Openings: retail possibilities at Union Station, Metro Center

Two recent retail news items in downtown DC reported by Jonathan O’Connell in the Post:

Union Station, East Hall

B. Smith’s, the restaurant inside the former State Reception Room (Presidential suite) at the east end of Union Station, has announced its imminent departure.

The managers of Union Station have done well re-merchandising the West Hall with popular quick-casual restaurants in recent years: its current tenants include Chipotle, Chop’t, Potbelly, Roti, Yo Sushi, and now Shake Shack (perhaps in the vacant America! restaurant space). It’s true that the West Hall offers a superior location astride the path between the Metro entrance and the Great Hall, whereas the East Hall (pictured above with its jewelry kiosks) was always a cul-de-sac — for obvious security reasons, the State Reception Room was secluded. The odd thing is, the West Hall was historically just a ticket lobby (see old floor plan here or current floor plan here); the East Hall that was purpose-built for foodservice:

Union Station Dining Room

(This and other great vintage postcard views of the various rooms inside Union Station are featured in this Streets of Washington post.)

Imagine how well the space would function if the present-day retail uses were flipped: the East Hall returned to dining, anchored by a new fine-dining restaurant in the State Reception Room and perhaps another within the old Lunch Room (now the Columbus Club on the mezzanine, and Lost City Art on the main level), the West Hall for high-traffic retailers, and an anchor tenant filling the vacant theater and the eastern half of the food court. (Current plans for adding escalators indicate that there’s at least 40,000 square feet available downstairs, between the vacant 32,000-foot theater and 8,000 feet where the existing food court widens to the south.) As it stands, though, I have a hard time imagining a new merchandising plan for the East Hall.

Elsewhere in downtown, Target has considered opening a CityTarget location at 555 12th, the former ESPN Zone space. Having never been inside, I wasn’t aware of how vast the site is, but broker CBRE has a great diagram: there’s 59,000 sq. ft. vacant (12,000′ on the ground floor + 47,000′ on two basement levels). CBRE is also soft-marketing the 32,000′ that Barnes & Noble rents on the ground & second floors; as great as it is to still have a bookstore downtown, B&N’s upstairs is pretty woefully underused these days, and their lease expires soon. The office market in downtown DC has historically been so strong that retail spaces of this size (e.g., Woodie’s and Hecht’s) have usually been converted, leaving few suitably large retail spaces available.

Still, it’s going to be a squeeze. The smallest CityTarget today is 75,000 sq. ft. in San Francisco, although on a recent earnings call (h/t Thomas Lee at the Strib) CEO Gregg Steinhafel noted that “we have the ability to reduce space even more, allowing us to further shrink the size.” Then there’s the verticality: OK for a restaurant or a bookstore, but 4 floors may push the practical limits for shopping carts: cart escalators eat both time and square footage. (Target operates many 2-floor locations and a few converted 3-floor department stores in Southern California.)

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