June 23, 2007

Gold Standard Valet Parking

The Story:

--- The DC Department of Transportation is considering regulations to create valet parking staging zones where restaurant, nightclub etc. customers could pick up or drop off their vehicles. Spaces will be leased for about $2,400 per year or $200 bucks per month.

View from the Bubble:

--- Stepping up DC parking services certainly could help DC restaurants attract suburban diners.
--- But 200 bucks a month for prime parking seems pretty cheap to us.

Link: WashExam

June 21, 2007

PNC to Build New Regional HQ in DC

The Story:
--- PNC, wich own Riggs Bank, plans to build a new HQ building at 17th and H Sts., NW. The planned 350K sf building will replace existing structures. The expectation is that the building, which will house PNC and other tenants, will be ready to go in 2010.

Bubble View:
--- PNC easily could have used this opportunity to relocate to Bethesda or Arlington. So Kudos to them for staying in the city. But that hardly would be fitting of the most important bank in the most important city in the world, as their slogan used to go.
--- Replacing the old Riggs buildings on 17th St. will surely help bring the area Farragut Square area, blocks from the White House, as DC's most prestigous and impressive.

Link: WashBiz

June 20, 2007

Zoning Chief Ousted

The Story:
--- Mayor Adrian I ousted zoning administer Bill Crews.
--- Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) delivered a letter Fenty asking why Crews, whom he described as "a respected individual," was removed from "this hard to fill position." "Why would your administration create a vacancy when the Office of the Zoning Administrator continues to struggle with a backlog?"

Bubble View:
--- If Mendleson is correct, this move will complicate many large-scale projects in the pipeline.

Links: WashExam, WaPo

June 19, 2007

Deal At Capital City Market Close

The Story:
--- Under an emerging plan, Apollo Management will help finance and plan the redevelopment of the Capital City Market into a mixed-use project to be called “New Town.”
--- The DC Council last December approved legislation that allows for redevelopment of the market, which sits at the corner of Florida and New York avenues in Northeast, so long as more than half of the merchants agree.

View from the Bubble:
--- Because DC is such a small city and is contrained by the height limit, it must develop every square inch to maximize tax revenue to make it a viable city. So this development is good.
--- Yet it is unfortunate that interesting elements such as the market must be largely blotted out as a result.

Link: WashExam

More Retail Planned for Brentwood

The Story:
--- Mid-City Urban is marketing a $96 million project near the Rhode Island Metro station to national and local retailers. The town center, modeled after the Shirlington and Bethesda Row projects, will have 70k SF of shops and restaurants in this forgotten DC neighborhood.
--- There has been much interest in DC retail of late.

View from the Bubble:
--- This seems a bit of a long shot in light of the fact that the retail near Home Depot and Giant took so long to fill.

Link: WashBiz

June 17, 2007

Preservationists vs. The Feds at St. Elizabeth's

The Story:
--- It will cost $3 billion to properly restore the St. Elizabeth's site. Some say the Dept. of Homeland Security, which is looking at moving its headquarters to the site, will not create enough spin-off development because DHS will be so isolated due to security at the campus.
--- "The area is sorely in need of economic development," said Rebecca A. Miller, executive director of the D.C. Preservation League. "A walled-off citadel on the site is not going to help."

Bubble View:
--- Wishing for better development won't make it so. Only the federal government has the money to restore the property -- either it does the work for its own tenant or someone convinces the feds to pony up the dough.
--- The impact of DHS is being undersold. The Pentagon sure transformed Arlington and it has tight security too. DHS workers will have to live somewhere.

Link: WaPo

LIne Forms to the Left

---for new townhouses in Southeast near the Baseball Stadium. Folks are camping out for when the units become available in July.

Bubble View:
---People say the market is soft and say they are crazy. Maybe they are.

Link: WaPo

Post Catches Up on Hecht's

The Story:
--- Erik Kolar, president of Patriot Equities, which purchased the property said he is exploring the right combination of uses for the building and "the focus has been on industrial, office and retail."

