 12:57 AM)
The opposition here amazes me. Having actually been to Dekalb Market, if this is anything like it, it will be one of the top attractions in DC. I can't fathom why someone would be against something unique, creative, and honestly far more responsible in the use of materials than most of what there is in the city.

As far as the music goes, you do realize you moved into an entertainment district next to a stadium, right? The Nats had to switch to the subhorn after victories last year due to complaints from residents about the noise from the fireworks they used to shoot off after wins. I really wish they hadn't capitulated to the vocal minority that complained about noise from a ballpark. The music issue is no different. If you didn't want that kind of neighborhood, there were and are plenty of locations in DC to choose from and many of them are cheaper to live in.

I'm debating between the Mt. Vernon Triangle/Chinatown and Capitol Riverfront neighborhoods myself for this coming Fall and the shipping container market is the kind of thing that is swinging me towards moving into the Capitol Riverfront area.

lester says: (2/16/12 8:26 AM)

Honestly, if you want to pay $450 a square foot to live next to shipping containers ("temporary shipping containers, yeah... right... it'll be 5-10 years before Akridge develops the commercial part of half street), I've got a condo I'd be happy to sell you. Come on over. Great view of the containers off the 13th floor.

As I mentioned, above, I have NO COMPLAINTS about the noise from the stadium. None. Never have. I have no complaints about noise from indoor businesses, or normal city street noise. The streets and the stadium were here before I moved in. And the fireworks were eliminated because they cost too much to do on a regular basis, not because of resident complaints.

The lot where they are placing the shipping containers is zoned CG/CR, and approved for an office building (and apartments, but that part closest to the stadium), not an outdoor concert venue or outdoor market. I also have no problem what so ever with the temporary Bullpen use. It's been managed well. I don't want to see a bunch of cargo containers moved in across the street from me. Doesn't match with *anything* going on in the neighborhood, nor does it match with anything approved or planned for the neighborhood. Furthermore, the CG overlay requires:

1610.2 With respect to those properties described in § 1610.1, all proposed uses, buildings, and structures, or any proposed exterior renovation to any existing buildings or structures that would result in an alteration of the exterior design, shall be subject to review and approval by the Zoning Commission in accordance with the following provisions.

Any way you slice it, this is a change in use, and should undergo full zoning review.

You'll note that Dekalb market is not in the middle of a residential (high rise condo and apartment neighborhood), and is immediately surrounded primarily by office buildings and industrial uses. It's a very different setting. And with competition from the (very close by) established Eastern Market, expecting anything anywhere near the commercial success of Dekalb is delusional. Outside of game days, this place will be deserted.

'Nuff said.

Robert says: (2/16/12 2:27 PM)
No matter how you look at it, this will look like a Junk yard if not properly planned. The poorly drawn Google Sketch-up rendering didn’t prove otherwise. Near SE is not developed enough to support what some seem to misconceive as a colorful amusement park, is merely a flea market and beer drinking quarters surrounded by salvaged shipping containers. How is this even being considered as a viable option for that location? Moreover, flea markets and fruit stands are not examples of commercial retail and shouldn't be confused as such. I just moved from VA where yard sales are a common occurrence. I've never seen the volume of patrons frequent them as I do Tysons Corner or Pentagon city, even when every house on the street would participate. This idea is like some sick joke from Portlandia.

This eye sore is nothing more than a false sense of progress and once the dust settles, and the paint peels, and the rust spreads, and the graffiti starts, and the robberies increase, and the rats migrate, the residents will be the ones stuck dealing with this in the off-season.

MGR74 says: (2/16/12 2:32 PM)
I wish you the best in selling your condo ASAP! I, for one, am with PJY03, TheJCG and others on this. Looking forward to walking over there with the family and hanging out with my neighbors and friends on a regular basis.

PJY03 says: (2/17/12 1:31 AM)
I guess I just don't get it. This is more of a concept change for an existing temporary enterprise. One that nobody previously complained about and a lot of people viewed as a plus.

Now we get something that will be open more days a year, attract the arts community while still basically being a place for people to drink before the games, and some Velocity residents with buyer's remorse about their overpriced condos are clutching their pearls.

Look, I'll issue a modest proposal. If anyone really thinks that 1) the fairgrounds concept for this upcoming season is a disaster that will negatively impact the growth and perception of the neighborhood to the point that it will non-trivially hinder their home value, and 2) that it is quasi-permanent because Akridge isn't going to develop anything on that land in the next 10 years: they should just sell the unit now and cut their losses. Seriously. If you think that is the case, then the right thing to do is sell and move to a neighborhood with better growth prospects.

Something tells me that nobody is going anywhere. And we all know why -- everyone who bought into this neighborhood did so with eyes wide open that it was a long-term prospect. Either these people made one of the naivest moves possible without any forethought, or they are just coming on here to blow smoke and complain. And that's fine. But spare us the talk about how you feel hoodwinked by this whole deal. The victim card doesn't wear well when played from a $450 sq/ft penthouse.

lester says: (2/17/12 8:43 AM)

For the record I don't own or wear pearls.

Also, maybe you can provide your name to go with your bold comments. I'd be interested in sponsoring a homeless shelter inside of salvaged containers in front of your house. All it requires is a public space permit. It would be "new" and "different" and not cookie cutter.

