National Harbor: A Development Rises Next to the Potomac

by Amanda Abrams

National Harbor

Ten years ago, there wasn’t much to see on the eastern bank of the Potomac River just south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. These days, however, the area is home to National Harbor, a 300-acre swath of hotels, restaurants, and shops that receives millions of visitors a year.

Less well known is the area’s role as a residential community, but National Harbor includes over 400 condo units, and more housing is slated to be built in the coming years. The residents that UrbanTurf spoke with gushed about the benefits of living at National Harbor, but its spanking-new ambiance and distance from central DC aren’t for everyone. As Chris Richardson, a real estate agent who’s lived there for eighteen months explained, those who choose to live at National Harbor are specifically seeking the amenities it offers.

“Living over here, you’re buying into a lifestyle, and you know that coming into it,” he said.

A Brand-New Gathering Spot

Located in Prince George’s County almost directly across the river from Old Town, Alexandria, National Harbor opened in 2008 to much fanfare. The vision of Milton Peterson, a Northern Virginia real estate mogul who was behind the redevelopment of downtown Silver Spring, National Harbor is anchored by the Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center, a 2,000-room hotel with over 470,000 square feet of meeting space.

Although National Harbor is already receiving almost 1.8 million conference attendees a year, more hospitality development is on the way; The Walt Disney Company purchased 15 acres last year in National Harbor and plans to build a 500-room hotel resort in the near future (although no timeline has been set). National Harbor’s jewel is its waterfront, a wide expanse fronted by two long public piers and the Awakening, the statue of a partially-buried man that formerly lay at Hains Point.

East of the waterfront are several commercial streets topped by condominiums, hotels and office space, studded with flags, clusters of benches, sculptures, and other works of art.

Fleet Street, One National Harbor, and Waterfront Street

So far, residential options in National Harbor are limited to three condo buildings: Fleet Street, One National Harbor, and Waterfront Street. In total, the buildings hold 423 units, 80 percent of which have been sold and are already occupied, according to Chris Masters, director of marketing for McWilliams|Ballard.

One National Harbor

One National Harbor is the largest of the three developments and is currently 85 percent occupied. Like Fleet Street across the street, the building features one, two, and three-bedroom units, many of which have large windows, hardwood floors, and private balconies. Prices for units in both buildings start in the low $200,000s for studios, mid-to-upper $200,000s for one-bedroom units, low $400,000s for two-bedrooms, and low $500,000s for three-bedroom condos.

Waterfront Street, meanwhile, is distinctly more luxurious. All of the condos have views of the water, floor-to-ceiling glass windows at both ends, and their own private elevator that opens into the unit. These two and three-bedroom condos start in the high $800,000s and all have at least 1,800 square feet of interior space.

Not the Ghost Town That Some People Think

Despite relatively reasonable prices for studio and one-bedroom condos, National Harbor residents tend to be financially comfortable, Chris Richardson explained.

Inside Gaylord Hotel

“Most of the people living here have done well and [the condo] is not going to be a starter home,” he said, adding that residents include retirees and empty nesters, as well as some young professionals.

Presently, fewer than 500 people live in National Harbor, which might make the area feel like a ghost town to some. But with its constant flow of convention-goers and other visitors, Richardson said the area doesn’t feel empty.

“It’s hard to tell the difference between tourists and neighbors, and there’s always something going on.” National Harbor regularly hosts jazz concerts and other music performances, and it has a weekly market selling crafts and produce as well as a holiday market in December.

Though National Harbor does have child-friendly amenities, including a few climbing areas and kid-centric shops, there aren’t too many strollers or toddlers crowding the sidewalks. That might be the result of the area’s relative isolation from other neighborhoods, or its lack of playgrounds and green space (though there is a dog park for four-legged residents). Those children who do live at National Harbor attend Prince George’s County public schools like Fort Foote Elementary School, Oxon Hill Middle School, and Oxon Hill High School.

Restaurants, Shops and Bars, But Not Too Many Everyday Amenities

The few square blocks of National Harbor are packed with restaurants, a number of which are familiar to DC residents, including McCormick and Schmick’s, Rosa Mexicano, Cake Love, Bond 45 (an Italian steak and seafood place with a sibling in Times Square), McLoone’s Pier House Restaurant, and Sauciety. The majority of the restaurants feature American cuisine (possibly to please conventioneers’ palates) and so far, few have received stellar reviews from diners.

Rosa Mexicano. By opentuning.

Still, Avis Vesely, 58, who’s lived in One National Harbor with her husband for the past year and half, said she’s happy with the selection. “There’s just about anything you want, and many restaurants have a discount for residents.”

As for other services, though, National Harbor is a little behind. A CVS and small grocery store are currently being built, but the area doesn’t include other typical community amenities like a barbershop, movie theater, or gas station.

Calm and Quiet

While there have been questions as to whether crime might eventually spill into National Harbor from surrounding areas, so far, residents say they feel comfortable and very safe.

A research study conducted this summer by the Peterson Companies, which runs National Harbor, found that 98.9 percent of patrons said they felt safer at National Harbor than in other areas where they shop and eat.

