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Dear PoPville – Why is Park Place Retail Still Vacant?

by Prince Of Petworth March 25, 2013 at 11:30 am 60 Comments


Dear PoPville,

What is the deal with vacant retail space at park place? It seems the Donatellis, who I understand received considerable tax breaks for developing park place, are now appearing a bit too greedy. I would be interested in hearing their side of the story about why they haven’t managed to place tenants in two prime end unit retail spaces, as well as from prospective retails tenants (over past years i have seen some checking it out) about why they haven’t pursued. What is informing the logic here and what say or pressure can our community apply to move the process along?

From Donatelli Development:

We continue to work with our equity partner, Canyon Johnson. Our hope is to have total control of the property as soon as possible.

Until then, we’ve asked them to approve a listing agreement for a well-known retail brokerage company to market the empty space at Park Place.

We want to get the best retail mix for the neighborhood. Hopefully, with the Safeway crane and brokers working the space we can get leases signed and build-out started sooner than later.


  • kc

    Do they get a tax break when they do not have a tenant?

    • Anonymous

      They already get a complete tax exemption for 20 years! A big fat sloppy thank you from Mayor Fenty to his campaign chair. These spaces ought to be taxed at the vacant tax rate just to recoup the lost sales tax revenue!

  • Anonymous

    I really wish a good coffee shop would move in… Qualia is a bit too “tiny-hipster-elitist-store” for my liking. I also wish that the string of stores on the other side (Check Ace Cashing, “Don’t-Have-It” Hardware, and the hot dog shop, of the road would either update or fly away. I think the lack of realizing how DC has changed among those store owners is really beginning to show in that hood.

    • Thor

      that entire block needs to be revitalized. maybe another residential building with street level retail.

    • Farnsworth

      Eep; I wouldn’t want the neighborhood to become palatable to anyone put off by Qualia’s vibe. Isn’t there an entire rest of the city with accessible coffee shops?

      • saf

        I’m very put off by Qualia.

        • Me too. They aren’t open early or late enough for my tastes, have underwhelming snacks, and every time I go when they are open I cannot sit down because the place is teeming with hipsters on iMacs.

          • Anonymous

            you’re still rockin’ a Dell Notebook Pro??

      • Anonymous

        Sorry, I prefer a place with Hazelnut Coffee, and large(r) sized to-go cups (even if the price was slightly higher)…

        For a store to think that a customer asking for either of these things as “ghastly” of “scoff worthy” because they’re more “coffee purist” than their customers, I don’t need to spend my money there, no second chances.

        Hating known and successful best practices in modern business (ignoring customer requests) is way too “hipster” for my taste in Coffee, and I’ve lived in this area for over 20 years, it’s the attitude of elitist snobbery that came in late. I prefer Harrar Cafe down the street.

        • saf

          ” I’ve lived in this area for over 20 years”

          Well, that may be the problem (and it is one that I share.)

          I don’t like flavored coffee, but I do like latte. Somehow, they get it wrong every time. I like Harrar. I also like Columbia Heights Coffee.

        • anon

          I’m sorry, but that is ridiculous. Do you go into a sushi place and demand they serve you a hamburger because you are the customer and therefore right? They aren’t trying nor do they want to be a “hazelnut coffee” vendor. Successful best practices in modern business means selling huge, sugary, flavored coffee drinks? Sure, there is a place for coffee places like that and by all means push for one to open. But just because a place doesn’t serve the product you want doesn’t mean they are elitist and “ignoring customer requests”. You sound like the one with the elitist, my way or nothing mentality.

          • Anonymous

            What? It’s not like asking for a “hamburger in a sushi shop”, it’s like asking for “hazelnut coffee in a coffee shop”. Not a stretch at all in my opinion.

          • Sounds like he is requesting a coffee shop to open that is more to his liking. I too would very much like a larger, more mainstream coffee shop here. Big time…..

        • Anonymous

          That’s cool, but why the soapbox about Qualia? There are plenty of places that don’t cater to my desires, but I don’t see a compelling need to get all uppity about it.

          If you don’t like a business, then don’t be a patron. It’s simple as that. This whole “the customer is always right” business is a bunch of baloney.

