Thanks to Jim Graham I got in touch with Robert Moore of the Development Corporation of Columbia Heights, which among other things, works with renting in DCUSA. I asked him about small businesses in the building.
Contrary to a recent comment on this blog, which said the building wasn't designed for small businesses, Moore says there was a setaside program organized by the DC government: "Space plans were and still are prepared indicating the specific spaces for the set aside program. The DCUSA set aside space program includes a 30% rent reduction for local, neighborhood and minority businesses seeking to lease space."
Moore said it works like this: a business submits a detailed business plan and application from DCCH, with specifics on location, size, and how much money they have. He said two businesses have taken advantage of the deal: Senor Chicken on Park Road and the IHOP (which is a local franchise). The other set-aside spots are vacant.
As for why more small, local businesses haven't moved in:
We have responded to any number of small businesses interested in leasing in DCUSA. For the most part, the buildings spaces are a bit too large for most start up businesses. Financing the costs of build out also is too costly for many small tenants and lenders have not been interested in making business loans for start ups. We remain aggressively interested in assisting small businesses.That's too bad, but let's hope they do keep looking. There are still some open spaces: see the original floor plan to give you an idea of those spaces (note that this floor plan is years old, so lots of the tenants are different.)
This is just part 1 of this series. More to come.