The Mediocre Mile

Dave Jamieson of TBDonFoot recently interviewed our Councilmember Tommy Wells. In the exchange Wells labeled the stretch of Mass Ave NW between the Convention Center and Union Station as “The Mediocre Mile”.

Look at the area from Union Station to the Convention Center. All those new apartment buildings and it’s one of the deadest pedestrian streets. You can’t even figure out where the CVS is. All the amenities are inside the buildings. We’ve created an unsafe street with shortsighted development. The kind of development I’m pushing for is what you see in Southwest, with the Safeway opening up onto the street. There’s first-floor retail. You’ve got to have people put tables outside and create a safe community that way.

I think that hits the nail on the head. Ultimately I believe Buddha Bar, Subway Cafe and Sixth Engine make the 400 block with the CVS an asset rather than one to be pointed to as a failure. But on our grand corridors, like Mass and K Street in our hood, we need to start consistently holding new hi-rise construction to a higher standard in terms of how they interact with the public space. No more semi-circle driveways like you have at the Merdian and 555 Mass. We also need more ground floor retail.

The postal and delivery men may enjoy the big driveway in front of the Meridian at Gallery Place (pictured above) but this design belongs in Tysons not downtown DC.

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  1. 1

    Shipsa01 says

    Isn’t the new development on L between 4th and 5th also going to have large “Meridian style” driveway?

  2. 2

    Disgusted in DC says

    Well, the “mediocrity” sure beats Mass Avenue in the mid-to-late 80s, where is was scary to even drive down the street in the daytime with doors locked – the glass is 3/4 full as far as I am concerned. I’m sure there will be more ground floor retail once the national economy improves and investment in residential/commerical real estate comes back from the dead.

  3. 4

    FourthandEye says

    @Shipsa01 – I have mentioned concerns to Tommy Wells office about the proposed Steuart/Paradigm project on L Street. Tommy emailed me personally that he will ask Steuart to come into his office to review the design.

  4. 5

    chris says

    I agree with Digusted in DC. The area is a lot better than it was a couple of years ago. We need to be realistic. This isn’t NYC or Paris with 70,000 ppsm. (Although, I wish it were). There simply isn’t the market demand to support retail on all the major avenues. The area should focus on creating a lively little retail hub on 5th and K streets. Mass Ave and New York Ave are always going to be West End Highway not Broadway.

  5. 6


    The thing that developers dont seem to get is that when you put the retail in, EVERYONE wants to live there. People want to walk out the front door and have the cafes & shops to go to. Its why they are moving here. City Vista is staring them in the face, a huge success. I know massive real estate investment is a huge risk but this seems really obvious.

  6. 7

    tod says

    The developers understand that retail attracts tenents. It is just that they are being realistic about market conditions. A single apartment building can’t support retail all by itself. The cafe and shops down below need to attact customers from the rest of the city to be successfull. If every new building has ground floor retail you are simply going to saturate the market and be left with empty retail spaces.

  7. 8

    FourthandEye says

    No, every building cannot have retail. The idea is the prominent streets should. K Street has a retail overlay. So does two blocks of 5th Street. Mass Ave from the Convention Center to Union Station is prominent enough that it should have had one.

    I think the renovation of 425 Eye Street office building supports the argument that the Mass Ave developments a block to the south did not build enough retail. That renovation has converted nearly the entirety of the ground floor (~30K sqft) from office to retail despite being a less visible street and having less than ideal ceiling heights for retail (10ft instead of 14+). If there had been a commitment to better planning, the developers of recent construction on Mass would have met that retail need on the more prominent street with ceiling heights tailored to current preferences of retailers.

  8. 9


    I’ll just add this: standing out in front of safeway for an hour it is unbelievable how many tourists go by. tourists! The foot traffic is already there, it can only improve imho.

  9. 10

    Jason says

    Developers shy away from mixed use residential/retail buildings not because of insufficient demand for retail. I believe they do not want to take on the extra overhead and effort that comes with designing a building for multiple uses. For instance, if a building is to have *substantial* retail then it will often need to provide separate facilities for retail loading and/or retail parking. For security reasons residents do not want their parking mixed in with the retail parking for the general public. Also, providing an extra 4ft of ground floor ceiling height for the retail, with DC’s hard cap on building height, can often mean sacrificing another floor of apartments.