July 26, 2013 - 4:33 pm

Is Howard University in financial trouble?

Over the past few months, reports have trickled in warning about Howard University’s fiscal health. The news is not good. The school’s enrollment had dropped, its annual Congressional appropriation has fallen, and the hospital is furloughing workers to make up for large losses.  On the bright side, Howard’s capital improvement program is underway and several cranes tower over three active construction projects on the campus (more on that later).

As for fiscal issues, the first warning came in June, when a Howard University trustee warned, “Howard will not be here in three years if we don’t make some crucial decisions now.” Whether the trustee was exaggerating Howard’s fiscal straits due to internal politics remains unknown, but a potential sequester of the university’s Congressional appropriation adds to the unease.

Since its founding in 1867, Howard has received an annual appropriation from Congress much the way state universities receive appropriations from their state legislatures.  The appropriation has remained steady over the past few years, but sequestration is expected to reduce the amount.  Federal funding accounts for a sizable 27% of the university’s operating budget, meaning any change will be noticeable.

Furthermore, the recession, which hit black Americans especially hard, is often cited as a major factor contributing to last year’s 5% enrollment decline, further depriving the university of tuition revenue.  Tuition for the 2013-14 academic year is set for $22,783, excluding housing, a difficult stretch for most families.

In June the university announced it would layoff 75 employees and earlier this month, the hospital announced it will furlough 1,700 staff for eight days.  The hospital has suffered a sharp decline in patients and revenue.

Money problems are nothing new at Howard. In fact, tight university finances are a theme that appears in The Black Apollo of Science, the biography of Ernest Everett Just, a 1920s and ’30s Howard biology professor and LeDroit Park resident.  The university has survived tough times before and it is rare for large universities in the U.S. to shut down.

Some of the bad news is more than just financial.  Late last month, news leaked that the university and its development partner had parted ways on the Howard Town Center project, further delaying the mixed-use development project the university has been planning for years.

Lift every crane and build

But there’s good news, too!  Visit LeDroit Park’s newest Capital Bikeshare station and you’ll spot the cranes that tower over the Howard campus.  In fact, the university is currently constructing three new buildings: two new dorms on 4th Street and an interdisciplinary STEM research building at Georgia Avenue and W Street.

The two dorms at 4th and College Streets NW and 4th and W Streets NW are part of the university’s plan to improve and increase on-campus housing.  By making 4th Street NW a residential spine, the university hopes to keep its students in newer buildings physically close to academic buildings.  The proximity is expected to boost academic performance and the newness of the housing is expected to attract top-performing students.

Here is a photo of the new dorm now under construction at 4th and College Streets NW:
New Dorm

When finished:

Design of the new Howard University dorm at 4th and College Streets NW

Design of the new Howard University dorm at 4th and College Streets NW.

Here is a photo of the new dorm now under construction at 4th and W Streets NW:
Another New Dorm

When finished:

Design for the new Howard dorm at 4th and W Streets NW

Design for the new Howard dorm at 4th and W Streets NW

At Georgia Avenue and W Street, Howard is constructing a new building for STEM research.  The new high-tech facility is expected to boost the university’s research profile and its ability to win research grants that require advanced research facilities. The LeDroit Park Civic Association supported the zoning relief necessary to build this building.

STEM at Howard University

When finished:

Design of Howard University's Interdisciplinary Research Building

Design of Howard University’s Interdisciplinary Research Building

Though the university’s fiscal woes make headlines, several important capital improvements are well underway.

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September 13, 2012 - 9:28 am

We may be in store for another grocery store

If local developer JBG has its way, a Harris Teeter may be coming to a parking lot near the 9:30 Club.  The proposal is only in the preliminary stages and requires the District to sell an unused parking lot to the company.

JBG owns the lot immediately to the south of the District property and would like to combine them into a single project. The two adjacent properties are labeled “DC Gov” and “JBG” on the middle-left portion of the map below. While JBG does not yet control the District-owned site, the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development will offer the site, along with several others, for sale this fall. For all we know, the District could select another developer.

As you may recall, Chevy Chase-based JBG is one of the biggest developers on 14th Street and U Street. They’re current constructing or entitling (seeking permits, zoning relief, etc.) several nearby projects.  At the southwest corner of 14th and U, the company is currently building a multifamily project that will include a Trader Joe’s. On the 700 and 800 blocks of Florida Avenue, the company is preparing to build two modernist multifamily buildings.  On the northwest and southwest corners of 8th and V Streets, the company recently revealed its drawings for a condo building and an apartment building.

Besides JBG, many new developers are including grocery stores in areas that have long suffered a lack of good grocery options. The forthcoming Giant at 7th & P Streets will become our closest supermarket when it reopens next year. If the proposed Harris Teeter ever gets built, it will be the second closest supermarket to LeDroit Park:

Store Location Distance (mi)
Giant (opening 2013) 7th & P Streets NW 0.6
Harris Teeter (proposed) Florida & Sherman Avenues NW 0.7
Trader Joe’s (opening 2014) 14th & U Streets NW 0.9
Safeway 5th & L Streets NW 0.9
Harris Teeter 1st & M Streets NE 1.0
Whole Foods 1400 blk. P Street NW 1.1

But wasn’t Howard Town Center, about a block away, supposed to include a grocery store? The proximity of a Harris Teeter might scare off a competitor from signing on with the still-unbuilt Howard Town Center. This could further delay the long-stalled project.

