Friday Question of the Day – Should DC Buy the L Street Warehouse for a Market Concept?

Photo via @GarberDC

On Thursday The House Subcommittee on Government Operations had a hearing to address the future of 49 L Street SE. The Half Street Market blog wrote:

The hearing is being called to discuss “the costs to the taxpayer of underperforming or vacant Federal assets and, in particular, the status of the vacant GSA Warehouse located on L Street in southeast Washington, D.C.” The committee has invited representatives from the GSA, GAO, and Ward 6 Council to testify on possible uses of the warehouse. Councilmember Tommy Wells (Ward 6) and Ed Kaminski (ANC 6D02) have been invited to testify.

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ANC Rep and Half Street Market Supporter @GarberDC tweeted:

“@HalfStMarket hearing went really well. Congress & GSA very aware of community interest. …What a great building”

However Washington Post reporter @TimCraigPost wondered:

“Has anyone considered some won’t want to spend $19 million to build another Union Market, which many in DC can’t afford?”

Post reporter @OConnellPostbiz also wondered:

“We already have @EasternMarketDC and @UnionMarketDC — hard to see a third this close being best economic use.”

So what do you guys think – should DC buy the vacant L St, SE warehouse for $19 million and convert it into a new Market? If not, what do you think should become of the old warehouse?

41 Comment

  • Seems like an awful lot of risk for the city to take on. If the city does go through with this, there will inevitably be various mandates to keep at least some prices relatively affordable. I’m all for the city developing properties on its own, but at $19 mil + millions in development costs, I take that it would be difficult to sustain profits without turning into another high-end market.

    • Yes, but what if it were a roller skating rink? Eh? There aren’t any good $19m roller skating rinks around…

  • There is no way 19 million is fair market value for that property. I’m all for investing in community infrastructure but this too much. This is reflective of the DC council and other DC departments’ ability to forward plan in a cost effective and sustaining way.

  • Nope.Nope.Nope. We already paid big bucks for Eastern Market and the O street Market. We continue to pay more big bucks to maintain Eastern Market each year. I assume that the same thing will happen to the O street market. DC cannot manage property. Look at the Lincoln theater… hell, they even had to sell the Wilson building at one dismal point.

    If the market is a good idea, let someone like Edens buy it and do it. Edens is doing a terrific job with Union Market.

    • O street market is being privately redeveloped. They got $35M in TIF, but there’s nothing for DC to manage (or spend money on) there. It’s not comparable to city-owned Eastern Market at all. Actually, last I heard, Eastern Market was actually self-sustaining. I don’t know whether that’s still true though.

      • I think it is self stating but there are a lot of competing interests as well as bureaucratic/legal issues that means the city cannot seem to get the management of it right.

  • What about, instead of a market, something like a Torpedo Factory? We could certainly use some arts space. Not that the city should necessarily foot the bill, but a market doesn’t have to be a market like Union or Eastern.

  • It would also be a saturation issue. DC, not being a huge city, is already well served by Eastern, Union and O Street Markets. I see no need for another similar concept.

    • I can see the need. This area gets a lot of foot traffic from residents, people who work there, and the baseball crowd. These people aren’t necessarily going to hoof it to Union or Eastern Market but would certainly pop in and buy something. More importantly I think it will do a good job of bridging the SE/SW divide at South Capitol. Right now it’s still an ugly area that isn’t nice for walking around, but a lively market would help with that.

  • Why should DC do it? If it was going to be profitable, lord knows a developer would already be on it.

  • Remember that this is $19M that could be cheaply financed using tax-free municipal bonds. $19M is about what JO Wilson is receiving in this budget for a minor renovation.

    This is actually a time of relative luxury for the District. 1200 people (of means) are moving in EVERY MONTH. And that will likely accelerate over the next 2-3 years due to the delivery of 10,000+ new units of Class A rentals. Along with increased property tax revenue, it’s the income tax revenue from new residents that has added hundreds of millions of revenue each fiscal year.

    Great cities must make investments not just in the basics of blocking and tackling, but also infrastructure (streetcar, bridges, streetscape), arts, and entertainment (yes, including things like Nats Park and a DCU stadium). We still have a lot of work to do on schools, but at this point it’s not about insufficient money/investment- nearly every school will have been gut-renovated by 2015, with the dollars already committed. And charters and public schools alike are more well-funded per pupil than their suburban counterparts.

    Now is the time to build and MAINTAIN world class parks, subsidize public markets like this one (that even if it fails as a market, will only increase in value over time given what’s happening in that section of the city), plan and construct streetcar lines, and support the city’s arts and entertainment.

    • Yes, that’s what I was thinking. This area is really well located, but it hasn’t really taken off because it doesn’t have a good streetscape. A big building like this that attracts pedestrians with its street-level food and retail would help a lot.

  • NO – if it has commercial value please let private industry purchase and manage it. The only role for DC is to enforce building codes, collect taxes,, and determine historical significance.
    Get this piece of property back on the tax rolls and do not insert DC Government’s corruption, ineptitude, and mismanagement into this project!