          • saf

            You’ll note, we did not bring it up. We were responding to the “Why would anyone need any other coffee shop,” and the “I don’t want people in my neighborhood who don’t love Qualia” folks.

            I simply go to other coffee shops.

            You know, I like their beans. But I really do feel unwelcome when I go into the shop, and not only because every time I order a latte I get served a drip coffee with milk. It’s just not my sort of place. I want to like it, but I guess I am too old.

        • Anonymous

          Maybe 7-11 could open up a store…

      • Stavros

        Put me in the nothing is wrong with Qualia camp, too. They’re a small, neighborhood business making a go of it selling what they want: where’s the problem? I can get a latte anywhere. I’d rather have a place I can pick up some Brazilian or Ethiopian coffee beans right around the corner anyday.

        Should Meridian Pint install Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Light taps because because they’re more popular than the scores of better beers they already sell? Is that the kind of “best practices” we’re looking for?

        Want hazelnut, go somewhere else. It’s that easy.

        • Anonymous

          Isn’t “char-bucks” coming in down the street to the new Safeway, anyway?

        • Anonymous

          RE: Qualia:

          “Should Meridian Pint install Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Light taps because because they’re more popular than the scores of better beers they already sell?”


          (although I’m not the biggest Meridian Pint fan myself)

        • Identified

          “Should Meridian Pint install Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Light taps because because they’re more popular than the scores of better beers they already sell?”

          Should they? Not if they do not want to.

          But many beer places serve crappy beer to please clientele that prefer those brands. Just like steak joints serve salads and fish to appeal to a wider audience.

        • He is trying to go someplace else, by asking for a mainstream coffee shop to open in Park Place.

    • Anonymous

      Totally agree!! And it so wouldn’t be hard to find tenants for those places – the area desperately needs a few restaurants, a coffee/tea house, and a couple shops

    • 14thstgal

      What? Qualia is THE best coffee in the city. Sure, they are purists when it comes to their sizes, but there is a reason. Try drinking lattes from any other place once you are hooked on theirs- no comparison. They were perfectly nice and did make me a bigger one once. But, I was proven wrong as the ratios were then totally off. I hope more of the development in Petworth is small, unique places with a focus on quality like Qualia- not the crap over in CH.

    • anon

      It’s perfectly within people’s right to complain if they feel that Qualia has a disdainful attitude.

      I’ve never been to Qualia, and after reading what people have said about it here, I’m not sure I’d want to try it out. It doesn’t sound like a very welcoming place.

      • Farnsworth

        I’ve never found them the slightest bit unwelcoming, but I’ve always found it clear what they’re “about” was immediately appreciative of it as a customer. The proprietor is a roaster who roasts the beans in store; yes it’s a coffee enthusiast place. I would have never thought to expect flavored coffee and appreciate that their servings are actual serving sizes (their small isn’t twice the size of a standard cup of coffee like Starbucks’s “tall”).

        • Anonymous

          By what I said in the first post, I meant that having Qualia wasn’t enough for Petworth Coffee. I choose frequently to not go there because they don’t have anything I want. Business is about listening to customers, not about maintaining an attitude of elitism. Just because 5 people drink Kopi Luwak, it doesn’t mean that your business will survive a long haul in an urban market. These types of businesses close every day. Acting like your coffee is better than Dunkin or Starbucks and charging a premium price is much more likely to be tolerated in Tysons VA than Petworth. Good luck with that.

          • Stavros

            I don’t understand your Tysons – Petworth contrast. Huh?

        • SimplyBest

          Qualia satisfies my need for curated coffee.

    • Neighbor

      Coffee shop! Coffee shop!

  • Marcus Aurelius

    Though the answer is very cryptic, thanks to whoever asked the question. It is shocking to me that there have been so many announcements of new retail and restaurants coming to new spaces in the GA Ave/Petworth area while most of the Park Place retail – which is on top of a metro station and under a residential building – sits empty. I assumed it was because the asking prices were too high. But it sounds like a dispute between the owners that was preventing the space from even being marketed. Crazy.

  • Lei

    I inquired about the spaces a little over a year ago. At the time, I was told they couldn’t rent the spaces due to a legal issue. I just assumed they didn’t have any interest in renting to me.

