Last week, community stakeholders, including residents and business owners located on or near Rhode Island Avenue NE, met to discuss plans for developing the commercial corridor into a culturally, socially, and economically vibrant community.
LISC DC first became engaged with the Rhode Island Avenue NE corridor a couple of years ago when we met and walked the corridor with Kyle Todd, the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Avenue NE Main Street (RIA Main Street).
Originally formed as a group of neighbors looking to have a voice in the development of their neighborhood commercial corridor, the RIA Main Street has grown to be an officially recognized Main Street Program by the District of Columbia, tasked with revitalizing Rhode Island Avenue NE between 3rd Street NE and Eastern Avenue; improving commercial properties and streetscapes; promoting local businesses through special events and festivals; and creating new jobs and attracting new locally-owned businesses.
Soon after our meeting with Kyle, we provided support for the opening of Good Food Markets along the corridor. As a small scale grocery store, Good Food provides healthy food to an area of the District that prior to its opening, was a food desert.
While LISC DC is proud of our investment in Good Food Markets, we knew that in order for the corridor to reach its full potential to serve the diverse needs of its surrounding residents, we needed to work to help build the capacity of RIA Main Street.
Currently, RIA Main Street Executive Director Kyle Todd is a one-man band – solely responsible for coordinating and executing all of the moving pieces required to produce, market, and deliver the services provided by RIA Main Street as it works towards positively redeveloping the business district.
Last year, LISC DC set out to help Kyle in his quest to grow the organization and increase its impact along the corridor by coupling technical assistance and planning support with grant support for operations. With the help of LISC’s National Economic Development Program, LISC DC began working with MetroEdge, a LISC program that provides expert and data-driven guidance and support for local organizations seeking to revitalize a business district, ultimately helping communities take the reins of their economic futures.
Part of MetroEdge’s criteria for choosing a local LISC office to work with is for that local office to have the staff capacity to carry out the work, and for the community in question to have an existing partner on the ground. Adam Kent, LISC DC Program Officer, and Kyle Todd, fit the bill.
“Kyle was already engaged with the Rhode Island Avenue NE community – both residents and business owners. And Adam had been building relationships, providing technical assistance, and was an overall go-getter,” said Elizabeth Demetriou, Program Director of National LISC’s Economic Development Program. “Adam identified Kyle as a strong partner and wanted to help him ensure that RIA and the local community benefit from new development that was coming to the area,” Elizabeth added.
To start the planning process, Elizabeth brought in Larisa Ortiz Associates, a commercial revitalization firm, to prepare and present market analyses and related recommendations for RIA Main Street that identified opportunities for commercial revitalization and devised a roadmap for action – for both short and long-term improvements.
“This could not have happened without Elizabeth’s support. She was instrumental in connecting Kyle to the analyses and recommendations he needed to understand the current market, prepare for future development, and form a corresponding strategy for the Main Street,” Adam stated.
Below is a summary of some of the recommendations:
- Continue to advocate for streetscape improvements along the entirety of Rhode Island Avenue
- Reinforce retail density and pedestrian accessibility at existing commercial nodes
- Advocate for development that is oriented toward a walkable Rhode Island Avenue
- Create a RIA Metro Node Task Force, potentially comprised of a cross-section of affected businesses, property owners, and neighborhood residents, to study the possibility of Business Improvement District (BID) formation
- Support marketing/promotion that drives profits for existing businesses and enhances genuine connections between neighborhood and merchants/service providers
- Enhance communication with neighborhood residents to promote event and community activities and enhance customer loyalty
- Communicate the District’s strategic position and targeted retail categories to the commercial real estate community
When asked whether or not he was surprised by any of the recommendations, Kyle said, “I think the thing that surprised me the most was the amount of retail leakage across retail sectors, but particularly for restaurants. We knew it was happening, but we weren’t sure how much, or in which retail categories. This confirms what we’ve long believed: our community can – and will – support quality retail options.”
“We could not have asked for better partners and champions for the RIA Main Street community. We know we have benefited from the incredible depth of knowledge and experience from both Adam and Elizabeth,” Kyle stated.
Today, LISC DC is continuing to work with RIA Main Street by providing a $25,000 operating grant support via our Section 4 Grant program. This will allow Kyle to have the capacity and time to implement recommendations and bring new businesses to the commercial corridor while helping existing businesses continue to attract customers. This, in turn, will support job creation, business expansion, and the development of a healthy, desirable community that will attract private investment, entrepreneurship, and economic growth in the District of Columbia.
“Our short term goals include developing marketing materials to recruit the types of businesses that meet the “sweet spot” of what the community says they want, and what the data from the MetroEdge market analysis says the community can actually support,” stated Kyle.
“As new mixed-use developments come online, our long-term goals are to continue to work towards improving the streetscape and transportation infrastructure. We want to see RIA Main Street live up to its full potential as a safe and vibrant retail corridor for the community. And of course, we want to do this work in continued partnership with LISC,” Kyle added.
LISC National is providing additional funds to RIA Main Street to implement a project from the plan. As part of our small business development work, LISC DC will continue working with RIA Main Street to bring more resources to businesses located on the RIA corridor.