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U Street’s Revitalization Finally Extending East to 9th Street as Area Grows

By Ben Lasky*

[Note: Photographs accompanying this news story can be viewed in the current issue PDF.]

If you walked down U Street 15 years ago and walked down the same street today, you might not recognize it.

Following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the neighborhood fell apart. After the riots, many businesses moved out. When businesses left, crime made its way in.

However, the neighborhood that was once the heartbeat of the District in the first half of the 20th century has made its way back to the vibrancy for which it was previously known. Walk down U Street today and you will see sports bars, wine shops and modern, up-scale condominiums.

One example of the revitalization on U Street is the Floridian. The condominium, located on 9th Street at Florida Avenue, opened in February of 2010,and is proof

that the U Street neighborhood is back. According to Gerard DiRuggiero, the broker and managing partner of UrbanLand Company, who are the real estate brokers for the Floridian, the area shows a lot of potential.

“The location at 9th and Florida just shows a tremendous amount of upside for buyers, the way that a lot of other locations in town just don’t,” said DiRuggiero. “And the prices that we’re offering the units at are roughly $450 a square foot and are frankly very tough for other buildings to compete with.”

Another relatively new business at the eastern end of the U Street commercial corridor –- at the corner of 9th Street — is Nellie’s Sports Bar. The owner, Doug Schantz, is also excited by what the revived U Street has to offer.

“It is no longer uncommon to hear of a new business opening in DC’s vibrant U Street corridor,” wrote Schantz in an email responding to questions by this reporter. “The community has come to count on Nellie’s to host events for local sports teams, alumni groups, charities, and even birthday parties.”

The improved U Street, however, has not created the same boom in business as others in the neighborhood. This is true of Lee’s Flower Shop at 11th Street. The shop opened in 1945, and its workers have experienced the lows and now the highs of U Street. According to owner Rick Lee, who has been working in the family-owned shop for 42 years, business for the most part has stayed the same. “It’s good for business [but] it’s not booming,” he said. “We have clients who we’ve had for years and years. They’re the ones that sustain us, but we [do] have some new business coming in.”

Lee thinks the reason the change in the neighborhood has not had a noticeable impact on business is because the newer residents are not around during the day, although he does think many of them have been attracted to the store’s actively visited website to place orders for direct delivery (a service that supermarkets, for example, that sell flowers do not offer).

“There are some new folks, but it’s not knocking us out; it could be better,” Lee observed. “Because a lot of the new people — people who are moving in — work downtown or somewhere else and are not really in the area during our working hours, so there isn’t a lot of walking traffic during the daytime.”

Although every business on U Street may not be feeling the effects of the boom, there is no denying that this neighborhood is back. As Schantz put it, “It’s hard to predict the future but U Street seems to be headed towards an exciting comeback and Nellie’s is proud to be a part of that revitalization.”

*Ben Lasky, a contributing writer for The InTowner, is also a staff writer for The American University’s student newspaper, The Eagle, while he pursues his degree in communications and journalism at AU.

Copyright (c) 2010 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Ben Lasky. All rights reserved.