Developers like to have leases signed before construction since the leases show investors and lenders that the project will produce an income to repay the loans. For some development proposals, the lack of a lease can scuttle the project entirely.

JBG’s announcement of its agreement with Harris Teeter is somewhat unusual. National grocery chains typically keep their prospective sites secret. That JBG announced the agreement without even controlling the land is unusual.

Another interesting twist to the case is that the District used to own the Howard Town Center site and Howard used to own the parking lot JBG wants to buy. The District and the university swapped the properties many years ago out of convenience to each other. How ironic it would be if the government-owned site is the site that gets redeveloped faster.

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July 07, 2012 - 6:43 pm

Trader Joe’s coming to 14th & U

It looks like 2013 will be a harvest year for LeDroit Park residents as two new grocery stores open nearby. DCist broke the news that Trader Joe’s will open a store at the Louis building now under construction at the southwest corner of 14th and U.

Located at just under a mile’s walk from Anna J. Cooper Circle, the new store will provide another grocery option to area residents.

TJ’s prices are competitive with many other stores and the TJ’s specializes in unusual and somewhat exotic foods in addition to the usual staples.  TJ’s main weakness lies in its produce selection, which, judging from experiences at the Trader Joe’s in the West End, is limited.

The store’s opening next year will also be accompanied by the opening of the 60,000 square-foot Giant at the CityMarket project at 7th and P Streets in Shaw.  Once these two projects open, all the major grocery store chains in the area will be located no more than 1.1 mi. from LeDroit Park.

Store Location Distance (mi)
Giant (opening 2013) 7th & P Streets NW 0.6
Trader Joe’s (opening 2013) 14th & U Streets NW 0.9
Safeway 5th & L Streets NW 0.9
Harris Teeter 1st & M Streets NE 1.0
Whole Foods 1400 blk. P Street NW 1.1

Even still I dream of a full-service grocery store opening up at the long-stalled Howard Town Center project at Georgia Avenue and V Street.  The project, in the planning stages for many years, has been perpetually delayed by disagreements between Howard University and its development partner.

The UPO building on Rhode Island Avenue used to be a Safeway many years ago.  The site is large enough to be redeveloped into a modern, urban grocery store if parking is placed underground.  In fact the second floor could house UPO’s offices.

Until those dreams come true, the nearest full-service grocery stores are a long, but manageable walk.

August 02, 2011 - 9:47 am

Howard faces dilemma with mixed-use development

An earlier rendering of HTC. Source: DMPED

Plans for Howard University’s proposed mixed-use development project, Howard Town Center, have been dragging on for years. The university is making the tough call to hold out for the ideal project rather than build what it can in this investment climate.

Troy Stovall, Howard University’s chief operating officer, revealed Thursday that the difficulty in financing the project is not due to the retail and supermarket component, but due to the number of apartments slated for the site.

Rather than letting the developer proceed with building the garage, supermarket, retail shops and half the number of apartments originally planned, Howard wants the full project, including all of the apartments built into project at the same time.

When asked on the status of the retail component, Mr. Stovall said that the developer has received several letters of intent from supermarkets interested in the space. The problem, though, lies upstairs. The banks, Mr. Stovall stated, are less convinced about the financial viability of building so many apartments on lower Georgia Avenue.

U street developer JBG, however, has recently purchased several properties within a few blocks of the Howard Town Center site. JBG and Howard’s banks clearly differ in confidence in the area’s potential.

Is Howard letting the perfect become the enemy of the good? Neighbors appear to strongly support the arrival of a supermarket, especially since the closest one, a mile away, offers a paltry selection.

However, to abide by the banks’ requirements to reduce the number of units reduces the viability of the area’s retail revitalization. More residents, after all, means more potential customers, and thus more chances for success along Georgia Avenue.

It’s certainly debatable as to whether the delay in the arrival of a grocery store is worth the slowing of Georgia Avenue’s revival. One the one hand, Howard’s desire for delayed gratification will make the avenue’s retail revitalization more durable. On the other hand, holding out for the ideal project postpones a catalyst for the avenue’s revival.

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June 19, 2011 - 8:43 pm

Hungry in LeDroit Park

grocery day

Is LeDroit Park a “food desert”?  The phrase refers to a neighborhood where the nearest grocery store is more than a mile away.  First, this metric would classify many of the tony precincts of Bethesda, Potomac, and McLean as “food deserts”.

Despite that, the metric isn’t entirely useless.  Distance does matter greatly to populations who, for whatever reason, do not have cars.  Groceries are heavy, after all.