Links: WaPo, Bubbleview

Metro HQ Move Gets Serious

The Story:
--- Metro will open a three-month window for considering offers to relocate its headquarters. Relocation offers can come from all local jurisdictions after Metro adopts criteria for evaluating the proposals.
--- Mayor Adrian Fenty I submitted an unsolicited offer in April for Metro to move to a new building near its Anacostia station as part of the city's efforts to revitalize that area.

Bubble View:
--- Freeing up downtown development space would be great for the city, but its hard to believe Metro employees would relish a move to Anacostia.

Link: WashExam

June 16, 2007

Condo Sales Hype

The Story
--- Developers of the Grant condo in Logan Circle threw a glitzy party to boost sales. The party with a National player drew attention in the WaPo.
--- Why hold these sales parties? "We're in Washington. People love their events and their black tie and their kind of sassy parties," said Tracy Danneberg, special events coordinator for Metropolis Development. "You have to keep up with it and be different."

Bubble View:
--- Do these parties really sell units? Recently I saw a party for the Beauregard and thought to myself looking at all the cliched buff men dressed in black, this would be a turnoff if I were a buyer. (I think the park expensive cars out front and import beautiful people to enhance the look too.) I thought the first rule of effective sales is: make the client feel comfortable, not feel intimidated.
--- I wonder if the sales staff likes this marketing tool because they want to want to throw a party, not because it improves sales. I want to see the balance sheet not be feed sorbet cocktails. Then again, the second rule of marketing is: sell the sizzle, not the steak, especially when the steak is not the best cut.
--- Third rule: The flashier the party, the lousier the deal.

Link: WaPo

June 15, 2007

Rape! Murder! in Friendship Heights!

Putting an overwrought debate to rest, the DC Zoning Commission gave initial approval to the 5220 Wisconsin Ave. condo project. The seven story building caused one ANC commissioner assert that moving forward with this project is akin to "fxxxin rape our neighborhood."

Bubble View:
--- Please. Admist the Steak and Eggs and cars, people are actually fighting development. This site is blocks from a Metro station. C'mon people time to step up and say no to baloney sandwichs.

Wrong Way to Run A Railroad

Or sell a condo in this market.

The Story:
--- Price it high, and then slowly drop the price as the days and weeks go by as the listing gets older and older.

Take note of this unit at 2020 Lofts. True the condo is sleek and handsome. "Corner unit with huge outside terrace from 2nd floor den with views of capitol." Granite and stainless kitchen. Yada Yada. Parking. A couple of blocks to the Metro. Up and coming neighborhood. Sign me up.

Asking price: $799k. Whoa. And that's after three price drops. It started at $889k in February.

View from the Bubble:
--- It's almost been on the market six months. What's the point? The listing is so old and buried in the MLS the only people who will see it are ones trolling for price drops. I bet if the agent started at $750k in March it would have been bid up to close to their ask by April Fool's Day.
--- Remember the mantra: In a slowing market you must price it right to succeed.

June 14, 2007

Get Your Ipod in DC!!

But where? asks WashBiz. Moreover, where should Apple locate a DC retail store? Georgetown, U Street, Gallery Place? Vote here.

Bubble View:

--- Downtown, Gallery Place, Metro center is really becoming a retail counterweight to Georgetown, which used to be the only part of DC that major retailers would look at. Downtown has 24-7 foot traffic with it mix of office and residential development. Someday it may even eclipse Georgetown because it also as the Metro, which Georgetown does not.

June 13, 2007

JPI Breaks Grounds on Three of Four in SE

The Story:
--- Three of the four apartment towers that JPI is building in SE has broken ground. The latest is 900 New Jersey Ave. SE, a 13-story building that will contain 237 residential units and 6,000 sf of retail.
--- The first two projects expected to deliver in summer of 2008. The 70 Eye St. SE project will have 448 units in two towers designed in an industrial warehouse style; while 100 Eye St. will provide 246 units in a glass and white terrazzo marble building.
--- Next year, JPI plans to break ground for its final building, 23 Eye St., SE with 421 residential units and up to 35,000 sf of retail space.

Link: GlobeSt.

June 12, 2007

New York Ave. Deal

Federated Dept. stores finally found a suitor for the old Hecht's Warehouse on 1401 New York Ave. NE. Wayne, Pa.-based Patriot Equities LP has a contract to buy the Art Deco structure for an undisclosed price.

