O Street Market to Get a Facelift

New Development to Incorporate Housing, Retail

For years, the brick building that sits at Seventh and O Streets Northwest has been an eyesore. Virtually abandoned since the late 1960s, the O Street Market will soon undergo remodeling to restore it to its former position of importance in the Shaw neighborhood.According to the African American Heritage Trail Database, the market was built in 1881. It was a primary shopping place for Shaw residents, who went there to sell goods, purchase food and socialize.”It was once a center for the community,” said Alexander Padro, commissioner for Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2C01. “People didn’t have supermarkets. They didn’t have refrigerators in 1881.”The O Street Market deteriorated in the 1960s due in part to competition from large grocery chains and closed after the 1968 riots. It was sold to a private developer in the 1970s and is now designated as a historic landmark on the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites.The developer who bought the building owed taxes and failed to fulfill certain obligations, which included building a bank. “It was really a bad financial situation,” said Padro, who is also the executive director of Shaw Main Streets Inc., a nonprofit organization focused on revitalizing the Seventh and Ninth Street commercial corridors of the Shaw area. “As a result, the property was not maintained.”Washington-based real estate firm Roadside Development acquired the O Street Market in 2002 and had gotten approval to put retailers in the building. Heavy snowfall in February 2003 caused the roof to collapse, and renovation plans were derailed.Under Roadside Development’s $250 million revised plan, the entire four acres surrounded by Ninth, P, Seventh and O Streets Northwest will be converted to a mixed-use development. The Historic Preservation Office’s August decision to grant Roadside’s petition to demolish the market’s west wall cleared the way for construction to begin in late 2008 or early 2009.The eastern half of the lot will incorporate the remaining portions of the O Street Market into a new 65,000-square-foot Giant Food Store. The remaining 7,500 square feet of retail space along Eighth and O Streets will be reserved for small local businesses.Susan Linsky of Roadside Development said the existing Giant store will close for about 20 months beginning in October 2008 or January 2009, depending on whether construction begins before the holiday season. The new store will be complete in 2010.”There’ll be new jobs – a couple hundred jobs for Shaw residents,” Linsky said. “They’ll have the biggest Giant in the city, perhaps the region. They’ll have new retail along Eighth as well as O.”The western half of the lot will be made into an open courtyard surrounded by two residential condominium buildings, one market-rate rental apartment building and a fourth building with 80 units for senior citizens earning less than 60 percent of the area median income.All together, there will be between 600 and 650 housing units. The development may also include a hotel.In addition, the Eighth Street right of way, which closed in 1977, will be reopened to pedestrian and vehicular traffic. A ground-level parking lot and three-level underground garage will provide about 700 parking spaces to address the area’s parking deficit.”When the shovel finally hits the ground, people are going to be excited,” Padro said. He added that although the 2003 opening of the Washington Convention Center on Mount Vernon Place Northwest did not have the desired effect on retail development in the area, the revitalization of the O Street Market is expected to spur economic activity.However, not everyone is thrilled about plans for the new development. Local residents Wallace Bigelow and Willis Streater regularly gather with other senior citizens in the open area adjacent to Giant and the O Street Market. Both men expressed the concern that as revitalization occurs and property values increase, gentrification will drive many residents out.Bigelow said that as whites who left the area in the late 1960s have returned to buy property, revenue coming into the community has increased. “This time next year, it won’t be the same,” he said. “You’re not gonna be able to pay rent in this town next year.””It’s disgusting,” Streater said of the O Street Market’s present condition. “The way I see it, if this was a predominately white market, they woulda been fixed it up.”The entire project is expected to be complete in 2011.