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Ambitious Proposal for 14th Street Improvements Face DC Development Office Uncertainty

By Anthony L. Harvey

[Note: Photographs accompanying this news story in the print edition can be viewed in the full PDF copy in the Current & Back Issues Archive.]

In a fascinatingly fluid, multi-track, grass roots political process inspired by the Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) and its Community Development Committee’s Uptown Arts Overlay Committee, a formal draft of the overlay committee’s second report was presented to the ANC at its monthly meeting on November 4. Entitled “Part Two-Economic Development Recommendations for the Uptown ARTS Overlay District,” this 52-page document contains both a summary of the committee’s general findings and an articulation of a set of 16 specific recommendations based on those findings. This follows the ANC’s unanimous adoption in September of the Part One report which dealt with zoning matters. (See, “Logan Circle ANC Approves Continuing 14th Street Arts Overlay, Seeks Additional Support; Report Emphasizes Zoning Approaches to Ensure Results,” InTowner, Sep. 2009, p.1.)

The Committee’s general findings restate its earlier conclusion that “the presence of arts in the neighborhood is important to economic development”; it continues with the assertion that “for every dollar in direct and event-related spending, another dollar was generated in tax revenues and local household income.” In the face of the “relative success of the commercial corridor,” and the current economic downturn, reports the committee, “retailers and galleries are reporting upward pressure on rents caused by the growth in commercial property taxes.” These taxes, together with any continuingly suggested Business Improvement District levies, which are opposed by “business owners, developers, and former city officials,” the committee further reported, would be passed on to what the was described as “struggling retailers.”

As for remedies, the committee proposes more property tax relief directed to small businesses and a “creative study and determination of whether there could be specific tax policies instituted to support arts uses and arts districts.” Included in detail in both this and the following section’s “16 Specific Recommendations” is the committee’s identification of the District of Columbia’s Neighborhood Investment Fund (NIF) as the most likely prospect for direct government subsidy for the Arts Overlay District’s further economic development.

As background listed were 13 District economic development programs, only three of which were available to the 14th Street portion of the Uptown Arts Overlay District, according to the committee. These three are the Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) streetscape program, DC’s Clean Team program, and what has been for the Logan Circle ANC the ever-elusive NIF program — which was alarmingly reported by the co-authors of the report’s co-authors, economist Andrea Doughty and attorney Mary Brown, as being now unavailable for economic development purposes as a consequence of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development’s November 4th decision to stick with existing categories for the Shaw/Logan Circle NIF grants and not adopt those recommended by the committee.

The three existing Office of the Deputy Mayor’s NIF categories are: (1) senior or youth programming; (2) small business technical assistance; and (3) affordable housing preservation.” The committee’s six recommended categories are highlighted throughout the report; these are: “(1) financial support for the Mid-City Business Association in support of retail activities in the Uptown Arts District, including a pilot Hospitality Business Orientation program; (2) visual branding/visual identity of [the] neighborhood including, for example, banners; (3) planning for development of an ongoing arts event to help develop the neighborhood’s ‘brand’ as an arts location; (4) development of the Circulator routes to better support the community and alleviate pressures on parking; (5) planning for expanded street vending to focus on dead zones; (6) improving the use of vacant windows.” Arts Overlay Committee Chair Doughty expressed further disappointment that she had heard nothing from the Deputy Mayor’s Office of Planning in response to the committee’s timely transmittal in September of the final version of the Part One zoning report.

Other issues summarized in this Part Two report include the recommendation of a heritage trail for “the 14th Street area in Logan”; that “the City should add an arts component to the future redevelopment of the Reeves Center [at 14th and U Streets]”; “that the City resolve its lawsuit [with] the ACLU [over] the Central Union Mission project [at 14th and R Streets], and allow the creation [somewhere else] of a new facility serving homeless individuals, thereby allowing development of the site to proceed. The Committee views redevelopment of this site as critical to the success of retail and arts in the Arts Overlay District.”

The Verizon building, also at 14th and R Streets, was added as an item to the identification in the Part One report of the nearby Frontier Estates low-rise garden apartments as 14th Street “dead zones,” with an imperative plea to replace their present condition with sidewalk vending and commercial streetscape engagement. Not mentioned were other 14th Street “no engagement” stretches such as the Whitman-Walker Clinic facilities and its surface parking lot between R and Riggs Streets and the side of the Johan Wesley AME Church facing 14th Street between Q and Corcoran Streets. Continuing, “the Committee further recommend that future development of publicly owned properties [in the overlay area] be targeted to arts and/or artist live/work apace, as appropriate.”

Three appendices complete this important second committee report. Appendix A lists recommended actions on the part of the Logan Circle ANC 2F which would respond to 13 of the 16 specific committee recommendations. These pertain to items within ANC 2F’s jurisdiction. Appendix B, “Economic Impact of the Arts” was not available but was said to be “coming soon.” Appendix C, “Evolution of Arts Uses in the Arts Overlay Zone” was included and is an admittedly incomplete history, using, as it appears to, program statements from 25 arts enterprises in the “zone.” It begins with The Studio and Source Theatres and continues with such organizations and establishments as the Mid-City Artists, Georgio Furioso’s galleries at 1515 14th Street, and the nonprofit Transformer Gallery at 1404 P Street. Music venues include The Black Cat — already a community institution — and the highly regarded jazz club and cultural arts center known as HR 57, which takes its name from a U.S. House of Representative measure first passed in 1987 that designated jazz as “a rare and valuable national American treasure.”

Not mentioned in Appendix C’s 20-page compilation are such neighborhood favorites as 1409 Playbill Café, Busboys and Poets, the 9:30 Club, and such past greats as the art gallery Fusebox and Dante’s restaurant and bar and its hosting of Cherry Red’s “adult rated” theatrical productions.

The status of this “Part Two-Economic Development Recommendations for the Uptown ARTS Overlay District” report awaits consideration by the Logan Circle ANC’s Community Development Committee and subsequent action by ANC 2F at its December meeting, whereupon the report will be transmitted to the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.