The massive 750,000-sf warehouse will be turned into a mixed-use complex on the site, with retail, office space, and residential units. No details as of yet.

Link: WashBiz

Bubble View:
--- With Abdo Development's nearby Arbor Place project, which will transform 17 acres at New York and Bladensburg Road, New York Ave. is set for revitalization. No longer will the trip down New York Ave. from or to I-95 be a journey through desolation. New York Ave. will be a destination, not just a place to drive through. Abdo plans 3,500 residential units, 200K of retail, and over 3 acres of open space. The first phase is planned to be completed by 2009.
--- Moreover, a transformation of New York Ave. will set a new tone for DC. People come here and their impression of the city was formed by the journey. Today that journey is depressing, but in ten years it will be a completely different experience.

June 11, 2007

Opryland Looms As DC Hotels Go Luxe

The Story
--- Gaylord has booked nearly a million room-nights at its National Harbor hotel in PG county.
--- Many bookings are with groups that have met at Gaylord's other hotels. Nearly 80 percent of its business will be with convention groups that look for all-inclusive meeting and resort facilities.
--- At the same time, many DC hotels are going upscale with renovations. Magic Johnson and a group of Los Angeles investors just bought the Hinckley Hilton Washington for $290 million and plan to spend $100 million more on renovations.

View from the Bubble:
--- Perhaps DC is becoming more and more the destination for the affluent and sophisticated. Nonetheless more hotel space over near the convention center would not hurt.
--- Is Gaylord siphoning business as the WaPo suggests? Two ways to look at this. Gaylord will bring more conventions to the DC area that would have otherwise never have come here in the first place. That's good for DC because more conventioneers will wander downtown to see the sites and spend some dough. On the other hand, Gaylord will siphon off conventions that otherwise would have come downtown. The Air Force Assn. will move its convention to Gaylord, as will the AICPA.
--- Much depends on how much shopping and dining these groups do -- the more sophisticated the group, the less likely they will be satisfied by Gaylord. Also it will be hard to get DC speakers, such as members of Congress, to travel down to Gaylord.
--- Some conventioneers could even end up at Gaylord for the conference, and then spend the weekend in DC as a getaway. That's what I did when I went to Opryland in Nashville.

Link: WaPo on Gaylord, WaPo on hotel upgrades

It's A Condo, It's A Rental, Whatever You Like

The Story:
--- Just like at Quincy Court, many units at 1010 Massachusetts Ave., that's ten ten Mass, are being offerred as rentals in this "condo" building. Allegedly 70% or so of the units have been sold, so the prospective landlords must be owner-investors. Its surprising how many units are being offerred by investors as seen on craigslist: rentals. Not sure what I make of this.
--- Prices at the 163-unit bulding start at $400k and go up to $1.5m. This one is for sale on craigslist too.
---The building, which should be ready late this summer, will have the usual granite and stainless kitchen. Rooftop pool is nice.

View from the Bubble:
--- No doubt the ability to hold condos off the sales market as rentals is helping to shore the DC condo market up, as seen from the May sales data. Unlike Condos in Chantilly, say, the owners can sell or rent. It's nice in life to have options.
--- This condo is not really in a gentrifying neighborhoods as much as a forgotten one. Not much retail nearby or restaurants for that matter. Nonetheless the Mt. Vernon Sq. area is convenient to downtown and close to Logan Circle etc. Beck is around the corner.

June 10, 2007

School Mashup

The Story:
--- Can DC schools be saved, the WaPo asks? The story is gloomy and reeks of a suburban perspective. True DC shools are abysmal, but there are some bright spots that are ignored.
--- DC spends $12,979 per pupil each year, ranking it third-highest among the 100 largest districts in the nation. True DC schools must perform many state functions, but $13k/year?

View from the Bubble:
--- Only with good schools can DC truly become a great city. Unless there is more than a handful, the old pattern I-got-pregnant-and-moved-away will continue. Furthremore, DC's underclass will remain as such with a professional class with kids to school to look up to.
---Mayor Fenty I must do something about the excessive admin costs incurred by DC.

Links: WaPo Mashup here.

