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Retailers bid to get former Ames site

(Published November 4, 2002)

The District’s next new "big box" retailer will likely fit its operations into an existing box, as several big companies reportedly have shown interest in taking over the Northeast Washington space vacated last month by the bankrupt Ames Department Store chain.

Target, TJ Maxx and Burlington Coat Factory are among national retailers believed to be bidding for the 106,000-square-foot store that anchors the Rhode Island Avenue Shopping Center at Fourth Street and Rhode Island Avenue NE.

Company spokesmen declined to discuss potential site acquisitions, but all three retailers are expanding their operations nationwide and are known to be interested in new sites in the Washington-Baltimore market. All three currently have stores in suburban Washington, but none in the District.

New York-based Kimco Realty Corp., the nation’s largest owner and operator of neighborhood shopping centers, acquired the Ames store lease as part of the retailer’s liquidation and is actively marketing the site to potential new retail tenants.

With the holiday shopping season – the most profitable time of year for retailers – about to begin, there is some speculation that city officials might be willing to expedite the bureaucratic licensing and permit procedures to help a national retailer open in that location by December. But others doubt that the legal process involved with transferring the lease to a new corporation could be completed quickly enough to allow that to happen.

"We’d like to get it done as quickly as possible," said Jeff Gellerman, who has been working on the disposition of the Ames store leases since the retailer declared bankruptcy in mid-August.

The Rhode Island Avenue commercial corridor in Northeast Washington, long neglected by city leaders who have focused their "gateway" revitalization efforts in recent years along New York and Georgia avenues, is fast becoming one of the city’s more attractive areas to retailers.

Home Depot opened its first D.C. store along the corridor last June, Giant Food opened its fifth D.C. supermarket there last month and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority recently began negotiating an agreement to develop its parking area at the adjacent Rhode Island Avenue Metro station into a retail/apartment/parking complex.

The former Ames store is located across the street from the Metro station in a shopping center where Safeway recently invested about $1.3 million to renovate its 42,000-square-foot supermarket. Across the tracks, developer Doug Jemal’s Douglas Development Co. recently renovated a former auto repair shop into several storefronts, and Jimmie Muscatello’s Washington Uniform Center last year converted a long-vacant car showroom into its huge new retail location.

While Chapter 11 bankruptcy put plans for the District’s first Kmartstore on hold, Kmart spokesman Steve Pagnani said the Michigan-based discount chain expects to emerge from bankruptcy by mid-2003 and still plans to build next to the new Giant Food and Home Depot stores as soon as possible.

"That’s definitely a site we want to hang onto," Pagnani said last week.

A few blocks away, BP Amoco remains interested in locating some form of its BP Connect high-tech gas station/convenience store/coffee shop/car wash concept on what is now vacant land at Rhode Island Avenue and 13th Street. In the face of strong community opposition to that proposed site and another at H and Third streets NE, the company has been holding community meetings for months with neighbors along the H Street corridor to develop a model concept that fits into the District’s urban environment. Current plans for the H Street gas station use brick and extensive landscaping, while omitting the car wash. –Kathryn Sinzinger

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator