Locals: No chains at Square 54

Several weeks after the University and developer Boston Properties broke ground on the commercial and residential complex at Square 54, community members gathered to express their goals for the project.

Foggy Bottom residents said at a community meeting in June that they hope the 840,000-square-foot complex will revitalize retail opportunities in the area, but worry it might also bring chain stores and congestion.

Jake Stroman, a representative for Boston Properties, said he encourages community input to decide which stores and restaurants will fill the complex that is slated for completion in 2011. Community members have clashed with developers and the University since the project’s inception several years ago.

“We know you’re a key stakeholder,” he told community members at a meeting for FRIENDS – a group created by the University to promote positive dialogue with its Foggy Bottom neighbors.

The primary concern was whether the retail space will be dominated by independent retailers or corporate entities like Starbucks and Au Bon Pain, which residents said they oppose. Those at the meeting also said they were worried about what supermarket chain will occupy the allotted space.

“My biggest interest is in not having all chain stores,” said Kris Hart, owner of a tanning salon on F Street and former president of the GW Student Association. “If Starbucks could put three places in (Square 54) they would.”

Hart and Stroman agreed Foggy Bottom is largely lacking in retail and restaurants, which could be improved by new development.

Stroman and University officials said they think the retail center will improve the area and ease community concerns. The plan for Square 54 includes what Stroman called a “pedestrian experience,” a 60-foot-wide sidewalk lined with trees and stores that will serve as the gateway to a “retail corridor.”

Boston Properties has hired a retail broker to help with the business selection process. Stroman said no decisions have been made, but retailers have expressed interest.

“It’s really open-ended and part of it is going out in the market. to see who’s interested,” he said. “The good news is we’ve received a lot of phone calls.”

At the meeting, community members expressed another concern that delivery trucks – which will serve the supermarket and other stores at the new complex – would cause traffic hazards in the neighborhood. Several residents lamented that trucks already block 24th Street at the loading dock to the GW Hospital.

Stroman said that 22nd Street, where the entrance to the new center’s loading area will be, borders no residential buildings, adding that the new complex would house nine loading docks in contrast to the hospital’s two docks.

Boston Properties, which leased the property from the University this spring, has begun digging and building an underground parking lot, the first phase of the construction process. The underground work is slated to take about 18 months, followed by another 14 to 16 months to build the residential and retail units.

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