2006-06-20, 11:11

How to build mixed use where there is nothing

By: Jonathan Groner
An interesting article by Douglas Fruehling in the current Washington Business Journal (June 16-22, 2006) focuses on the D.C. "baseball district." If you have never heard of that district, that's because it doesn't exist yet. Fruehling is writing about the part of Southeast Washington where ground was recently broken for a 41,000-seat stadium for the Washington Nationals. Everything is still in the planning stage for the development of an area that most Washingtonians have never laid eyes upon.

"Planners and developers must create a lively neighborhood -- they call it a 'vibrant mixed-use waterfront district' -- in an area with virtually no structure worth saving and an unmistakably modern stadium as the centerpiece," Froehling writes. "How do you create character where there is none, without replicating Disney-esque environments found at suburban town centers?"

That's certainly the challenge. The Capitol Gateway Overlay District guidelines encourage residential development and require ground floor retail. Stores, restaurants, and bars will eventually line Half and First Streets, S.W., and planners hope there will be busy outdoor street life.

Thirty years ago, when a previous wave of urban stadiums was going up, few planners, if any, thought about placing major stores and apartment buildings in the stadium neighborhood. Mixed use has become an appropriate, even a necessary, concept these days, even in neighborhoods where there is nothing worth saving.

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