  • No. DC can not sustain that many “markets” (Eastern, Union, O street, etc). I think it hard to argue that the money can’t be put to better use, but some may try.

  • There seems to be a lot of confusion about O Street. It is not going to be a market like Eastern and Union. It’s going to be a very large Giant, two restaurants, and a bunch of apartments.

  • What if they made it a baseball museum? Get the owners of The Nationals in as a partner in a public-private development. It’s not far from the stadium. The success of “42” at the box office shows the nation’s neverending love affair with baseball is still going strong. Could make it free for kids under 12. Permanent Negro Baseball exhibit for diversity and historical acknowledgement. Seems like a home run to me, no pun.

  • While I see the point of many posters about oversaturation in regards to markets, I think the Waterfront/Navy Yard area, with the massive developments underway and planned, would be well situated for this type of use. In addition to the community south of Navy/Yard, this would also attract people coming to see the Nationals (and perhaps those going to see D.C. United in a few years if other development plans go through).

  • Another market is a bad idea. I buy most my groceries every week from both Union Market and Eastern Market. I talk to vendors a lot, and they have a hard enough time keeping customer traffic high to profit consistently, they are constantly worried about sales, another market on Capitol Hill would just saturate the market. Some of the vendors at Eastern Market have spent their whole lives working in our community and we should give back by not taking more business away from them. Also Union Market keeps getting referred to as “expensive”, but if you shop carefully and know the value of what you are getting it is not so expensive. The Lamb is cheaper than Whole Foods, the Soup is the purest best ingredients you can have ready made, Things are local fresh and made with less & better ingredients better for our community……..less is more…….more healthy. The home shop….well maybe there you are right on prices being high, but you are paying for the convenience of some fun merchandise at your door. Some vendors at Union Market may be leaving if traffic patterns during the week don’t get better. I hope its a no on the SE Warehouse sale and let’s support Eastern & Union Market!

    • I’m guessing Union Market doesn’t get a lot of traffic during the week because of where it’s located. Not that many people, especially those who are the Union Market’s target demographic, live or work around there. It’s more of a weekend destination because it requires taking a small trip. The Navy Yard area is very different.

      • Actually noma has way more people living and working there than the waterfront area.

        • I wouldn’t call this the waterfront. It’s the Navy Yard, where there are tons of Navy and DoT employees and contractors working.

  • Roller derby warehouse (I know it won’t happen but I can dream)

  • To better understand what Half Street Market will offer, please read the concept paper and view the petition which was recently signed by 370+.



    The market will operate a workforce development program for D.C. residents and provide commercial kitchen facilities through the small business incubator. Read More.

    The Half Street Market initiative is a community-led effort to preserve and rehabilitate a vacant GSA warehouse located at 49 L Street, SE in Washington D.C. Half Street Market is envisioned as a vibrant public market and restaurant that will operate a workforce development and education program for D.C. residents, host community education programming, and provide a shared-use commercial kitchen incubator and access to small business formation resources for culinary entrepreneurs. Through its workforce development program and culinary incubator, Half Street Market will provide a full-immersion, experiential education setting that prepares residents to participate in and lead the District’s hospitality and culinary economy. As a public space, Half Street Market serves to link D.C. residents to local food entrepreneurs and opportunities to expand their own culinary knowledge through education and activities that promote community health and connectivity.


    • Thanks for posting this. I was trying to find the official plan of “This isn’t another Eastern Market”

  • Why should government be in the business of operating markets? What reason is there to think the DC government has any special competency there? Why not just auction it off to the highest bidder?

  • No. If DC buys it, they should lease it to a private developer and recover as much revenue as possible. Put this property back on the tax rolls, and get tax paying citizens to live there.

  • Build another residential tower. Just host the market in one of the neighborhood’s kickass parks. They spent nearly $60 million dollars on those parks and a market would be a fine use for the parks….of course Eastern Market is just a few blocks away…

  • It would be awesome if it could become affordable art space. So many spaces in DC are way too expensive for local groups and spend a lot of time sitting empty. That space would be awesome if it had some affordable, bare-bones black box theaters and art studios. Of course, the chances of that happening are pretty slim.

  • You could build some really good laser tag arenas in this space. But it’s unlikely. All those *corrupt bureaucrats* and NIMBY bozos shot down my great proposal to turn the McMillan Sand Filtration Plant into a paintball arena too.

    • I’d like anything to be there but another boring high-rise. There’s already a million of those going up at Navy Yard. Need more cool stuff like Canal Park/Ice Skating, Yards Park, and Half Street Market. Or an art space. Or SOME cool/unique amenity.

      • How about a vertical farm? You could retain the educational components and the restaurant, but add 12 floors of fresh produce fields.

  • tonyr

    I agree, let’s give the invisible hand of the free market a chance to excel. My suggestion – an unregulated fertilizer plant.

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