Even still, WAMU’s recent characterization of LeDroit Park as a food desert is incorrect.  In fact, you can plug in directions from Anna J. Cooper Circle, the neighborhood’s center, to the Giant at 8th and P Streets NW.

The distance?  Under a mile. That’s about 15 minutes by foot.

In fact, if you’d rather take a bus, which we frequently do with groceries, the G2 runs every 30 minutes from LeDroit Park and along P Street.  It passes not only the aforementioned Giant, but also the Whole Foods on the 1400 block of P Street.  If you return in under 2 hours, the round-trip bus cost is $1.50.

This grocery store is slated to close soon so a new Giant, along with housing, can be constructed on the site.  After that happens, the 3-year-old Safeway at 5th and L Streets NW and the 6-month-old Harris Teeter in NoMA will vie for the title as nearest grocery store.  Each is exactly 1 mile away.

Furthermore, once the Howard Town Center project takes flight, it will feature its own grocery store.  The project is about a half-mile from Anna J. Cooper Circle.

So there you have it.  Within 1 mile of LeDroit Park one will find a Giant, a Safeway, and a Harris Teeter.  That hardly qualifies the neighborhood as a food desert.

June 14, 2010 - 12:55 am

7-11 at Seventh and Florida


It’s confirmed. A 7-11 is coming to the corner of Georgia and Florida Avenues just outside the LeDroit Park Historic District. Douglas Development Corporation, the building’s owner and one of the city’s biggest developers, has confirmed to our ANC commissioner that 7-11 has signed a lease for part of the first floor space.

Pharmacare, which has not opened yet, occupies the Georgia Avenue front on the first floor (photo above, left side) and 7-11 will occupy the Florida Avenue front (center and right side). The choice of leasing the space to 7-11 has sparked a small controversy as many residents were hoping for something a tad more upscale than than discount drugs (you can buy the illegal kind a block away at the corner of Seventh & T) and a chain convenience store.

Some residents have expressed the desire to see a cafe, gym, or a full-fledged grocery store open up in or near LeDroit Park.

The LeDroit Park Market does indeed sell coffee, but residents looking for an espresso fix have to wander on over to the Starbucks at W Street and Georgia Avenue.  There are rumors of a cafe coming to the old Pyramids Restaurant space in the building currently under renovation at Sixth Street and Florida Avenue, but we haven’t received details yet.

The siting of a grocery store is more difficult.  The nature of grocery shopping tends to require parking more so than most other commercial uses do, so any grocer would probably only consider spaces with underground garages or outdoor lots.  Few properties nearby meet this requirement, except for the United Planning Organization headquarters at Second Street and Rhode Island Avenue (pictured below).  For decades it was a Safeway, but since UPO has no plans to move, we can rule out the building as a potential site.

Another potential site might be the Wonderbread Factory (pictured below) on S Street by the north entrance to the Shaw Metro.  It’s currently owned by Douglas Development, but has been vacant for quite a while.  At nearly 40,000 square feet over two floors, the building might be a good candidate for a grocery store.  With the UNCF headquarters about to break ground this summer just across the alleyway, perhaps the two developers could come to an agreement to provide some underground spaces to patrons to a potential store next door.

Source: NCinDC, flickr

The O Street Market project, supposed to bring a 57,000-square-foot Giant is still years away as is the proposed grocery store for the parking lots at W Street and Georgia Avenue.  Any potential grocer might fear an over-saturation of competition.

What amenities would you like to see in or adjacent LeDroit Park?

December 06, 2009 - 4:51 pm

Howard Town Center

The DUKE Plan for Howard Town Center, approved by the City Council

The DUKE Plan for Howard Town Center, approved by the City Council

We haven’t written much on Howard Town Center (pictured above), but we found a good article on it at Greater Greater Washington.

Several years ago the Office of Planning released, and the City Council approved, the DUKE plan, a development framework for the U Street corridor and Howard Town Center.  The section covering Howard Town Center rightly calls for development to “[e]xtend streets in an east-west system to connect the area to the center of Howard University’s campus,” specifically directing to “[c]onnect W Street on both sides.”

There are several streets running north-south in the Town Center area, but few running east-west.  The purpose of this requirement is to break-up what planners call superblocks, large city blocks that tend to sap street vitality and limit neighborhood connectivity.  Superblocks were popular with postwar modernist architects, but they have since been discredited as bad planning.  Small city blocks, as urban observer Jane Jacobs noted, allow more paths for passing through a neighborhood and break the monotony that accompanies mega-buildings.

Though the initial plan by CastleRock Partners for the Phase I Site would bring a grocery store and housing, the Greater Greater Washington article notes that the CastleRock plan violates the east-west connectivity guideline of the DUKE plan in that it proposes placing a garage ramp where W Street should be.

Connecting the isolated sections of W Street would enhance access between LeDroit Park and the U Street corridor and the CastleRock proposal disregards this goal of the DUKE plan.  Despite this, we will still be glad to shop at the grocery store once that opens up.  Groundbreaking is set for next fall.

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