For as long as we’ve been writing about real estate on the internet, we’ve been ringing the bell for Washington Avenue, west of Broad Street. This corridor was traditionally industrial in nature, lined with factories and coal yards and with railroad tracks running down its middle. Times changed though, and people starting objecting to the idea of living next door iron foundries, and so the corridor evolved to its current light industrial state, where building supply companies rule the day.
When you consider the fact that this part of Washington Avenue runs between two desirable residential neighborhoods though, its continued status as a light industrial corridor feels incredibly anachronistic. As we’ve stated many times before, the wideness of the street and the fact that it still gets considerable forklift traffic makes it awful for pedestrians and cyclists alike, and so Washington Avenue can feel like a moat between Graduate Hospital and Point Breeze. The paucity of retail businesses on Washington Avenue and the resulting negligible foot traffic further compounds the issue. Slowly though, changes are coming to Washington Avenue.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a handful of restaurants open on Washington Avenue, including Cafe Ynez on the 2000 block and Chick’s Bar on the 1800 block. The biggest change just occurred a few months ago, however, with the completion of the Lincoln Square project at Broad & Washington. This project includes a few hundred apartments and a ton of new retail, including a supermarket. Unfortunately for the corridor, most of the retail is accessed from Broad Street, and the Washington Avenue side of the building still doesn’t draw a whole lot of foot traffic. Still, it provides a useful template for future development on Washington Avenue. More specifically, light industrial use doesn’t make sense here, but apartment buildings with retail on the first floor would seem to be the path moving forward.
And that’s exactly what’s happening soon at 2201 Washington Ave., an acre-sized property that’s been used for as long as we can remember by Biben Sales, a company that sells electrical supplies. Not only is the building currently on the site a boring stucco warehouse, but it runs all the way back to League Street, presenting a mostly blank wall to a residential block. This arrangement probably made sense a few decades ago when Biben started operating at this location, but today we can’t imagine anyone would choose to continue the status quo if presented with another option.
Fortunately, change is coming soon. A development group associated with (our parent company) OCF Realty currently has the property under agreement, and Biben is moving to a new location off Washington Avenue. Last week, the developers went to the ZBA to present a plan to demolish the existing building and construct 21 town homes on League Street and two mixed-use buildings with 90 apartments, 10K sqft of retail space, and a couple dozen parking spaces. The ZBA hearing was incredibly well attended, with over a hundred people in support of the project and a handful of attendees opposing.
Everyone in attendance from League Street was in support of the project, appreciating that the plan called for homes on their block and not the rear of an apartment building. When this project moves forward, there will be homes on both sides of this street for the first time ever, representing a major positive change for the people currently living there. There were plenty of other folks in attendance that supported the project, recognizing the significant upgrade it will represent for the corridor. The people opposing the project mostly spoke about affordable housing, but that’s not a zoning issue, so it didn’t move the ZBA. As you might have guessed, the ZBA granted the variance. Take a peek at these drawings from JKRP Architects, to get a sense of what you can expect in the next couple years.
With approvals now in place for this project, we feel a strong sense of optimism that Washington Avenue is finally poised to turn a corner. Along with 2201 Washington and the aforementioned Lincoln Square, there’s active construction on the 2500 block, and a mixed-use building at 18th & Washington was approved over the summer. Next up is a still-evolving plan for the southern portion of 2101 Washington Ave. (also from a development entity connected to OCF) and 2401 Washington Ave. (not connected to OCF at all). With all these projects in the pipeline, we believe momentum will build and additional projects will emerge for other parcels, as Washington Avenue truly marches down the path to becoming a mixed-use corridor.