Since January, 2003
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Could Near Southeast get a new "food destination"? Resident Nathan Alberg and new 6D02 commissioner Ed Kaminski are proposing that the federally owned warehouse at Half and L SE be converted to a market and community space called the "Half Street Market," and are now starting the process of drumming up support.
Alberg, who lives just across the street and so presumably has spent a lot of time looking out his window at the warehouse, envisions the building as a site similar to Eastern Market or the new Union Market in Northeast DC, or Milwaukee's Public Market. He hopes it could "offer independent merchants a market to sell their artisan foods and prepared food products to the public, provide a managed risk incubator for self-employment, to provide public culinary training and education in a working demonstration restaurant, drive the development of new food markets, income generation, increased economic growth." In other words, it could be a combination indoor/outdoor market, cooking school, and rentable event space.
A survey to gauge interest in the idea is currently being run (so go give them your input!), and a public meeting will be held sometime in early February to discuss the notion further. This presentation was made to residents of Velocity this week, though it's stressed that these are early concepts.
How exactly the building would go from excess GSA space to Half Street Market is a bit murky--Alberg, Kaminski, and 6D07 commissioner David Garber say that the feds are "in the process of potentially auctioning the building or possibly giving it to the city." The warehouse, built around 1924, is on a nearly 30,000-square-foot lot, which was most recently assessed at $19.2 million. Just to the south is an empty lot facing M Street where a Sunoco station once stood and is the current home to Nats Parking Lot J.* Those two lots together, creating a block the same size as the 80 M office building, directly across M Street from the Navy Yard Metro station and a block away from Nats Park, would presumably be pretty appetizing to deep-pocketed developers, so if the warehouse property were to go to auction, it probably wouldn't be sold on the cheap.
What do you think, readers?
(* Side note: The old Sunoco site has been known as 50 M Street, being marketed by Monument Realty and owned in a partnership by Monument, MacFarlane, and Lehman. But my understanding is that, with the property being worth less than the loan, and with Lehman also being the lender on the loan, this site, along with the lot on the old BP site at Half and N that had the same ownership configuration, has gone through "foreclosure" in recent days so that Lehman now is the sole owner.)
Comments (19)
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dereknolini says: (1/10/13 11:02 AM)
This concept sounds great. I completely support these residents. It may take some great negotiators or serious access to capital (if it goes to auction).

This neighborhood is constantly changing (all for the better).

The 5 to 10-year outlook is great for those who own property.

jacques says: (1/10/13 11:06 AM)
I like the concept, but with Eastern Market a mile away and Union Market about 2 miles, I wonder how much of a challenge the location would present for a sustainable customer base, when it comes to artisan food retailing.

I do think if they were able to get a cooking school in as an anchor tenant, then filling in the additional space with cafe, and some retail stands becomes much more appealing.

Eric says: (1/10/13 11:23 AM)
Sounds cool, but not sure SW/Near SE has the population density to sustain it.

Jacques idea sounds nice

F says: (1/10/13 1:27 PM)
OK. I'll be the first to say it: Let it be a Whole Foods!

n.alberg says: (1/10/13 2:17 PM)
Thanks JD for posting this. We'll need alot of community support to make this happen - and we've been getting alot already.

I would like to add one thing - what will potentially differ this market from others in our area would be its flexibility. By using moveable/folding stands and furniture, this market could potentially have a luxury others don't - the ability to use the main space for other community or private events. You could even have multiple events throughout the day... it could still have a number of permanant vendor stalls though.

conngs0 says: (1/10/13 2:20 PM)
First off, as this is your first post of 2013, Happy New Year, JD!

I love that the first post of the new year is one about a fairly long-term potential project, which makes it reminiscent of so many of the posts from the beginning of this blog.

I'm very excited about the possibility of a public market located in this space. It offers a great complement to the larger apartment, condo, and office buildings currently in the area or in the pipeline. It would even complement the Harris Teeter to be completed a few blocks away (you know, if something ever comes out of that hole that is supposed to be Twelve12).

For those of you concerned about population density, I just think we need to consider the likely population of the neighborhood when/if this project is complete as opposed to the current population. A lot of people are going to live down that way (not to mention those who already live north of the freeway who could easily walk down to Half and L).