June 9, 2007

Two Reasons to Dump Your Real Estate Agent

The Story:
--- Reason One: Commissions are up, says the WaPo. According to a review of revenue and cost data from hundreds of brokerages by the industry publication Real Trends, the average commission rose by nearly one-fifth of a percentage point last year, to just under 5.2 percent.
--- Reason Two: Northwestern University study says sellers without agents did better in head-to-head comparision in Madison, Wisc., where the study was conducted.

Waterfront Bargain or A Greedy Dream

The Offer:
--- $245K. 700 SF or so one bedroom for sale at Carrollsburg Condominium at 1250 4th St SW. Mid-range renovation granite and stainless. Parking for another $25K. My guess about 700 SF.

--- Capitol view. Outdoor pool. Walkable to Rayburn, DOE, DOT or the baseball stadium.
--- Don't like this one? Try one of these to buy or rent.
--- Built in 1967, the Carrollsburg offers mid-century charm, if can appreciate it. Lose the granite for some retro formica.

What's It Worth To Ya?
--- Buying as an investor or an owner occupant would take some vision. The waterfront is charmless now, but in ten years . . .
--- Will the stadium have a positive impact in 2008 or will it take a few more year?
---Owner might take an offer 10% below ask, since there is so much on the market.
--- Is there much of a rental market in Southwest?

June 8, 2007

Union Station Plaza to Get Facelift

The Story:
--- Construction should begin in the fall, assuming the the National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission of Fine Arts give the green light. Construction on Columbus Circle, the plaza's formal name, should take 18 to 24 months.
--- "We're really looking to dramatically change that place, so that the taxi, bus, pedestrian and vehicular circulation is improved, as well as getting increased park space," says John Deatrick, chief engineer and deputy director of D-DOT.

Bubble View:
--- Hopefully this will improve the plaza, like the Thomas Circle rehab, improved that space. Though we have to wonder why a better job with the plantings on the revamped circle.

Link: WTOP

May 2007: Market for DC Condos, Single-Family Homes

The Story:

Link: Greater Capital Area Assn. of Realtors

The Dish:
--- Condos: Invetory is down. Contracts up over last year. Prices are flat. No bubble bursting. Neither buyers, nor seller have an advantage, but this could turn into a sellers market.
----Single Family Homes: Supply of new homes to the market is down. No real direction in prices, but they are higher than last year. Again no real advantage for buyers or seller.
---Buyers and sellers should remember the Mantra: "A well priced property will move in this market."

June 7, 2007

Vintage Clothes on the Hill

The Story:
--- Opening on Penn. Ave. near 8th St. is Remix, a vintage clothing store that got its start in Alexandria. "The boutique is a fusion of clothing, accessories and outer-wear that covers everything from dresses for the office to that hot little number to wear to that social mixer," said EdenMagazine.com. Mens and Women's clothing.

Link: Remix

The Dish:
--- Tries out in Del Rey, then opens in DC. Sounds like what Artfully Chocolate is doing. Whatever, the point is that entrepeneurs more and more are willing to invest their time and money in retail in the city. For years, we traveled to other cities and saw national chains and local boutiques all over, but not here. This has all changed.

Mobile Try-Out

The Story:

---Retailer Best Buy is trying out a new retail concept for a mobile phone store, which promises to offer more choices with eight different network carriers and an extensive equipment selection including about 90 handsets.
---Need a job? They are looking for a manager in DC. Click here. No word on the precise locale.

The Dish:
---National chain trying out a new concept. Ok. Once upon a time when they said DC, they meant Bethesda. National retailers are begining to take notice that this city has changed and are recognizing DC is a place where they can do business.
---Would you have believed this comment was being made about DC years ago? “The D.C. area really resonates with a customer segment we refer to as the urban trendsetter,” Jeff Dudash said, referring to the region’s young, affluent population that relies heavily on cell phones. Other initial target markets include New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., Chicago and Minneapolis.

Link: WashExam

June 6, 2007

300 Bucks?!? For Seat Behind Home Plate?!?

Maybe building the new stadium was not such a great idea afterall. Seven bucks for the upper deck at RFK could be my idea of heaven. At least there I could afford the imported beer in a plastic bottle.

