Housing Complex

Gary Rappaport: No Trolley, No Building on H Street

The Rappaport Companies' planned redevelopment of a shabby suburban-style mall on H Street NE between 8th and 10th Streets was one of the early big, new projects for the corridor (though Guy Steuart's Giant-anchored building got out of the ground on 3rd Street first). Since then, there's been no movement, even as developers buy up the rest of the street. What is Gary Rappaport waiting for?

Just like everyone else, he's waiting for the streetcar—but tracks and a promised start date from the District aren't good enough. Right now, Rappaport still has to negotiate termination agreements with the tenants currently in the mall, and doesn't want to lose that rental income before bringing in the kind of retail and restaurants that a functional streetcar would attract. Then, he has to find a joint venture partner to build and own the 350 or so residential units. Neither of those things should be difficult, but Rappaport says he needs certainty before making any moves.

"The most important thing in bringing those two thing together is knowing when the trolley's going to start," he told me yesterday. "I can't lease space now. I have to lease space when there's a few more buildings up, when the Giant's open, when there's a trolley running."

That's supposed to be in 2013, but given that the District hasn't even announced its selection of a firm to finish the design and buildout of a power station, overhead wires, and a maintenance facility, it's looking increasingly unlikely.

  • michaeliceman

    Typical Rappaport! LOL!

  • H-streeter

    Blame the inactivity regards to trolley on the distinguished Mayor Vincent Gray who has done nothing for the years that he has been in office.

  • blkwrestl

    Why should the trolley determine development. If this is becoming a bike city and the buses still run up and down H street, What is the problem?

  • George52

    A Desire Named Streetcar.

  • cminus

    @blkwrestl, because, as this article shows, property developers don't trust buses.

    That's why streetcar supporters argued that the streetcar would be a better deal than increased bus service in the first place. Buses have some obvious advantages over streetcars, one of them being that they're much easier to reroute. However, from the point of view of a property owner, that's actually a disadvantage -- what happens if I buy a property because it has great bus service, and all the buses get rerouted away from my property? Landlords and tenants will pay a premium for space convenient to rail traffic, because rail is seen as a commitment to provide service in the future, but they won't pay a premium for bus service.

    If a developer isn't sure they'll have rail service, then they'll have to offer lower rents, and if they have to lower rents they might not be able to make back the cost of developing the property in the first place.

    @George52: Heh. Nice one.

  • AP

    @cminus - I understand why streetcar supporters would prefer streetcars over increased bus service, but H Street is THE prime commercial strip in this part of town. That's likely not going to change any time soon. Can you imagine the city rerouting buses away from 14th Street NW onto...say...13th Street? Not. Gonna. Happen. The city could have had an express/enhanced bus service up and running along this corridor years ago (I know there are already some options) and saved a lot of money and heartache in the process.

    I'm a huge supporter of transit in this city, but I'm still not 100% sold on the streetcar. Also, H Street seems to be thriving WITHOUT the streetcar!

  • H Street Landlord

    Everything will be fine. Streetcars will run in 2013 or early 2014.

    Gray has put too much money and press on it for it not to happen.

  • wylie coyote

    c-minus,

    the odds of bus service on h street ending in our lifetimes are longer than the odds of us getting statehood in our lifetimes.

  • Barrie Daneker

    Ok DC enough BS get this project moving or STOP IT! Give up off your butt and do the work. There is no reason whatsoever that residents shouldn't be seeing progress. Those with integrity do what they say they are going to do... all other have excuses. So Mayor Gray do you have integrity or excuses?

  • H Man

    The Mayor should call up Rappaport explain his commitment to the streetcars and get this project moving! It was supposed to be a centerpiece for H Street and remains an awful eyesore and a underutilized piece of prime property.

  • cminus

    @AP, wylie: Yes, bus service will continue to be readily available on H Street for a good while to come. You know that, and I know that. Probably even the developers know that.

