WASHINGTON– As thousands of baseball fans descend upon Nationals Park for Opening Day on Monday, they will notice a neighborhood that’s changed, even since the last home game in October.
Some might notice new food options. Others might notice the parks in the area. Others still might see more signs advertising leasing opportunities in the condo buildings popping up.
“The neighborhood keeps growing and growing. Every day it seems like something new is going up,” said Olivia Logan, a local resident and assistant manager at The Big Stick, a restaurant and bar down the street from the baseball stadium.
But even with all these changes, those who live and work in the area, called the Capitol Riverfront, say there’s one thing everyone is sure to notice: the cranes.
“The more cranes you see in an area, you know something’s up, a lot’s happening. And we have been seeing that,” said Brian Beauregard, general manager of the Gordon Biersch brewpub just a block and a half from the stadium.
When Nationals Park opened in 2008, it was expected to help create a neighborhood in Southeast Washington along the Anacostia River.
The expected development was hampered by the Great Recession and planned restaurants and bars to complement the gameday experience didn’t materialize immediately.
But the recession created a demand for housing, especially with millennials staying in the rental market longer, said Michael Stevens, president of the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District.
His organization, for a special tax, provides cleaning, maintenance, safety, hospitality, marketing, branding, special events, economic development, coordination, advocacy and community building for the neighborhood.
Now, the neighborhood has 28 restaurants, a Vida Fitness club and a Harris Teeter. Eight residential projects are under construction and an office building could break ground in the next three to six months.
The development has created a neighborhood that is entirely different than the light industrial district that existed just 10 years ago, with the concrete and asphalt plants, dance clubs and cab depots, according to Stevens.
“I’ve been coming to this area for 10 years and there were times where I didn’t want to walk outside because it just wasn’t the best area,” Logan said.
“It’s definitely changed a lot and it’s just a great place to be. I can get to anything that I need within a five-minute walking distance,” she said. “There’s Harris Teeter and there’s gyms and there’s CVS and my bank and a plethora of cuisine, so basically if I can’t find it here, then I don’t know where I’m going to find it.”
In addition to Nationals Park in the west on South Capitol Street, the neighborhood is anchored by the Navy Yard in the east and the Department of Transportation in between the two. It all sits along the Anacostia River.
Still, the main event and the biggest factor driving the growth remains the baseball stadium and the 30,000-plus fans it brings to the area for every home game.
And now, unlike even two seasons ago, there are more options for pre- and-post game meals and drinks than ever before.
“It’s a sea of red before and after [the game],” said Zack Shelton, a manager at Bluejacket a brewery in the neighborhood with an attached bar and restaurant. “On a regular day expect a crowded bar. Even with more competition coming, there’s only five bars for 30,000 people.”
Bluejacket opened Oct. 9, 2013 and Shelton has seen the changes in the neighborhood.
“It’s like you look on every single street corner and there’s something new happening, and we wanted to be here ahead of the curve for the community and also for the people who live in this area,” he said. “It’s just incredible development. It’s very, very rapid development.”
For The Big Stick, it’s their first baseball season and Logan is looking forward to larger crowds.
“We are super excited about Opening Day,” she said. “We believe that the crowd is going to be a lot heavier in this area because of our proximity to the stadium.”
Gordon Biersch, a chain restaurant with locations nationwide, opened on Opening Day in 2013 and is looking forward to another baseball season, when it enjoys most of its success, Beauregard said.
“We do very well and we definitely notice when they’re not in season,” he said. “It’s a lot more excitement for my staff for sure, and we’re excited to have the baseball season back and we’re certainly going to do pretty well.”
But bars, restaurants and construction aren’t all fans will find when they visit the Capitol Riverfront this season. Stevens says there are more parks for people to enjoy, such as Yards Park on the Anacostia River, Canal Park in the middle of the neighborhood and the Anacostia Riverwalk Trails.
Overall, the neighborhood has seen a lot of growth, anchored by the stadium.
According to Stevens, in three years 50 percent of the neighborhood will have been built out, the residential unit count will have nearly doubled to 8,000 and the area will have four hotels, the new D.C. United soccer stadium and a new South Capitol Street bridge.
“I think it’s starting to bear the fruit, the vision is being realized,” Stevens said. “They thought [the stadium] was going to be an anchor and a catalyst… to hit the 50 percent milestone after 16 years of redevelopment is impressive.”
Right now, Nationals Park is the reason to go to the area. But the goal is for people to want to go to the neighborhood on its own merits.
“There’s a lot of things coming to this area and we know we’re always going to be poised in a good location between the Navy Yard [Metro entrances] and being a block and a half from the baseball stadium,” Beauregard said. “I think the whole Southeast/Navy Yard area will be going in a really good direction to make it a destination, whereas right now it’s really just a destination for baseball games.”