Link: WaPo

Only Two Strippers Per Ward

The Story:
---No word on whether this means one male and female strip club per ward. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force was active on this issue since the clubs displaced by the baseball stadium appeals to gays and lesbians.
---The deal on strip clubs worked out that places limits to two the number of clubs that can move to each ward, plus there must be a 1,200-foot buffer between the clubs and a 600-foot buffer between the clubs and churches, schools, libraries or playgrounds.

Our Take:
---We still believe that these businesses could spur development. That said, limiting the clubs to two per ward does help avoid overly concentrating them in one area. Unlikely that we will see these clubs in upper Northwest, or lower Northwest for that matter. The effect of all this is these clubs will probably jump across the river to Anacostia. How's that for the law of unintended consequences.

Links: WaPo, WashExam

Hotel Lands in Brookland

The Story:
--- Property (5.4 acres) used by Washington Hospital Center at 300 Michigan Ave. NE will be developed by Hospitality Partners into a hotel complex, said the WashExam. The D.C. Department of Housing & Community Development owns the land.
--- The plan is to build a 175-suite SpringHill Suites by Marriott, an 8,000-square-foot restaurant, 12,000-square foot conference center and 400-space parking lot in the first phase of the development. The second phase would include either additions to the existing hotel or a second structure operated as a Residence Inn.
--- Paul Cohn is expected to create a similar concept to Georgia Brown's at this property.
--- The project is in the design phase with construction expected to start by year-end, if all the approvals come through. The hotel is expected to open in the first quarter of 2009.

The Scoop:
--- Brookland has undergone its own transformation of late. Not as dramatic as other parts of the city, but change for the good is happening there too. Furthermore, there is much opportunity for future revival and this deal should only encourage others to follow.

June 5, 2007

A Czar Is Born

The Story:
--- The tussle is over, reports the WashBiz. The portfolios of the National Capital Revitalization Corp. and the Anacostia Waterfront Corp. will be folded into the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development. Details on the fight and the WaPo's Steve Pearlstein advising for a strong independent authority to oversee development.
--- WaPo chimes in too.

--- DMPED will rule the day. Let's hope we are not sorry we put the mayor in charge of everything (schools, economic development), when King Fenty I retires. Or when we discover we don't like him as much as we thought we did. To be fair, the jury is still out on Fenty, but DC sure is giving him lots of power for someone so untested.

WaPo: Development Agency Tussle

The Story:
--- The fight continues over should control the National Capital Revitalization Corp. and the Anacostia Waterfront Corp.? Mayor Fenty or a quasi-independent agency, which is "common in cities and states to promote real estate deals, streamline bureaucracy, and issue bonds," noted the WaPo.
--- The NCRC "has closed on 20 real estate transactions since 2000," including Tivoli Square in Columbia Heights, and chose PN Hoffman "as the master developer for the Southwest waterfront," said the WaPo.

DC Bubble Says:
--- Many complain about the pace of development under these agencies. Only molasses was slower that the Redevelopment Land Authority, which the NCRC replaced. In our view, these agencies are not broken, why fix them? Remember: reorganizing takes time too and distracts from the goal of redeveloping land. Push them. Prod them, but why change them?

How DC Eats Reveals So Much About Who We Are

The Story:

Three eagerly anticpated restaurants open downtown:
-- Marcel's chef Robert Wiedmaier opens Brasserie Beck at 1101 K St.

-- Cintronelle's Michel Richard opens Central at 1001 Penn. Ave.

-- Three-Star chef Antoine Westermman consulted on Cafe du Parc at 1401 Penn. Ave. in the Willard Hotel

What It Means:

-- Downtown has changed with these more casual restaurants. Casual? I looked forward to quaffing beef with my enormous mussels at Beck, but felt compelled to order wine. The space was just too cold to do otherwise. As for Central, Richard is as warm as Hilary Clinton at a $10k fundraiser. (Unless, of course, you are Hillary Clinton and we're sure Richard warms right up.) Cafe du Parc is the only truly casul one of the three and people are confused by its plate du jour simplicity and sophisticated touches. (Which one is it?!?, they ask.)