Moreover, as more entertainment options open, the neighborhood will attract more people from throughout the area. I don't live in Eastern Market, but whenever I'm around there, I almost always swing by to grab something cool to cook for dinner. I could see people doing the same thing after a baseball game, trip to Yards or Canal Park, or (perhaps!) a movie.

Ed says: (1/10/13 4:45 PM)
The Half Street Market and Teaching Restaurant has a public vocational education mission to train post-high school and DCPS students in the culinary arts and food business. The restaurant area on the top of the building provides classroom space and open demonstration areas visible to patrons. Students will be trained in the arts of cooking upstarts and have small business training and first-hand food business experience in the Main Hall. The site could employ 100s of food workers and provide an incubation environment for emerging food entrepreneurs

This educational mission is significant to the project.

The Administrator of General Services, in his discretion, to assign to the Secretaries of Education and Health and Human Services, as appropriate, for disposal of such surplus real property, including building, fixtures, and equipment situated thereon, as is recommended by the appropriate Secretary as being needed for school, classroom, or other educational uses.

The public benefit conveyance (PBC) allows the Federal government to lease or transfer title of surplus property to qualified entities for public uses at a substantial discount (up to 100% of fair market value). The intent of a PBC is to support property uses that benefit the community as a whole.

JD says: (1/10/13 4:56 PM)
(probably worth noting that the previous comment is from Ed Kaminski, 6D02 commissioner and one of the leaders of this concept)

Eric says: (1/10/13 6:04 PM)
So if the properties became "public use" then no super expensive usage charges, right?

In that case, sounds great!

Ed says: (1/11/13 8:53 AM)
Sharing more on the classroom space and demonstration Kitchen for Culinary Training. This concept is more than a market building or a restaurant building.

The concept will leverage emerging trends in web-based learning and demonstration kitchen trends that are underway in New York and London. Think TOP CHEF with real-time food arts streamed by cyber links to DCPS Schools like Roosevelt High School in DC also linking to the culinary programs at Howard University, GW University and University of District of Columbia. All behind glass where restaurant patrons can watch the process in motion.

But this cannot happen unless the economics of the building disposition support this non-profit mission.

Eric says: (1/11/13 10:15 AM)
Yeah I think this would be great. We need more unique draws to the neighborhood and it would be better than another empty office building.

Cooking school would be totally awesome and you don't find that in most neighborhoods in DC!

Eric says: (1/11/13 10:15 AM)
Yeah I think this would be great. We need more unique draws to the neighborhood and it would be better than another empty office building.

Cooking school would be totally awesome and you don't find that in most neighborhoods in DC!

Eric says: (1/11/13 10:15 AM)
What's the timeline on this? I'm guessing 5-10 years?

Packinblackandred says: (1/11/13 10:53 AM)

Considering the fact that the building itself is already made, I would hope that the timeline is at least towards the lower end of your range! Although I suppose GSA's disposition process probably takes forever.

ZoolanderANDtheBoYz says: (1/14/13 5:07 PM)
Fantastic idea and good luck!
Hopefully, the GSA will donate the building to the city.
It would be interesting to see what exactly would happen if you sit the city and other developers in the same auction house for a building that is assessed at $19.2 million.

JD says: (1/14/13 5:11 PM)
I do think folks would be very well advised to remember that GSA is under a lot of pressure these days to not give away the farm when dealing with their excess inventory. And, as I said in the post, this is some very valuable land.

Also, this hasn't even been deemed excess inventory yet--"in the process of potentially auctioning" has a whole lot of wiggle room in it.

ZoolanderANDtheBoYz says: (1/14/13 6:29 PM)
As much as positive and supportive that I am, this is a far-fetched idea. GSA is under a lots of scrutiny after their $800K splurge in Vegas a couple of years ago and the government itself is under immense pressure how they are going to raise a revenue. They will never give it nor will they sell it for a fraction of what it is worth. I am not being negative. I am just being realistic.

I don't think the city is going to spend over $19 million to buy a building that will generate a little tax revenue. But, hopefully there is a loophole somewhere out there.

Ed says: (1/16/13 11:33 AM)

The $19M is not relevant to a discussion because a public market business model does not work with this kind of purchase price for land. No public market (in any city) can be instituted with land and buildings purchased at typical urban land prices. So if there is a public market in our future, the land and building will be required through special means.

ZoolanderANDtheBoYz says: (1/16/13 1:41 PM)
Thank you for clarifying it Mr. Kaminski.

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