Business improvement districts (BIDs) and other stakeholders are leveraging live music performances and other activities as a draw—both to prospective commercial tenants and to residents and visitors. Participants at a recent ULI Washington panel discussed both best practices and complicating factors when adding live-performance spaces to a neighborhood.
“People want live entertainment. They want culture,” said panelist Mary-Claire Burick, president of the Rosslyn BID in Arlington County, Virginia. Her organization has doubled down on live events—concerts, movie screenings, Zumba classes, and more—and is seeing results. In 2016, respondents to the BID’s first-ever perception survey described Rosslyn as “clean,” “accessible,” and “busy”—not exactly star qualities, but not so negative either. However, another common word used to describe Rosslyn was “boring.” Fast-forward a year, and “boring” has dropped off the list of the top ten most common Rosslyn descriptors—replaced by “fun.”
The BID has had to be creative when programming events. Unlike the other two panelists, who represented new development either purpose-built to include entertainment venues or under construction around existing entertainment venues, Rosslyn is pretty much built up. “We look at it as an opportunity,” she says. “What it enables us to do is think about what experience we’re trying to create and then find the right location to do that.” In addition to arranging outdoor events, the BID has arranged events inside apartment lobbies and popped up a beer garden (which is now permanent).
The new Anthem music venue was one of the first completions of the Wharf, the massive redevelopment of D.C.’s southwest waterfront by PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette. Donna Westmoreland, chief operating officer of IMP (which operates Anthem as well as Merriweather Post Pavilion and the famed 9:30 Club, among other venues) said this was a boon. “We had a seat at the table from the very beginning,” which allowed IMP to help design the new venue exactly as the firm wanted it, with badly needed street access, a loading dock, and so on.
The 6,000-person venue is a needed addition for the District, which lacked performance space for acts that had outgrown the capacity of the older 9:30 Club but which still wanted a more “club” feeling rather than a stadium or theater. But it is also a needed space for the Wharf. In its first year, “it’s looking like we will have brought 500,000 people to the Wharf,” Westmoreland said. Those people eat dinner at the Wharf’s restaurants and buy drinks at its bars, in addition to seeing the hotels and apartments potentially for the first time.
The only problem? The Channel, a 500-unit apartment building that wraps around the Anthem. The builders spent $3 million on soundproofing, but Westmoreland says that she still receives occasional noise complaints. “People think it’s a great idea to live over a music venue until they hear it,” she says. “I’m still baffled.”
IMP also manages the Merriweather Post Pavilion, a seasonal outdoor concert venue in Columbia, Maryland, that holds up to 17,000 spectators. The Howard Hughes Corporation is transforming the area around the venue into the Merriweather District, which will upon completion have 2,300 residences, 1.5 million square feet (139,400 sq m) of office space, and 300,000 square feet (27,900 sq m) of retail uses, plus a 250-key hotel. “Merriweather is an integral part of the vision to create a 21st-century live/work/play environment,” said panelist Ruth Hoang, vice president of development at Howard Hughes. Hoang says her company’s vision is to complement Merriweather by seeking out retail tenants that are also open to live entertainment. The restaurants coming to the neighborhood—which include a new concept from the Clyde’s Group—will add to the food options for concertgoers when Merriweather is open, and during the winter months, will likely host live music themselves. The Clyde’s concept, as well as a restaurant called Cured, will be opening later this year.
The focus on culture and live events is already bearing fruit for Howard Hughes Corp. The developer recently landed a cybersecurity company, which is leasing 150,000 square feet (13,900 sq m) of the new office space. Hoang reports that the firm “specifically said that a mixed-use, energetic environment was appealing to them.”
Similarly, Burick credits the work her BID has done to liven up Rosslyn as a factor in baby-food company Gerber’s decision to relocate its headquarters from New Jersey to Rosslyn. (It couldn’t hurt that Gerber’s parent company, Nestlé, already has 250,000 square feet [23,200 sq m] of office space in the neighborhood.) “I think our efforts,” she said, “are putting the neighborhood on the map.”