Lamond-Riggs (Fort Totten) Vibrant Retail Streets

The Lamond-Riggs Citizens Association (LRCA) is partnering with the DC Office of Planning (OP) on the Vibrant Retail Streets Toolkit, a neighborhood Technical Assistance Program initiative to strengthen and grow retail in neighborhoods throughout the District. In 2015, Lamond-Riggs (Fort Totten) was selected as an area for participation in the ​ Vibrant Retail Streets (VRS) initiative  (pdf), a partnership of Streetsense and DC's Office of Planning. The Toolkit is intended to evaluate an area’s retail vibrancy and offer solutions for helping retail areas progress.
An initial workshop was held in July 2015. There, Streetsense representatives provided participants (community representatives, developers, and District officals) with the Vibrant Retail Streets toolkit, information about the VRS process, and data about the Fort Totten area. The Fort Totten area provides a unique opportunity for Streetsense and District officials to work with residents and developers to shape market-appropriate, desired retail in an area that is largely absent of retail.
Initial focus will be on the commercial corridor around South Dakota Avenue and Riggs Road NE, identified by OP as the heart of the commercial node for the neighborhood in the 2009 small area plan. A second area of focus will be South Dakota Avenue between Galloway Stret and Kennedy Street NE, site of the Art Place at Fort Totten development.
On September 24, 2015, The Lamond-Riggs Development Task Force hosted a meeting at which OP and Streetsense shared information on the application of the Toolkit to this neighborhood. If you missed that presentation, it is available at this link: Fort Totten - Application of DC Vibrant Retail Streets Presentation
For general information and FAQs about Vibrant Retail Streets, visit
Highlights from the July 2015 workshop:
Representatives from JBG and Metro and community residents attended this initial workshop.
  • Fort Totten is unique in that retail development is being established at a rapid pace, changing the market in a very short period of time.
  • The presence of Walmart to jumpstart this retail activity is unique and will need to be studied to determined its effect on the retail market and what is achieveable.
  • In the short-term, market research is needed to prove the viability of retail tenants.
  • In the long-term, residents should continually strive to get better quality retail.
  • There needs to be a mechanism to communicate with all stakeholders about getting and maintaining desired retail in the neighborhood, including residents, developers, LRCA representatives, and Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) officials.

Highlights from the September 2015 workshop:

In the words of OP and Streetsense, the purpose of the Vibrant Streets toolkit is "to give every neighborhood the necessary tools to create a Vibrant Street of their own, regardless of population, ethnic composition, location, income, or budget."

Streetsense began the presentation by noting that retail is fundamentally a commercial activity. It has to make money and it has to be sustainable. With that, OP and Streetsense outlined 8 attributes that successful vibrant streets share. The most important of these is that a successful vibrant street is managed by a civic/nonprofit organization or merchant association that works to engage residents, retailers, public sector officials, and other stakeholders in the retail process and address issues specific to retail.

Market Analysis

The second part of the technical assistance is a mini market analysis. This was done because the neighborhood is changing rapidly and most of the retail is coming online in the next 3 to 5 years, so it will be useful to have more current data to have a better idea of what type of retail is sustainable in the neighborhood.  Also we wanted to know what effect Walmart's opening would have on the retail market.

Here is what Streetsense came up with:

Existing retail demand: 277,200 square feet
Projected total retail demand: 440,200 square feet (this takes into consideration expected new residents and Walmart effect)

Suggested (Sustainable) tenant mix:
  • General merchandise:

* A few small shops
* Possibly junior anchor

  • Neighborhood Goods/Services:

* Gourmet/organic grocery store (that's right, even with a Walmart that sells groceries and a Giant grocery store in the mix)
* Children's activity center (akin to a Gymboree)

* Drugstore/pharmacy
* Hair/nail salon
* Dry cleaner

  • Food & Beverage:

* 1 - 3 full-service restaurants
* 5 - 7 quick service eateries
* 3 - 5 take-away service eateries

Ways to Impact Retail Attraction

Streetsense and OP offered a few suggestions for how residents can have an impact on retail attraction.

1. Give retail market time to prove itself: Some people might not be impressed with the announced retail options in phase one of Fort Totten Square (Five Guys and Subway), but those retailers need to be supported because the success of those entities will lead to more success. Those retailers are needed to prove the market, to show other (more desirable) retailers the vitality of the market in this area.

2. Practical Enthusiasm: In Streetsense's words, residents should have "practical enthusiasm." We should encourage developers to do their best in securing the kinds of quality retailers we say we want, but we also need to be realistic.

3. Understand that retail tenants cannot go just anywhere, even with retail demand.

4. Support office development when the market improves to bolster food and beverage demand.

5. Identify entrepreneurial spirit in neighborhood: OP said this is the only neighborhood in which they are making this recommendation. There is and will be plenty of what they call Class C space available. These are smaller spaces that command less rent than Class A and B space. Residents who have given serious thought to opening their own business, whether food and beverage, some sort of maker/creative space, or any other business, should realize that there is a great opportunity to work in and shape the neighborhood.

Conclusion: Managed Vibrant Street

The meeting concluded with a reiteration of the importance of having some sort of organization that manages this process to engage residents and address retail concerns. They brainstormed a few ways this could happen: through a committee of the civic association, a completely separate organization, a merchant's association, and maybe ultimately by applying for a Main Streets grant once a serious effort has been made to organize. Whatever form it takes, ideally it should be inclusive of residents who live near the retail sites (including residents of North Michigan Park and other neighborhoods), ANCs, the affected civic associations, and retailers.