  • fz

    Now that Muriel Bowser is running for mayor maybe we can get her to do something about this.

    • Doubtful…. If something does open though, you can count on her being first in line for the ribbon-cutting!

  • Brian Vargas

    It was explained to me by someone familiar with the situation that the equity partners in the property (Canyon Johnson, based in Los Angeles) have veto power over potential tenants. I was told that their standards are unrealistically strict for small businesses, and their distance from DC and unfamiliarity with our small business scene means they are unwilling to lease to business owners that have a more outlandish business model than, say, Subway or Cricket Wireless. Apparently, Sala Thai was only barely approved after a protracted battle.

    It’s ironic that their reluctance to take risks on a lessee is in no small part to blame for their inability to attract the kind of tenants they desire.

  • GirlMeetsFood

    I’m hoping better restaurants move in. Sala Thai and Subway are dismal! :(

    • I like this Sala Thai location.

      And I make an effort to support them — I’d hate to see this location close.

    • Jeff

      Agree with textdoc. SalaThai is fine. It won’t make anybody’s “Best of Washington” list but the food is tasty and the service is quick and friendly.

    • lamonting

      My partner and I also support Sala Thai. Weekend jazz is a plus.

    • Count me in as a Sala Thai supporter — decent food, super-friendly service, and they deliver for those days we don’t feel like leaving the house.

  • Anonymous

    DCUSA has taken forever to fill up. But it is finally almost all rented. You would think they would have preferred to have someone paying rent rather than let places sit empty, but apparently that’s not necessarily so. Maybe the subsidies skew the economics.

    DCUSA retail has also ended up being significantly more downscale than many would have hoped. I don’t necessarily have a problem with the mix of businesses — I go to Target, BB&B, Vitamin Shoppe, BB, and DSW all the time and am happy to have these conveniences nearby. But it’s not exactly Fancyland. I predict that if/when Park Place retail fills up, it will be even more downscale than DCUSA.

    • Farnsworth

      Convenient but a terrible neighbor. What could have been is still better than what is, because now that Iverson Mall Express is entrenched, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

      • “Iverson Mall Express”

        Well done.

    • PetRes

      DCUSA is downscale? That’s interesting. Nothing that you named is downscale. There are some cheaper stores that I don’t shop at (Modell’s, Payless, etc.) but that’s true of any mall / strip mall.
      What kind of stores were you realistically hoping for?

      • Anonymous

        Many were hoping for Whole Foods, REI, and the like and are forlorn that they didn’t get them.

  • Probably they have unrealistic expectations as to what they can charge for rent and the lease terms. I rented a one BR at park place in June 2010. I signed a one year lease, which stated it would be month to month after one year. Instead, they raised my rent and required another one year lease. In 2012 they wanted another one year lease and raised my rent more than $300, and wanted to charge me $500 for “amenity” rent. Scuse me, but aren’t amenities the nice things that come with the place? On my electric bill, they added a flat charge based on space not usage and an administration fee of over $10.

    I decided to get out of Dodge and now own a 1 BR with den and parking at 14th and W. My mortgage and condo fee are less then my rent and my Pepco bill is considerably less. I also don’t have breed restrictions or limits on pets (a big deal for me).

    Also, sooner rather than later? Scuse me again but the space has been on the market since August 2009.

    • Anonymous

      I’ve heard a lot of people talking about these absurd practices lately, primarily in newer “luxury” rental apartment buildings. Ridonk. I’m glad I bought, even if it was theoretically at the peak of the bubble in 2006! And boo on breed ristrictions!

  • Anonymous

    Weren’t they also screwed by Gillian “I’ll Never Get my $#iT Together” Clarke, who had planned some kind of eatery here, along with seventy-five announced but never opening places?

  • jenlenindupont

    Hi – I’m the original poster. Thanks for raising it with Donatelli, PoP. Noting that it’s been vacant since 2009, and the tax exemption deal stands, what are the pros/cons of anon 4:11’s general point re re-visting tax rate? While vacant rate might be a bit draconian is there a way to incentivize movement via legislation that rolls back that too sweet deal and what role should Bowser play in doing so? I’m not advocating the approach, quite yet, but it sounds like some pressure needs to be applied to LA-based development partners. IF that’s what it takes to get them to focus, then let’s start talking about it.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      Sure thing. But I think the concern is that we don’t want a row of Cricket stores. I think Donatelli is working towards getting better tenants. If the remaining spaces were filled with Radio Shack and other such stores – I’d be saddened.