    The real question is whether the bankers who finance the developers know that. Given our nation's recent economic history, it doesn't seem they can find their asses with two hands and a map. So they're going to prefer to finance either projects near rail transportation, or exurban developments close to highways, and if they even consider financing an urban commercial corridor they'll demand higher interest rates, driving up the developer's costs, which kicks off the cycle all over again.

  • AP

    @cminus - Actually, centrally located urban infill projects are more desirable to finance and thus command lower interest rates because there are more lenders (competition) who are willing to finance them. The problem with this stretch of H Street is that there is currently NO dedicated streetcar or bus rapid transit in place, and the prospects of either happening anytime soon are slim.

    (Full disclosure: I am a banker who finances large-scale development projects). :-)

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

    cminus -- interestingly, during the abandonment hearings, in 1947 or 1948, for the 10/12 streetcar line that served H Street, comments by merchants testifying were similar to the point you made about bus routes being able to be changed easily, while streetcar service is comparatively permanent.

  • yawper

    There are a lot of people out there who will willingly ride a streetcar who will never set foot on a city bus. It might be a stupid perception-based thing, but it's a real factor.

  • H STREET FO-EVA

    we knew this before the election- how in the hell did anyone in Ward 6 vote for VG?
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/26/AR2010052605238.html

  • Anon

    Yes, there are people who are willing to ride a streetcar that won't ride buses. And, odds are, they won't last a month on the streetcar. Fewer seats, fewer stops, less frequent service, stuck in the same traffic, still forced to wait on the street (in rain, cold, heat), more likely to have to transfer to get to your final destination. Not an appealing mode of transit once you get beyond the "cool, a big shiny new toy!" reaction.

  • wylie coyote

    has anyone studied whether the presence of a streetcar increases tourist activity, e.g. if a streetcar running down h would lead to more tourists coming onto the strip via union station? the streetcars in new orleans and san fran seem to be real tourist magnets. is there is any hard data?

  • H St Biz

    @ H STREET FO-EVA,

    Mayor Gray is the reason why the streetcar construction on H St NE is completed-- period!

    One of Mayor Gray's first initiative was to end the construction on H St and, he did it within his first six months in office.

    Fenty and Gabe Klein had H St resembling a disaster zone for years, and it was left for Mayor Gray to clean-up their mess and right-size their failure.

    The bottom-line is, no matter what's said, it's a fact and is recorded in the annals of history that Mayor Gray and his administration are solely responsible ending the construction nightmare on H St and for the successful completion of the streetcar construction.

    Why not give credit, where credit is due?

  • Streetcar

    H Street Biz,

    I hate to break it to you, but the construction (while delayed for years) was completed within 2 weeks of its completion, scheduled 14 months earlier.

    Giving someone credit for something that was "in the annals of history " a year before Gray was sworn in as mayor is pretty disingenuous.

  • H St Biz

    @Streetcar,

    I guess you derailed and was out-of-service during the construction debacle on H St which lasted for years.

    As a biz owner who had to deal with Fenty's and Gabe Klein's incompetence, I know for a fact the construction wasn't completed during Fenty's term, but during Mayor Gray's first months in office.

    I've attended many community meetings regarding the streetcar, and at one of the meetings Mayor Gray promised to finish the construction on H St and he did in record time.

    Here's a link to WTOP's coverage of the Gary's press conference (which many H St businesses and residents attended) announcing the completion of the construction on H St:
    http://www.wtop.com/?nid=41&sid=2441618

    Also, here's a quote (6/2011)from WTOP which says, "What once was an almost undriveable, crater-filled street has been transformed into a smooth, fresh-looking surface, complete with streetcar tracks, new lamp posts and better sidewalks. In fact, city officials are expected to hold a press conference on H Street on Thursday, touting the success of getting the corridor ready for the streetcars.

    D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has fast-tracked the project."

    @Streetcar, you can't re-write history! Mayor Gray, not Fenty laid pipe and got the JOB done on H St., NE.

    Credit due, recorded and taken!

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