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DC’s New Super Markets

by Rebecca Cooper

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The new Union Market.

There’s seemingly no limit to the demand for better quality foods these days. With countless farmers markets popping up in various corners of DC, residents want it fresh and local, and are willing to pay the premium associated with those attributes. Hoping to capitalize on the growing food love are several new innovative, large-scale projects that, in addition to being places where people can indulge in specialty foods, want to become community gathering places and neighborhood hangouts. These “super markets” include:

Union Market: A huge indoor bazaar and culinary center at the site of the Florida Avenue Market at 1309 5th Street NE. The 47,000 square-foot market will eventually be home to 40 vendors and casual eateries. It held its official opening June 3 with a star-studded James Beard dinner, and developer Edens is hoping to open the market’s first few establishments on September 8.

St. Elizabeth’s restaurant pavilion: This still-to-be-built, all-weather pavilion at the former hospital campus in Southeast’s Ward 8 (map) is proposed as a home for grab-and-go food, fresh market tenants and other retail uses combined with a community event space. The city government plans to use the pavilion as a gateway to the 183-acre St. Elizabeth’s site, which will be redeveloped in stages over the next few years. The first office building, that of the U.S. Coast Guard, opens next year.

Boilermaker Shops: While not a market in the strict sense, this former Navy building in Southeast is going to be the retail jewel of Forest City’s Yards development. The shops just south of the Navy Yard Metro stop (map) will be made up of restaurants and eateries run by owners with plenty of foodie bona fides, as well as a number of retailers. The first few tenants in the 34,000 square-foot complex are aiming to open this summer.

So, why are all these concepts banking on this model? There are a number of benefits, ranging from location to economics to community. And all are going to take something old and make it new again, a popular trend in urban development.

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“The history of food in this place is a determining factor,” says Steven Boyle, managing director for Edens, the company developing Union Market. “It’s an authentic warehouse district with a food history, whether it’s restaurants or, more recently, distribution.”

The Boilermaker Shops are going into a former Navy industrial building used primarily for building boilers and other ship parts; the structure is a landmark so very little can change about the outside. But it makes for a great restaurant location, says Forest City Washington’s Gary McManus.

“Because the Boilermaker Shop was built set back from Tingey Street, this configuration allows for a natural outdoor seating area along the south length of the building,” he says.

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Boilermaker Shops, currently under construction.

In addition, opening a small shop in the context of a larger market provides opportunities for new retailers taking the plunge for the first time, or for established businesses branching out into a new, untested neighborhood.

Of those businesses committed to Union Market, several are opening their first permanent locations. Modern, boozy soda fountain Buffalo and Bergen will be the first solo venture for gregarious DC mixologist Gina Chersevani; food truck TaKorean and pickle-maker Oh Pickles! will also have their first permanent shops there.

“It alleviates a little bit of anxiety when you’re going into a place with others with that ‘first steps into a new endeavor’ type of feeling,” says Boyle.

At St. Elizabeth’s, the restaurant pavilion could also provide a valuable test case for food trucks or other first time retailers who may have hesitated to open in Ward 8, José Sousa, communications director for Deputy Mayor Victor Hoskins, said.

“It’s an effort to show retailers and restaurateurs…to really let them do a test case and find out that it is indeed feasible to run a successful business in that part of town, that there is a captive community that is willing to spend money locally,” says Sousa.

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Floorplan for new Union Market. Click to enlarge.

Then, there’s the “strength in numbers” benefit. As Gary McManus points out, establishing these centers in growing neighborhoods starts a snowball effect.

“This style of development, having an all-retail/restaurant center within the neighborhood, is attractive not only to area residents, office workers and visitors,” says McManus. “It’s also good for tenants in that they benefit from a certain critical mass of retail/restaurants to attract greater overall amounts of traffic.”

The St. Elizabeth’s pavilion vision includes drawing in a diverse clientele at various times to keep the businesses there active. “We want it to be able to host all these events, vendors, food services, retail…and community and cultural events on evenings and weekends,” says Ethan Warsh, project manager for the St. Elizabeth’s Redevelopment Initiative.

All of these factors are part of what developers hope will make the new endeavors successful. But at their heart, the markets will be banking on one thing: DC’s growing food obsession.

“The local, organic explosion just continues to pick up momentum,” Boyle says. “Because not only is it a healthy option, it feels good to participate in the food chain in that way. To buy local, to support local, and to eat healthy.”

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/dcs_new_super_markets/5635

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