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Franklin Square Park Major Renovation Poised to Start; Expectations Very High

Accompanying images can be viewed starting on page 1 of the May 2019 issue pdf

By Larry Ray*

On March 26th when Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a renovation of downtown’s Franklin Square Park, DC resident Tim and many other nearby neighbors, given that this project has been in the planning for five years,  responded, “Again?”

A partnership between the National Parks Service (NPS) and the Downtown DC Business Improvement District (BID) will begin a $15.1 million renovation of the 4.79-acre historic park. Bounded by I, 14th, K, and 13th Streets, NW, the work is scheduled to start this Spring and be completed by the Summer of 2021. The BID has committed to an annual budget of $750,000 to meet the expenses needed to maintain the renovated and partly redesigned park as a welcoming to all urban oasis.

Despite periodic renovations, the park has not welcomed all for more than 40 years. During the 1970s and 1980s, it was known for crime, including prostitution. Residents and office and retail workers avoided lingering – even entering in the first place. During the 1990s and 2000s, the park also became known for homeless persons despite periodic renovations. Today, people rush through the park to get to the food trucks. Will the renovations change this park?

The Plan

The overall goal of the plan is to make the park a jewel, a destination place for all. Across 13th Street on the park’s east side the redevelopment of the national historic landmark Franklin School building to house the Museum of the Word, scheduled to open in 2020, should help.

NPS supports efforts to revitalize the park as part of its Urban Agenda and is exploring ways in which to partner with the city to achieve these goals.

As stated on the BID’s website, ”A planning partnership was formed in 2012 between NPS, the District government and the DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID) to transform the park and establish sustainable maintenance and operation of the park in perpetuity. The result of this planning effort, which included public outreach and stakeholder input, is a concept design and maintenance and operations plan for the park.”

The designs call for public restrooms, café pavilion, gardens, plaza with spray fountains and upgraded lighting. The BID is expected to manage the day-to-day operations of the park.

With the DC Department of General Services (DGS) leading the park’s revitalization undertaking, the design aspects are being realized through a unique collaboration with STUDIOS Architecture and DAVID RUBIN Land Collective. Also planned for the nearly five-acre park will be a new café, a re-imagined fountain, improved seating, widened pathways, new trees, and a garden for “all ages.”

Federal Legislation Passed to Allow Partnership

In order for DC government to enter into this partnership with NPS, Congressional authorization was needed. And, with Senate passage on February 12, 2019 of DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s House-passed bill of two years ago, no impediments remain.Now Delegate Norton is seeking one final step by formally requesting that the federal ownership of the park itself be ceded to the District.

How will the homeless issue that Has  plagued the Park for decades?

Supporters of the renovation project are pinning their hopes on the new Day Services Center that opened in February in the lower level of the nearby New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, one block south. This DC $1.7 million-funded facility’s “one-stop shopping” social services are provided by Pathways to Housing with laundry, kitchen, meals, showers, computers, housing help and employment assistance.


Franklin Park has a rich history. In 1832 the federal government purchased the square to preserve the spring that was there which fed water to the White House. Most people believe it was named after Benjamin Franklin, but there seems to be no verification of this. By 1872 the square consisted of winding paths, trees and a central fountain. In 1936 the park was redesigned by the Public Works Administration and the NPS.

In 1914 sculptor John J. Boyle’s statue of Revolutionary War hero John Barry  was installed. Some consider Barry to be the father of the US Navy.<> And 51 years earlier, in 1863, following the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, Frederick Douglas held a celebratory rally in this park.


Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans is optimistic:

“For years, I have worked hard to update parks throughout Ward 2 and the renovation of Franklin Square Park is the key to changing the dynamic of this area of Downtown. This park has so much potential to be a welcoming space for our residents and visitors to the area. Not only will renovations begin soon, an exciting new museum focusing on bringing people together through language will reinvigorate the empty Franklin School. This is what progress can look like when the District Government, the Federal Government and the National Park Service work together. Franklin Square is only at the beginning of a great renaissance, and I’m looking forward to seeing it completed.”

Larry Ray is a former ANC Commissioner in both Dupont Circle and Columbia Heights. He also is Senior Adjunct Faculty at The George Washington University School of Law.

Copyright © 2019 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Larry Ray. All rights reserved.