Housing Complex

In the Works: A Southwest BID

Could this sterile federal enclave soon be a thriving business district?

The area just south of the National Mall, a concrete-heavy federal enclave with little in the way of retail or housing, could become a lot livelier thanks to the plan to transform Federal Triangle South into a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use area and the broader Southwest Ecodistrict framework. Now, it looks like it might get the services and organization to match.

A group of businesses with interests in the Southwest quadrant is working to form a business improvement district for the area stretching from Independence Avenue down to the waterfront and from 15th Street to South Capitol Street—the entire portion of the quadrant west of the Anacostia River. Leading the effort is PN Hoffmann's Steve Moore, former president of the Washington D.C. Economic Partnership. Forest City, the developer of Waterfront Station above the Waterfront Metro, and Clark Construction are among the other businesses involved in the discussions, says Moore.

"Last summer we began to meet and say, 'What would that look like?'" Moore says. "The general consensus was, 'Yeah, I think that this makes sense, let’s go forward and see what the process looks like.'"

Moore says the discussions, which are still "in the beginning stages," picked up steam when the team learned of the National Capital Planning Commission's plan to transform the area into a mixed-use Ecodistrict. "We said, OK, looks like it makes sense—and then we discovered the Southwest Ecodistrict initiative," Moore says. "A hundred-ten acres right in the middle of what we’re talking about. That lit our own sort of thinking about the BID on fire."

BIDs in different neighborhoods have varying functions, and Moore acknowledges that a BID in this area, where business and retail are lacking and the federal government controls about half the property, will be different from the ones in, say, Adams Morgan and Georgetown. "A BID here would have to be pretty broad in its thinking," he says. "It’d be convening building owners and managers about sustainability, and it’d be in the special-event business in a way that other BIDs are not." Moore envisions special events on the 10th Street L'Enfant Promenade if and when it's transformed into a more pedestrian-friendly, retail-lined street.

The businesspeople forming the BID initially weren't sure whether the General Services Administration, which owns and operates the federal government's buildings, would be able to participate. After some research, they concluded that while GSA couldn't join, it could chip in money in exchange for the services the BID provides, like street cleaning and safety—a discovery Moore called a "game-changer."

Moore says he and the other organizers will soon begin petitioning the major property owners in the area as the first step in forming the BID. In the next five or six weeks, he hopes to submit an application to the mayor's office in order to get approval that allows for legislation permitting self-taxing, necessary for a BID's funding.