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Southwest Waterfront

Southwest Waterfront
Southwest Waterfront

© Ted Nigrelli

There are urban renewal projects, and then there is The Urban Renewal project, which, if this is DC, has to be the Southwest quadrant, a visionary $1.5 billion complete recreation of the waterfront area into a world-class waterside destination.

Like many of the city's other historic neighborhoods, the Southwest waterfront area, which includes some of the city's oldest buildings, experienced serious urban decay only to go through a revitalization period. Because of its attractive waterside location, it developed as a thriving commercial district but also, after the Civil War, was the location of a poor shantytown of shacks and even tents.

In the 1950s, many of the area's structures were demolished as part of its first urban renewal project, leaving the historic Maine Avenue fish market area, the Thomas Law House, the Wheat Row townhouses, and the St. Dominic's and Friendship churches. (The fish market in particular is a real find if you've never been there, full of color, charm, and of course, fish -- and popular with locals.) Part of this project was the construction of Waterside Mall and the award-winning theater Arena Stage, as well as hotels and restaurants and a metro station.

Now the area is again the focus of gentrification and urban renewal, with plans to redevelop the Maine Avenue waterfront area with residential, retail and office space, build a new Nationals ballpark, and create a new town center called Waterfront encompassing residential and retail structures, as well as new marinas. Among the many planned projects is a complete revamping of the Arena Stage to include a third performance venue while retaining its two existing historic theaters, itself a $100 million project.

Some say that the Southwest will emerge as a tour de force waterfront neighborhood, finally catapulting DC into the company of the truly great cities of the world. Further, the builders promise LEED certification, the national standard for green building.

For updated information on the progress of the neighborhood's redevelopment, see the SWDC Blog at

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