Over the past two decades, developers have turned NoMa from an industrial zone into a bustling neighborhood of offices, luxury apartments, and restaurants. One thing missing from the 50-block blueprint: parks.
In an effort to add green space, the city granted the NoMa Parks Foundation $50 million in 2014. A year later, the foundation scored a plot at the corner of Third and L streets, Northeast. After years of public input and construction setbacks, NoMa finally got its first park there this past November.
Named for what was once a 19th-century Irish neighborhood near the Capitol, Swampoodle Park has a section for dogs and another for children. On a relatively small parcel, it packs in both a dog agility structure and a “Wall-holla”: a Dutch-designed, vertical, maze-like structure for kids. (There are only six in North America.)
In February, the parks foundation broke ground on a second park where the Metropolitan Branch Trail meets R Street, Northeast. Tanner Park, named after the woman who helped open the District’s first school for black students, will feature a playground, dog park, and events space on 2½ acres.
For the past few years, a group called the Union Market Neighbors—led by Chris Otten, a Ralph Nader disciple who actually lives across the city in Adams Morgan—has gone to court to block numerous luxury developments from rising in the area.
Otten is known for his rambunctious appearances at zoning-board hearings. Many question whether he’s the “citizen agent” he describes himself as or an opportunist seeking profit from settlements with builders. Regardless, his group has appealed at least seven developments in the NoMa/Union Market area since 2016. But Otten lost two recent battles in the DC Court of Appeals, clearing the way for Ditto Residential’s 56-unit building at 301 Florida Avenue and Foulger-Pratt’s 1½-acre mixed-use project at 301 N Street.
Circle of Strife
Nicknamed for the Wendy’s that sits in the middle, “Dave Thomas Circle”—the traffic nightmare where New York and Florida avenues are forced to circumvent the fast-food joint in a hellish tangle of lanes and harrowing crosswalks—has caused at least 455 crashes since 2015. In years past, DC Council members have vowed to fix it. The District built a small roundabout meant to ease the flow of cars in 2010, but that did little to help. Mayor Muriel Bowser is the latest to weigh in, saying earlier this year that she’s committed to resolving the problem. How exactly she plans to do so remains to be seen. One inebriated motorist took matters into her own hands last summer when she drove into the Wendy’s at 3 am.
Let There Be Light
In October, the NoMa Business Improvement District opened “Rain,” the first of four light installations it has planned for underpasses from the NoMa/Gallaudet Metro stop south to Union Station. The design—a collaboration between California and Dutch architects—was chosen via an international competition with the goal of making the dark walkways feel safer and more inviting.
“Rain” features 4,000 LED light rods that hang like icicles and respond to the movement of passersby. The next art park, “Lightweave,” is planned for the L Street underpass, followed by installations at K Street and Florida Avenue.
But not everyone welcomed the lights. Advocates for the homeless fought against the first installation as the city forced out homeless encampments in the underpass to make way for construction. The NoMa BID argues that it has made other efforts to connect homeless residents with safer, more permanent housing.
Red Bear Brewing, DC’s first 100-percent gay-owned brewery, opened last month next to REI. The 7,000-square-foot space serves craft brews from more than 20 taps, has a dog-friendly patio, and boasts a Jeff Goldblum–themed bathroom decorated with sultry photos of the actor. (On Twitter, @redbearbrewing uses the #NoMaQueerBeer hashtag.)
All for the ’Grams
Chef Adam Greenberg just debuted his Instagram-centric Coconut Club in a warehouse on Penn Street, a block from Union Market. The vacation-inspired restaurant serves cocktails in disco balls, plays “Coachella-ish” music, features a tropical mural perfect for photo shoots, and has USB plugs along the bar to charge your iPhone.
This spring, the coffee bar Sweet Science will move into a new apartment building called the Belgard at 33 N Street, followed by an outpost of the beloved Brookland pizzeria Menomale and Italian deli Salumeria 2703.
In June, Union Market will get a Latin American sibling with the opening of La Cosecha, a food hall at 1270 Fourth Street highlighting the cuisine and culture of countries such as Mexico and Bolivia.