  • Anonymous

    that whole building has a strange vibe to it. seems like it’s for people who ended up living in petworth not because they want to, but because spaces in dupont / arlington filled up too quick.

    • Rebecca

      Completely agree. i live just on the other side of the block from Park Place and often have the feeling when I walk past PP residents walking their miniature dogs that I live in a completely different neighborhood than them.

    • Anonymous

      Agree. It’s actually stranger. They obviously can’t sell these units, and are renting them out in blocks to companies and organizations who need temporary space for relocated staff. I’m pretty sure that the Mormons have housed some of their missionaries in those condos.

  • Richard Layman

    The corner is still a bit gnarly. When the redeveloped Safeway site opens, that will add more population and more retail activity (once again) and this space will lease up. But it’s probably not cheap space either, but premium market rate, so it’s a bit risky for a nonchain tenant.

  • Anonymous

    I was wondering why the retail has not been filled in this location. If you look around the area retail spaces are being filled quickly. But Park Place and apartments at Ft. Totten Metro don’t have tenants. Ft. Totten is a transfer station and is struggling to fill spaces. Hopefully when Ft. Totten Square and Wal-Mart are finish we will have some quality retail and dining. Please no more carry outs, liquor stores, check cashing, cricket wireless and pawn shops. How about petes pizza, chic fil a, famous daves, Chipotle, Potbelly, gourmet burger joint. VZ wireless, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, coffee shop, frozen yogurt, ice/doughnut/cupcake shop and banks/credit unions. The list could go on and on. This area is begging for quality retail and dining. Also I welcome local business. Most of the time I go to ColHgts, Mazza Gallerie, Dupont, Logan,G’Town, China Town, Noma or Capitol Hill. Look at Rhode Island Row or Monroe st Market they seem to have no problem locking down tenants. Its not 1980s-early 2000s DC anymore!!!

    • saf

      How about not another freaking chain?

      • Anonymous

        I said I support local business. As long as its quality.

  • quincy dude

    as a neighbor within 2 blocks, i’ve puzzled over this question myself innumerable times. i was also (along with everyone else) really excited to see the coffee shop signs go up, and then really bummed to see nothing ever happen after that. i was interested to see them put up some darkened glass over the vacant businesses.

    i look at other mixed use developments and am nothing but jealous at the businesses they’ve been able to attract (i’m looking at you, city vista!). i’m actually quite OK with sala thai – they deliver (literally) reliable food and are friendly to boot. i don’t often dine there, but it’s a nice enough space. i think subway is actually an ok business too – they definitely serve a good cross section of the neighborhood. i’d really love if cricket was almost ANYTHING else (except another check cashing or methodone clinic) but what are you gonna do?
    i think you can consider two different options for stores: 1) options that are offered relatively nearby, but not in the immediate area (eg: burritos, regular-ass coffee shop, etc) and 2) unique businesses that people will drive/metro across town for. i’m frankly quite ok with either.

    (here are a list of businesses that i’d love to see in the (3?) open spaces, from most awesome to least awesome (but still way better than what’s there):
    -bicycle shop (next closest one isn’t nearby, and there are are a LOT of bike riders in the area – the largest space at the intersection should support this)
    -wahoo’s fish tacos (please, someone get a franchise)
    -a NY-style pizza by the slice place (read: wiseguys north)
    -Jetties Petworth
    -G St Food (georgia ave style)
    -penzey’s spices
    -ice cream parlor
    -a sitdown/takeout/delivery place that specializes in wings
    -baja fresh / qdoba / chipotle
    -equivalent of any of the standard downtown grab and go sandwich/coffee shops, except open til 10pm
    -chick fil a


    • Anonymous

      My thoughts exactly. It’s the same thing I said in my post. I’m jealous at all of the retail going to other areas.

    • Agree on Wings! Wings! Wings! BW3s. I’d love a bagel bakery.

  • Anonymous

    I always thought this would be a perfect location for a BUSTBOYS AND POETS in the large corner space.


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