The Wash
McDonald’s at 75 New York Ave., NE in Washington, DC, on Dec. 3, 2023 (Kaishi Chhabra/The Wash)

‘A fast-food desert’: New York Ave. McDonald’s may close soon amid housing boom in NoMa

In NoMa, the looming closure of a familiar fast-food spot sparks community concerns. Some residents, accustomed to its affordability, fear the impact on daily life. A major real estate player’s redevelopment plans add complexity, leaving the fate of the beloved spot uncertain.

For the last few years, Anthony Jackson has frequented the McDonald’s in NoMa as a reliable means of affordable food source. The potential closure of the fast food restaurant could present greater challenges for him. Currently experiencing homelessness, Jackson said he would often ask pedestrians or customers to buy him a small meal. 

“It’s cheap, so some people don’t mind buying me a sandwich or some nuggets. Not sure where will I go next if this won’t exist,” he said. “I usually eat at least three or four times a month here.”

In September, Real estate giant JBG Smith applied with the DC Office of Planning to raze the fast-food joint located at 75 New York Ave. as part of a two-phase development project to introduce 800 new apartments.

Inside the McDonald's in NoMa neighborhood
Inside the McDonald’s in NoMa on Dec. 3, 2023 (Kaishi Chhabra/ The Wash)

However, not everyone in the community welcomes this change with open arms. For some, the possible closure of another fast-food establishment means losing more than just a convenient dining option.

Commissioner Ahmad Abu-Khalaf of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6E05 acknowledged the potential food affordability issues for groups such as students, low-income individuals, or those experiencing homelessness.

“I’ve been more focused on food deserts when it comes to grocery stores, but it’s another interesting example about how food affordability through fast food chains is another focus for some residents,” Abu-Khalaf said. “Maybe it’s the combination of a popular fast-food chain with affordable prices located at a somewhat of a popular street?”

According to Abu-Khalaf, who had an informal conversation with the planning team from JBG Smith, if fast food affordability turns out to be a broad community concern that the developer recognizes, the team might pursue their plans of keeping the McDonald’s, albeit a downsized location.

McDonald's sign board in D.C.
McDonald’s sign board (Kaishi Chhabra/The Wash)

“It would be a different, smaller space, but it could still be there,” he said. “And that’s another issue with wanting a project to be everything for everyone. I think it’s very obvious that demand for housing and NoMa is increasing. So having more housing, it’s really good to absorb some of that demand.”

Recent reports revealed a surge in apartment constructions, with ZIP code 20002, encompassing NoMa and nearby areas, leading the nation in this housing boom. RentCafe, a prominent nationwide apartment listing service, reported a 73.1% increase in new apartment units delivered in the area since 2017.

Another issue adding to the complexity surrounding the closure of the fast food location is the looming scarcity of fast food chain options in the area for some residents. 

Nora Montgomery, a 32-year-old Eckington resident, expressed her concerns about what she perceives as a “fast food desert” emerging in the neighborhood, noting McDonald’s as the third fast food chain that might shut down within the area.

In 2014, a Burger King joint at 320 Florida Ave. shut down to welcome a multi-family residential. A famous Wendy’s restaurant at the intersection of New York Ave. and Florida Ave. closed its door in 2021 to reconstruct the famous “Dave Tomas Circle,” recently renamed “Mamie ‘Peanut’ Johnson Plaza.”

With the possibility of McDonald’s soon closing its service, Montgomery noted that all three fast food restaurants within a block of each other might make the area “dull.” 

“I like crossing the street to grab a quick burger or fries,” she said, as part of her daily dog walks to Alethia Tanner Park. “If this one shuts down, I guess I got no reason to come here just to walk my dog through a residential area.”

JBG Smith, the real estate company behind the proposed development, purchased the McDonald’s site in 2018 for $17.4 million. Currently, the company owns at least six lots in the vicinity, covering approximately 2.88 acres.

A map displaying the lots owned by JBG SMith in NoMa
The lots (marked in red) are owned by JBG Smith, according to the latest Real Property Tax Database—source: DC Office of Tax and Revenue.

Then, Andrew VanHorn, executive vice president of the real estate company, told the Washington Business Journal in 2018 that the company had controlled the site for a while before finalizing the deal. 

The McDonald’s store, according to the same report, was slated to continue serving customers for at least two years as the company planned the site’s future. According to Abu-Khalaf, the fast-food location might remain open for another two years as the real estate team is still determining the redevelopment timeline. 

“I don’t think that one specific site will fix all issues, but I think it’s probably a better use than just one large physical area for fast food and then a lot of like parking spaces and a drive-thru versus having more housing and other retail options.”

A parking lot adjacent to McDonald's at 75 New York Ave., Washington, D.C.
Parking lot adjacent to McDonald’s at 75 New York Ave. (Kaishi Chhabra/ The Wash

A proposed development under JBG Smith adjacent to McDonald’s at 1300 First St. NE, as outlined on the NoMa Business Improvement District (NoMa BID) website, plans two phases with 800 units and 35,000 sq ft of retail, anticipating delivery in 2024.

However, specific details regarding the nature of the 800 new apartments, such as their size, affordability, and target demographic, remain undisclosed as both the team at JBG Smith and NoMa Business Improvement District (NoMa BID) did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

With the absence of clarity from the real estate in charge of the location and NoMa BID responsible for the transformation of NoMa through planning and economic development, the fate of McDonald’s at New York Ave., as well as the potential impact on fast-food affordability in the area, remains uncertain.

Kaishi Chhabra

Kaishi is a multimedia journalist specializing in political and human rights reporting. Having a diverse cultural and global background, she is especially interested in amplifying the voices of marginalized communities such as women of color and LGBTQIA+ groups. Kaishi is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Journalism at The American University.

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