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Neighborhood Expert Interview: Southwest DC

Posted on April 13th, 2010

One of the city’s few waterfront areas, the Southwest neighborhood of DC lies along the Washington Channel of the Potomac River. The perks of living in this up-and-coming area are overlooked by many … but not by blogger William Rich of Southwest…The Little Quadrant that Could. We recently sat down to chat with William about his neighborhood.

Thanks for joining us, William. When and why did you start blogging about Southwest?

I started blogging about Southwest in June of 2008. The neighborhood was going through a lot of changes and I thought it would be a good idea to start chronicling it and bring attention to a largely forgotten part of the city. Slowly, but surely, we’ve been getting more exposure.

What are the best things about living in your neighborhood?

It’s a relatively quiet area of the city but close to the National Mall, downtown, and Capitol Hill. It’s also well-served by public transit, including Metro, Circulator, and Metrobus. There’s easy access to Northern Virginia, which is good for me since I work in Alexandria. We have a fish market on the waterfront, which gets busy on the weekends, but the odor sometimes gets a bit overwhelming. Southwest is an ethnically diverse, largely middle-class neighborhood, and civic engagement is very active here. Housing is more affordable than other areas of the city and there’s a variety of housing types to choose from – we have condos, co-ops, apartments, townhouses, duplexes, and houseboats!

According to the Washington Post, one problem with Southwest is that it’s “void of the kind of natural urban fabric of corner stores, drycleaners and other neighborhood services that are common through much of the city.” Is this really a problem and, if so, how do you get around it?

Yes, this has been a problem in our neighborhood, especially since the redevelopment of the old Waterside Mall began in 2007 and most of the stores were closed to make way for a new “town center” development called Waterfront Station. At the old Waterside Mall we used to have a convenience store, drycleaners, bakery, video rental store, bank, CVS, Safeway, and several restaurants, but only the bank, CVS, and Safeway remained once redevelopment began. In mid-April a new Safeway will open and over the summer we should start to see some restaurants open up at Waterfront Station. I stopped shopping at the old Safeway years ago because it was so dirty and instead get my groceries at the City Vista Safeway or Harris Teeter, which are pretty close by car. Once the new store opens, I won’t have to travel to those other grocery stores anymore. We do have some neighborhood services scattered about, but due to urban renewal efforts in the 1950s and 1960s, our main retail centers have been concentrated at Waterside Mall and L’Enfant Plaza Promenade.

Nationals Park opened two years ago just across South Capitol Street. What impact has it had so far on Southwest?

I would have to say for the most part it has been a positive impact. A viaduct near the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge was removed during the reconstruction and beautification of South Capitol Street before Nationals Park opened, so it helped to better connect Southwest and the Capitol Riverfront. I can walk or bike easily to baseball games and the fireworks show they put on every Friday evening when the team is home is visible from my condo building. The Nationals have done charitable works in SW and hold job fairs to hire local residents. Also, the bars and restaurants along the Southwest Waterfront have seen increased business from baseball fans since there aren’t many places to go near the ballpark yet in Capitol Riverfront. However, traffic has increased in the area on game days and neighbors have complained about littering by fans.

You recently blogged about your sneak peek of the new Southwest Safeway, which opens later this month and has been getting lots of buzz. What are the highlights of the new store? How big of a deal is this for the neighborhood?

The new Southwest Safeway will be 55,000 square feet, which is about 20,000 square feet larger than the old store. With the increased size, more features have been included, such as a food court area with prepared foods, a pizza oven, sushi bar, Starbucks, and “cheese world” counter. There’s a stone-walled lounge near the front of the store with a fireplace and several seating areas. An on-site bakery will serve warm bread all day and a fancy bread slicer uses lasers to cut bread as it comes out of the oven. Other upgrades include a pharmacy, an attended meat/seafood counter, and garage parking. The new store will also sell wine and beer. This new Safeway is a huge deal since it’s the only grocery store we have in Southwest. The old Safeway was not properly serving the needs of its customers and we hope this new store will be managed better to go with all the planned upgrades and niceties.

What are the other major recent developments or upcoming changes in Southwest?

There are a lot of developments going on in Southwest right now that keeps me pretty busy. As a part of the development of Waterfront Station, 4th Street has been reopened between I Street and M Street, which hasn’t been around since the 1960s. Last month, two office buildings opened at Waterfront Station that now house several District agencies. A couple of condo conversions are underway – Potomac Place Tower and Waterfront Tower. Arena Stage will be reopening in October after a two year renovation and expansion. The Consolidated Forensic Laboratory, which will be home to the city’s new crime lab, is under construction in the northern part of Southwest. L’Enfant Plaza Promenade is currently undergoing a $40 million renovation. Memorials to Martin Luther King Jr. and President Eisenhower are either under construction or in the design phase. The old Randall School building on I Street will be repurposed as a boutique hotel, museum, and residential complex. A new Washington Highlands branch library is under construction in Bellevue, which is located on the east side of the Anacostia River, but still in Southwest. However, the biggest upcoming change will be the redevelopment of the Southwest Waterfront itself, which will be transformed into a world-class waterfront destination, currently in the design phase.

Please share some of your neighborhood favorites:

- Favorite bar or place to get a drink: Cantina Marina, especially around sunset because the view is amazing and the margaritas are good! It feels like I’m not in DC when I go there.

- Favorite restaurant: Jenny’s Asian Fusion

- Favorite area to walk around: My new favorite area is to walk down the newly opened 4th Street, but I also like to run on the National Mall – seeing the Capitol dome, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial all the time never gets old.

- Favorite thing about living near the water: Strangely enough, I like hearing the horn of the cruise ships as they leave their docks in the evenings (and sometimes in the mornings). Watching the annual parade of lighted boats in December, the fireworks show during the National Cherry Blossom Festival, and other events along the water are also a treat.

- Favorite (other) DC blog: DCMud, DCist, and JDLand (our neighborhood blogger to the east and inspiration for my blog)

(Photos courtesy of William Rich)

Read last month’s interview on Penn Quarter with the author of the PQ Living blog.

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