Housing Complex

Would You Open a Restaurant in Ward 7 for $700,000?

Last night, Council Chairman Kwame Brown came out with his edits to the Mayor's budget for agencies within his purview, and one tweak jumped out at me: A $300,000 increase to the Department of Planning and Economic Development's grant making authority to "encourage development, attract new business, and in particular ensure development and help bring another sit-down restaurant east of the river." Nevermind the redundance of the word development. What was this money for, exactly?

According to Brown spokeswoman Karen Sibert, it's a reorganization of funds within the agency that will free up a total of $700,000 for a table service restaurant. They don't have a particular entity in mind, but rather a place: Penn Branch Shopping Center on Pennsylvania Avenue SE, not far from where Brown, Mayor Vince Gray, and Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander lay their heads. It's a special project for Brown—he's been trying to lure a restauranteur there for years, having helped keep the District's DMV lease in place to anchor the center.

The location certainly has a lot going for it: The tens of thousands of cars that rush by every day, the relative wealth in neighboring Hillcrest, the paucity of high-quality options nearby. But broker Tom Papadopoulos has so far been unable to lure somebody in, and at least one previous potential—Ben's Chili Bowl—bowed out when the city didn't offer a subsidy.

The city uses grants to incentivize retail in locations where perception hasn't caught up with market realities; Yes! Organic Market on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue got $900,000 for that reason. I can think of one thing that might help more, though: Making it easier for developer ICG Properties to build housing on the back parking lot, which neighbors have opposed. Density is the kind of thing that helps restaurants survive long-term, not just come because of a fat carrot.

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    while I wouldn't do it even for $700K, it's not an unreasonable action, e.g., http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2005/08/neighborhood-restaurant-initiative.html

    I've recommended for years that such incentive programs be better targeted.

    2. But your point about more density is important. I'd tie the two together. Stop whining about the density increase or no $700K to attract a restaurant.

  • Sally

    Would the restaurant come fully loaded?

  • Conservemoral

    Good Question!

  • deborah

    You sound like the people in Ward 7 don't deserve a good resturant, borderline racist comment

  • John Capozzi

    Start over at Penn Branch Shopping Center
    I have been to the meetings and looked at the plans for the "renovation" of the Penn Branch shopping center that including a restaurant on the corner and the additional housing in the back. The problem is that IT IS THE SAME DESIGN THAT IS THERE NOW!
    This place needs to be torn down and start over. Some stores face the street, and most of the store space faces a parking lot that you would never know was there. This is not a renovation project as much as a facade change and an addition of housing in the back. Of course the developer wants big concessions, but the rezoning that allows a big housing project (that would not be affordable housing), is too big of a concession, if there is no plan to knock down and rebuild this dead shopping center.
    This plan is a failure and this area of the city that deserves better.

  • Native

    The city should offer subsidies and tax breaks to encourage private development from the Sousa Bridge to the DC/MD line. Private money is scared to come into the corridor without incentives. Call it prejudice or racism, but it's a fact of life.