The Harbor

Time to Get to Know Your Gas Cap

Despite its easy walkability, National Harbor virtually demands that residents own a car. While there are alternative forms of transportation including the twice-hourly NH1 Metrobus that connects to the Branch Avenue Metro on the Green Line, a water taxi with stops in Old Town and Georgetown, and a bike trail along the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to Alexandria, none of these are feasible on a daily basis. They simply cost too much, either in time or money.

If you’ve got a car, though, National Harbor has direct road access to the Beltway and I-295, and the George Washington Parkway and I-395 are close. Debbie Clark, who works on Capitol Hill and has lived at National Harbor for more than a year, said her commute usually averages 20 minutes.

The Bottom Line

With its distance from other urban areas, very small population, and work-in-progress character, National Harbor clearly isn’t your typical DC area neighborhood. But for anyone looking to live in a nascent community where you could conceivably meet half of the community’s population within a few months, National Harbor could be an ideal fit.

Amanda Abrams is a Washington, DC-based journalist who has written feature stories for The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Washington City Paper.

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This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/national_harbor_a_development_rises_next_to_the_potomac/2658


  1. jag said at 12:27 pm on Wednesday November 10, 2010:

    I check back on this area about once a year, but always almost immediately stop looking around when I see that condo prices haven’t come down at all. I mean we are still talking about PG here - I don’t expect to pay 800K for a view of the water. After years and years of being on the market these couple of condo buildings still hover around 80% sold…how do they not understand that they’re overpriced?  Hopefully the new builds price themselves reasonably so I can actually consider moving there for more than 30 seconds.

  1. swested said at 10:28 pm on Wednesday November 10, 2010:

    I loathe this area.  Its artificiality feels like Disney (in a bad way), and the pricing is absurd on everything from the housing to the food to the parking.  Not to mention it is essentially unreachable by Metro (although I suppose that could be considered a plus for some).

  1. Charmaine said at 3:28 am on Thursday November 11, 2010:

    Well, I guess you can say the same about DC. Just about everything is overpriced and overcrowded. And just like there were people who paid $800 + for the condos at the Harbour, there are people who are paying that same exact amount, if not more to live in an area of the District in which they are building on top of otherbuildings and calling it “UrbanChic”.

  1. aj said at 1:44 pm on Thursday November 11, 2010:

    Is this a sponsored post?  This seems like an overly praiseful description compared to what I’ve heard from virtually everyone who has ever been there. I personally have not been because of its disconnect to the city and to transit.

  1. swested said at 7:43 pm on Thursday November 11, 2010:


    People pay $$ to live in DC because they are living in DC - an actual city, with close proximity to all of the city’s features.

    Why pay close to the same for some artificial, isolated non-entity that is filled with nothing but mediocre, overpriced national chain restaurants? There isn’t even a suburbia excuse…there is not a patch of green or backyard space in the entire area.

    What a colossal waste of (presumably taxpayers’) money.

  1. Joe Esq74 said at 11:14 pm on Thursday November 11, 2010:

    The lack of accesibility by Metro is legit but the place is pretty nice (Clarendon by the sea). People live in National Harbor but it was clearly built for tourists.  Re: 80% sold rate on the condos, the Floridian just off U street (among the hottest areas in DC) has had problems selling out.  The prices are not coming down.  20 years ago nobody wanted to live in Logan Circle, 15 years ago U Street / Columbia Heights were not on most people’s radar. Things change, no?

  1. jag said at 2:44 am on Friday November 12, 2010:

    Yeah, but the floridian’s been selling for 8 months - these PG condos have been sitting for a whole lot longer than that. But yeah, I agree that NoVa’s success proves that there’s definitely a lot of people out there that don’t mind the artificial feel of pre-planned town centers.

  1. mizark said at 1:48 pm on Wednesday November 17, 2010:

    The Floridian actually started sales in August 2005 before the building broke ground, it only relaunched sales earlier this year. The first NH building hit the market in the summer of 2007.

    I agree, the retail is a little lame and the place is touristy, but there is a longer term vision there and the condos are nice, so if you want to buy something that will likely appreciate and can wait for a grocery store, its not all that different from Clarendon or Fairfax or something.

  1. Charmaine said at 2:02 am on Thursday November 18, 2010:

    Well, has the Floridian actually sold out? I really find it hard to believe that the condos on the Harbour has sat longer than the Floridian in DC. What’s the excuse for that? The Harbour, as stated by swested, is an “artifical” community, meaning that it is recently built. The Floridian is sitting in one of DC’s “Hot Spots”. And even at that location, where is the nearest Supermarket? Is it not sitting on public transportation? Oh yeah, it also, does not have a “patch of green”, but with much “urban appeal” and it is actually in an established neighborhood. So what’s up with the delay in the sale close-out? Other than the economy. Feel free to give your explanation of that swested.

  1. makeba said at 11:49 pm on Wednesday January 12, 2011:

    The Floridian came at a bad time. The original owner/developer lost it to forclosure. So there was a break in sales, etc. Personally, I hate the building. The renderings looked ok, but its basically and all-stucco facade in different colors. Thats cool for Miami, but in DC, some brick, stone, textures work best. Some modern stuff work too, but this was cheaply done. The inside is typical. I wish I could have designed something there…it would have been sold out.

  1. Kelly said at 9:49 am on Thursday October 25, 2012:

    Hi! Where is the dog park you mention? I can’t find it on any maps or any other site.

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