Buildings, Business, and Baseball: Five Years of the Capitol Riverfront BID
Perched high above Half Street SE, with sweeping views of the rivers, empty lots, and smog-blocked U.S. Capitol surrounding one of the District's fastest-growing neighborhoods, the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District marked its fifth anniversary today with a luncheon and panel discussion of the area's past and future.
The neighborhood is built on the concept of the public realm, a "repudiation of the British private realm," said former mayor Anthony Williams, who helped kick off the neighborhood's development with the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative Framework Plan, which is itself celebrating its 10-year anniversary.
"I remember everyone asking me what I was going to do about all the racial division," Williams said. The Anacostia River divides the city both geographically and socioeconomically, so "by focusing on the Anacostia, it was a way to create a new vision for the city," he said.
Of course, the neighborhood didn't emerge in a vacuum; it resulted in part from the redevelopment of the Capper/Carrollsburg public housing complex that was torn down in the mid-2000s to create a mixed-income community.
"This was not vacant land when we started," said Urban Atlantic's Vicki Davis, who was party responsible for the Capper/Carrollsburg redevelopment. "It was actually public housing. We removed about 695 public housing units, and we made sure that our seniors were never displaced. And we've created integrated public housing that's door to door with people who earn two to three hundred thousand dollars a year."
(For the record, 707 households were displaced for the redevelopment, and 386 replacement affordable housing units have been built as of late November, 114 of which are occupied by Capper/Carrollsburg returnees.)
Davis said that developer EYA's new townhouses in the neighborhood sold out in record time. They started selling for $500,000, but in under 10 years have jumped up past $1 million.
BID Executive Director Michael Stevens highlighted some of the successes of the neighborhood in the BID's first five years: 3.6 million total square feet of developed space and nine acres of parks, with another 1.2 million square feet under construction. He called redevelopments like the conversion of the old Washington Post printing building into an office building that's home to four District government agencies "taking a pig's ear and turning it into a purse."
It seems that no gathering of Washingtonians can take place these days without the obligatory slamming of the recent New York Times Magazine piece on D.C.'s economic boom, and Williams had the honors today. Taking issue with the piece's crediting of federal government spending and contracting for much of the city's prosperity, he called it "stunningly clueless," an example of "classic New York City condescension" (though the author is a D.C. resident). But he did give it some credit.
"There was a grain of truth in this stupid article," he said, "because federal spending's not going to be around like it was."
And of course there was baseball talk. Stevens, who opened the meeting by holding up a news announcement of closer Rafael Soriano's signing with the Nationals, said, "I could not create the type of marketing campaign that the ballpark does for us."
Nats general manager Mike Rizzo gave the crowd a rundown of his hopes for the 2013 season. Calling 2012 "a dream season with a nightmare ending," he predicted big things for 2013, saying, "2012 is just the beginning."
Asked whether RGIII's injury validated his team's decision to limit post-surgical pitcher Stephen Strasburg's season, Rizzo held back from claiming victory. "I felt terrible for RGIII," he said. "I never feel vindicated about the Strasburg situation. I'm stubborn enough that I thought it was the right decision all along. Stephen Strasburg will be better for it, which means the Washington Nationals will be better for it, which means the city of Washington, D.C. will be better for it."