-- So maybe DC hasn't changed. It's stuffy, even if the marketing crew at the latest restaurants say otherwise. Is it the town's southern roots that provides the formal edge? A lack of sophistication that requires a certain propriety or else eveyone's inner-frat boy emerges? Perhaps the answer is all of the above, plus a few other factors I have not thought of.

-- But things are different. The fact that three high-profile chefs chose to locate new businesses downtown, not in Georgetown or on K St., shows how far the center of gravity has shifted in DC. Every day it seems to move further and further east. It's not just downtown, but also H St. NE, where in ten years the newest crop of culinary imports likely will land.

June 4, 2007

Dow To Hit One Million in 50 Years.

And housing costs in the region will likely soar about 2,800 percent from $477,000 now to $14 million in 2057, reports WTOP. Gasoline dropped in price six cents this week so it will be free in 50 years.

"We already have an affordability problem," said George Mason University professor Stephen Fuller, who directs the school's Center for Regional Analysis. "But this is really scary. It is going to take 11 times the average household income to afford the average-priced house." Ya right.

Anybody want to buy a bridge? How about the Washington Monument?

Toto We're Not in Kansas Anymore

Or the old DC for that matter. 22 West ain't cheap and it's not stodgy. Bob Dole would feel out of place. (He would stay put at the Watergate.)

The Story:

  • 95 Units, 1, 2 and 3 bdrms, $800K to $3.8 mil, 900 sf to 3500 sf

  • Zinc and glass facade,

  • Many units with 2 parking spaces, balconies

  • Rooftop pool overlooking Exxon station (yikes!)

  • The Scoop:
  • 22 West literally is being built around the Exxon station, which will be covered, hidden by a grass-covered canopy.

  • The West End used to be no man's land. Close to G'town for those who can't afford it. Now its taken on its own identity: close to G-Town and downtown but quieter with better retail (Trader Joes, more greenery.)

  • Are DC condo prices on the rise? Or is there just more super high-end supply that has masked post-bubble decline in prices? Could be both.

  • June 2, 2007

    Housing Costs Too High? More Crime Is The Answer

    Best way to counter rising housing prices: rising violent crime.

    Thus far in 2007 murders are up year over year by almost 10 percent, according to the Metropolitan police, which tends to underreport its numbers. In 2007, murders were down as seen here and here. For first time in decades there were less than 200 murders in the city.

    But crime is the Achilles heel of the DC renaissance. All the condos in NOMA will empty. All the families in Dupont Circle will move to suburbs. The retail in Columbia Heights will have unsold merch, if crime comes back.

    True, things are far, far better than they were in the 1980s and 1990s. But the DC renaisance has been depended on falling crime rates as much as anything else. Let's keep an eye on this ball.

    June 1, 2007

    Preservation League Guns for a Fight

    The DC Preservation Leauge issued its 2007 list of Most Endangered Places in a press release. Here's a sampling:

    • DCPL warns "the view from the west porch of the United States Capitol overlooking the “Grand Avenue” of the National Mall and beyond to the Potomac River and Arlington National Cemetery was once open to visitors. Today, extreme security measures cut off public access to this remarkable view . . . Centuries of careful urban planning that created a city symbolic of openness, freedom, and democracy have been overturned by spontaneous, ill planned measures."

      Is this a reference to the over zealous cops that put a few ropes on the Capitol, or a reference to the high-rises of Arlington? True the off-limit signs at the Capitol are off-putting, but the USA Today building and its ilk are worse, if you ask us DCPL. If the DCPL can wax about the lack of access, how about demanding that Arlington abide by the DC height limit?
    • Three former DC public schools located between North Capitol and 3rd Sts.
      NW "represent an irreplaceable view of the developing architecture." Armstrong High School, Slater Elementary School and Langston Elementary School. Though plans are in the works all now "are completely empty and prey to squatters and thieves," DCPL said. "Attempts to contact the Board of Education . . . regarding these schools and their dilapidated condition went unanswered." Shame.

    • The row houses of Columbia Heights, Eckington and Capitol Hill east are all under development pressure.

    • Last year we wrote about the risk of turning Mt. Pleasant Street into a strip mall.