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crystal city construction

Crystal City businesses remain optimistic despite construction

Construction on Crystal City’s “Water Park” outdoor food venue is extended, but local businesses say they are looking forward to more customers after the grand opening.

The grand opening of Crystal City’s “Water Park” outdoor food venue has been pushed back from early September to Oct. 6, leaving local businesses surrounding the venue to deal with construction for two more weeks.

The Water Park, located on Crystal Drive near 18th Street, is scheduled to open 11 new restaurants and small businesses serving cuisine such as coffee, ethnic food and ice cream. JBG Smith, the contractor for the Water Park, also built a fountain for children in the center of the park. 

water park closed
Fences around the Water Park keep it closed to the public. (Lauren Spiers/ҹֱ).

Caleb Nelson, general manager of The Freshman Cocktail and Coffee bar, has been living across from the restaurant in National Landing for three and a half years. 

Although he’s only been a manager of the restaurant since May, he said the construction for the “Water Park” outdoor food venue has been negatively impacting the restaurant for over a year. 

Nelson said JBG Smith closed sidewalks that previously gave customers easy access to the bar, and gave him easy access to his apartment. According to Nelson, JBG Smith closed these sidewalks for at least a year. 

Nelson said he had to dangerously “criss-cross” the road to get to work and home, until JBG Smith finally reopened the sidewalk about a week ago.

Kelly Campbell, Operating Partner for the Water Park, said three businesses opened on Monday, and others are opening their doors periodically throughout the week as a “soft opening.”

ladder water park
Construction workers finalize last-minute touches on the Water Park. This comes just three days prior to the “soft opening.” (Lauren Spiers/ҹֱ).

“The target was to be open by earlier September, so certainly all the tenants have been really eager to get open,” Campbell said. 

Campbell could not say if there were any construction problems that resulted in the grand opening delay. JBG Smith told ҹֱ in an email that JBG Smith would share a press release “when ready.”

There is also construction on two buildings across from Nelson’s bar. The sidewalks and right lane of the road are closed, including street parking.

crystal city construction road closed
Construction on two new buildings across the street from The Freshman. The sidewalk and right lane of the road are closed. (Lauren Spiers/ҹֱ).

Nelson said there are several competing commercial areas to Crystal City and National Landing around the D.C. metro area. 

“It’s harder to drive business in an area where there’s construction, when there’s all these other fully developed concepts and ideas right around the corner,” Nelson said.

Nelson said The Freshman opened during the pandemic, which drove people away, and the construction is driving people away even more.

“As people got out of the constraints of Covid and got back into these busy areas, they weren’t itching to go where the construction was happening,” Nelson said.

The Freshman is not the only local business impacted by the construction. Freddy Reyes, Manager at “We, The Pizza,” said the same traffic patterns Nelson described made commuting harder. 

“I remember when they had this thing going on where they blocked off part of the road and that makes traffic a little hectic around here,” Reyes said. “It’s already hectic, and that just makes it a little more hectic.”

map of crystal city
The Water Park, located on Crystal Drive near the Crystal City Metro station on 18th Street, is just a block away from The Freshman and We, The Pizza. The sidewalks along Crystal Drive were closed for over a year. (Lauren Spiers/ҹֱ).

Reyes said the construction, while bothersome, has actually escalated their business in shocking ways.

“We’ve had more customers come in…just more foot traffic in general,” Reyes said. “People who work on the site…they come in and order big orders so it helps us out a lot.”

Campbell said that he thinks the eleven new restaurants opening at the Water Park will certainly spark competition. However, he said with the increasing amount of residential units, office spaces, and people relocating to National Landing due to the new Amazon headquarters opening, the new businesses are necessary to support the growth. 

Despite competition and construction chaos, both Reyes and Nelson said they are optimistic for business in the future.

“Once the water park opens, I think it will draw more attention to The Freshman,” Nelson said. “I think we’ll see an uptick in business if anything.”

Lauren Spiers

Before pursuing my master’s in journalism from AU, I interned at WTVR-CBS 6 where I wrote scripts and worked on the assignment desk. I developed TV news packages as a broadcast reporter at VCU. My articles were published in the blog and magazine at non-profit The Borgen Project.

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