WASHINGTON (WJLA) - The old Hecht's Department Store Warehouse has long sat vacant along New York Avenue in Northeast D.C. But nearby residents are hoping plans to retrofit the property will bring new amenities - and life - to the Ivy City neighborhood that they say is often overlooked.
Built in 1937, the building will be transformed into a mixed use complex. Developer Douglas Jemal said, "Every investor that wants to make money, buy on New York Avenue. It's gonna be a gold mine!"
At the Hecht Warehouse District Project groundbreaking Tuesday morning, elected officials and residents ceremonially dropped shovels into a box of dirt because the event was held indoors to keep the crowd out of the bitter cold outside.
Mayor Vincent Gray was joined by three current Council members who are challenging him in April's Democratic Primary: Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans and Vincent Orange.
At times, it felt more like a campaign event, with each candidate speaking about his or her vision for redevelopment along New York Avenue and highlighting his or her role in this particular project.
But no matter who is mayor, residents in the surrounding Ivy City neighborhood are hoping the D.C. Government will continue investing in this community, which is covered with commercial lots and saturated with buses and trucks.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Peta-Gay Lewis said, "Our sidewalks are not complete. [The sidewalks] have holes. We don't have greenery. And those things are needed because we have so many pollutants in the area. And of course, we don't have a grocery store."
Ward 5 resident Hattie Sampson has a personal connection to the project. She worked at Hecht's for 32 years.
"I met a lot of friends here," Sampson said. "Actually, I met my husband here. And coming back here today it's an enjoyment. It's like coming back home."
The development plan includes 300 new housing units, a parking garage that can hold as many as 1000 vehicles, as well as 250,000 square feet in new retail and dining options, with a Planet Fitness and Mom's Organic Market as anchor tenants.
"This is a 10 acre site," said Jemal. "Putting in its right perspective, the old convention center in Washington is 10 acres. So this is the same size as that."
Construction is already underway on the project. It's a gamble that Jemal is confident will pay off.
"Because I go where devils dare to pray," he said. "Where everybody doesn't want to go, that's where I want to go. If they say it's hot, it's cold. If they say it's sh*t, it's good. And that's why I like this."