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Southwest D.C. Gears Up For More Redevelopment

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A rendering of what one part of the finished Wharf will look like from the street. It features restaurants, offices, living spaces, and lots of people.
Image courtesy of Hoffman-Madison Waterfront.
A rendering of what one part of the finished Wharf will look like from the street. It features restaurants, offices, living spaces, and lots of people.

Washington, D.C.'s Southwest Waterfront is getting ready for some major renovations, but it's not the first time the quadrant has attempted a radical shift.

Cara Shockley is a resident of Southwest who has seen the neighborhood change drastically. She remembers visiting it with her mother when she was 9 years old, pointing at an apartment building, and saying, "Mom! Dad! I want to live there when I grow up!"

Her mother's response? "Oh, no. You don't want to live in a neighborhood like this!"

Shockley now lives in that same building she was so fond of when she was a child. Clearly Southwest is different than it was then, but it's about to transform even more. In the coming years, the littlest quadrant will see a number of large-scale development projects. They're aimed at making the waterfront a destination, and a desirable neighborhood in which to live.

The major planned development for the area is called The Wharf. It will completely revamp the part of Southwest closest to the water by bringing in new residential and office space, as well as hotels, dining and retail.

Matt Steenhoek is the associate development director of PN Hoffman, which is one half of the Hoffman-Madison waterfront development team that's responsible for The Wharf.

"One of the biggest things that we've always tried to do here is to really bring Washington down to the waterfront," he says.

Since most of Southwest, D.C. is mostly geared toward federal workers, making this shift is challenging. Bob Craycraft is another proud Southwest resident, who's almost an unofficial ambassador for the quadrant. He is constantly full of energy and excitement about what it has to offer, and says that there are lots of built-in benefits to living there, like the location.

"The unique advantage of Southwest Waterfront is its proximity," he says. "You're four blocks off the National Mall. Yet by Metro, you're four stops from National Airport if you want to fly away for the weekend. You're right in the heart of the city without being in the congestion of the city."

He, like Cara Shockley, thinks that neighborhood retail is key. The Southwest currently lacks a lot of the amenities that other neighborhoods have, like a number of restaurants or grocery stores to choose from, food options that stay open past 7:00 at night, hardware stores, locksmiths, etc.

"I am most looking forward to increased retail and food and beverage outlets," Craycraft says. "And I think like everybody, I'd like to have a neighborhood bar to hang out in."

But you may remember that the Southwest Waterfront has already tried a massive re-development effort, with some of these things in mind. During the 1950s and '60s, much of the neighborhood was razed and rebuilt, which displaced many of the area's low-income residents. So it's important to know if things will be any different this time around.

According to Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells, who represents the neighborhood in the City Council, "We're creating more affordable housing in this area than almost anywhere in the city. What I envision is really enlivening the waterfront. That we're a city that was built on the convergence of two rivers, but over the past 100 years, almost all of the development is focused towards downtown, and not utilizing the waterfront as an asset of what makes Washington special."

A key part of bringing Washington to the waterfront is using the water itself, which makes a big difference for people living in the water. The Southwest Waterfront is home to a number of houseboat residents like Karen Anderson.

Anderson is the new president of the Gangplank Slipholders Association, which is basically homeowners association for people who live on houseboats in the Gangplank Marina. Part of the development vision is to create more room for boats to dock for shorter stays, which means moving the houseboats currently there into about half as much space. For those who live on a boat, that brings a whole lot into consideration that you may not expect.

According to Anderson, some of the new questions include, "Are my power cables long enough? Is my winter water hose long enough to go to the new spigot on my new dock? Are my drapes opaque enough when there's somebody right next to me?"

So many transitions on such a large scale mean adjustments for everyone. It means losing views, the demolition of businesses, less privacy, and a louder, busier neighborhood. And while there are plans to keep homes and apartments reasonably priced, no one can predict what will happen in the decades to come.

The only thing for sure is change. Bob Craycraft says that he's ready for it, and that it's only natural.

"I think a city, a healthy city, is a living organism. It evolves. And it changes constantly."

[Music: "From This Moment On" by Bohuslan Big Band from Don't Fence Me In - The Music of Cole Porter]

Photos: Southwest Waterfront

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