Sound like a plan?

NavyYardGuy says: (2/17/12 9:24 AM)
Okay everyone simmer down..this market idea will be greattt for the neighborhood! Can anyone who has posted every been to the Dekalb Market in Brooklyn? Well I have and have friends who are vendors there--yes they use old shipping containers but its done tastefully and gives a different element to that downtown brooklyn area. It will do the same to navy yard and make our neighborhood more appealing and hopefully get more foot traffic/appeal/ COOLNESS.... So while everyone is worried about how it will look--dont be afraid of change guys--its inevitable.

JD says: (2/17/12 11:37 AM)
Another example of a shipping container market, that's not quite as "gritty industrial" as Dekalb, is the Boxpark pop-up shopping mall in the UK:

There's also a ton of photos of it by Flickr users:

MJM says: (2/17/12 12:23 PM)
Is there a demand to fill all the CONEXs? What will bring someone from NW to the Near-SE Fairgrounds? So its open everyday? What is the draw to that area on Tuesday a non-game night?

TheJCG says: (2/17/12 1:31 PM)
So now we've got 2 clear examples of how this is done well and successfully, and I'm betting we'll still get the angry old man response from someone who doesn't seem to get that living in the city is far different than the control freak nature of a Home Owners Association in the self-righteous suburbs. It should have been clear to anyone looking at the plans for this area for the last 5+ years that quirky/creative was going to be part of the intentional feel of things and that entertainment was going to be a huge focus with large open parks, a baseball stadium, and plans for things like an ice skating area.

This is a fantastic idea and with the influx of new residents at Foundry Lofts and all the new rowhouse townhouses at Capitol Quarter (95% sold), there's no reason to think an open market like this isn't going to be a great after work spot for those working in the neighborhood and those coming back to it after working elsewhere. Throw in the work being done on several new residential spots, including the Harris Teeter/residential building, and even if the market isn't a smashing success this year, it's something that could provide a great bridge to the future until the neighborhood is big enough that something different is needed there.

The shipping container idea is on par with the boilermaker shops and Foundry Lofts as one of the coolest ideas in DC in quite a while.

PJY03 says: (2/17/12 2:24 PM)
I think people need to think "out of the box" on this, if you'll pardon the bad pun. We think of the bullpen as something that rides on the back of Nats Park. So there's a tendency to think that on non-game days, this place will be dead.

In reality, you'd have to figure that the whole reason that Bo Blair wants to change the concept for that site is that the bullpen itself is way too reliant on the Nats. It is not, and can never be, an attraction in and of itself. But this can be. It'll still thrive during game days, yes. But there will be weeknight demand too. It is essentially going to be a trendy outdoor shopping center with drinking. If done right, it will be a destination. I think you'll have people coming down from Shaw/Howard metro, which has a growing upper-middle class. You'll have people from the neighborhood. And you'll have people that work in the area stop by after work. In the summer, when daylight lasts until 8pm, people want to be outside on weeknights. With advances in guerilla marketing, social media, and a more diverse local culture than DC has ever seen, this will become a phenomenon by June.

Anything that adds a "destination" to this neighborhood other than the ballpark is good news. I can count on one hand the number of non-CapRiverfront friends I have that have even heard of the Yards Park or Canal Park. Most people still perceive the neighborhood as a total failure and have no idea the progress is being made because they aren't Nats fans and have never actually seen the neighborhood.

Robert says: (2/17/12 4:50 PM)
I'm not opposed to the fairgrounds or its future use, just because I choose not to get excited about two city blocks of salvaged containers bordering it, doesn't make me a complete pessimist. Regardless, I'm sure this will fit right in with the public storage building and the U-haul facility. I'm sure it will look astonishing and will become DC's top destination for buying what-nots and good beer drinking and all of my friends will envy me because while their containers are stuck at loading docks (where they don't belong, I might add) we get to play in ours before ball games. What was I thinking this IS the next big thing, it’s sure to fill empty office space and give people a reason to come to SE. I should call my brother at DCRA to speed up the process. Go Capital River Front!

Blue says: (2/18/12 10:15 AM)
I worked in Africa for a few months and visited the local Shebeen on occasion. It's an illegal store that sells alcohol. This one happened to be in an old abandoned shipping container. Even under trees, it was swelteringly hot with no ventilation - just one door and no windows. When they say you could fry an egg on something, this was it! The liquor was mostly home-brewed, and the toilets were non-existent.
I'd hope for some sail-shades for cover from the heat and some decent bathroom facilities in trailers. Sounds like a fun attraction.

lefabe says: (2/22/12 12:05 PM)
They were converting containers into pools last year in NYC. Wouldn't mind having a temporary outdoor pool right next door!

Kitty Loyd says: (3/5/12 1:38 PM)
JD - do you know if this is moving forward? The plywood wall/boards on the west side of Half street between N and M have been stripped of the Nationals and other "welcome" signs, and a stretch of the boards toward the south end of the block has been taken out, leaving an open hole into that whole "truckeroo" area/parking lot. Just wondering if they are getting ready for the fairgrounds, or if they're just taking that plywood wall down regardless?

JD says: (3/5/12 1:40 PM)
My assumption is that it's moving forward. As I said above, the existing fence is to be replaced with shipping containers that will be acting as the new "fence."

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