Housing Complex

The Conversion of Marion Barry on the Stadium Deal: An Oral History

1247249587_m_Barry_Hat2In 1985, under then-Mayor Marion Barry, a D.C. government building opened at the riot-devastated intersection of 14th and U streets NW that helped revitalize the corridor. Twenty-eight years later, the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center is about the least vital building on that corridor. And so it's become a trading chip in the deal to build a D.C. United soccer stadium at Buzzard Point. Under the arrangement that has yet to be finalized, the Reeves Center site will go to developer Akridge for redevelopment, the District will take over Akridge's land at Buzzard Point, and a new Reeves Center will be erected in Anacostia—a neighborhood that, much like the U Street of 1985, could use some jobs, daytime population, and economic energy.

The Reeves Center is, in a sense, Barry's baby, and he was not happy when he learned that it could soon be demolished. But the Ward 8 Councilmember changed his mind when he saw the details of the plan to bring a new Reeves Center to his struggling ward.

What follows is an oral account of Barry's conversion on the stadium deal, spliced together from separate interviews with Barry and City Administrator Allen Lew, who negotiated the deal on the city's behalf.

Lew: Marion Barry was opposed to it, literally, until he listened to the press conference. I tried to explain it to him the night before. The mayor wanted me to brief some of the councilmembers the night before.

Barry: He said, "I want to brief you on what the mayor’s going to announce tomorrow." He said, "We’re going to tear down the Reeves Center." I went off on that, because I put it there to stimulate growth and development in that area.

Lew: He was opposed to it. I mean, like, he would—I’m not going to repeat this, because I know you’re going to put it in your article.

Barry: I was raising hell with him on the phone.

Lew: But the next morning, he called and said, "Where is this thing?" And he kept on saying, "Allen, this is—" and I said, "Hey, just relax, OK?" And when he showed up, you could tell he was just jumping out of his pants. And the mayor looked at him and said, "We’ll talk about this later, OK? We’re going to limit the questions to the reporters, all right?" And then he listened to the whole press conference.

Barry: When I got to the press conference, it was very clear to me that this was a revolutionary idea, of bringing the Reeves Center to Ward 8, right next to [the Department of Housing and Community Development]. And I supported it 1,000 percent.

Lew: And then he came up and said, "I like it. I didn’t know you guys were doing this." And I said, "Well, I tried to explain it to you last night, councilmember!"

Barry: Allen Lew should have broadened the [phone] conversation.

Lew: Once I said the Reeves Center was coming down, he didn’t want to hear anything after that. And I said, "You have to give me a chance to explain to you where we’re moving the Reeves Center." You know, we’re creating a new Reeves Center in Ward 8, in his freakin’ ward! I mean, that is as good as it gets.

Barry: I’m thoroughly, 100 percent, 1,000 percent supportive of it. The Reeves Center has served its purpose.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Actually

    Why do reporters keep spinning the Barry b.s. that the Reeves Center led to the revitalization of U Street? There was some 15 years between the Reeves Center opening and U Street being "revitalized". The Green Line opening on U Street had far more of an impact, as did the overall improvement in the city's economy.

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  • name

    Also, in many ways the U ST revitalization was a natural outgrowth of the success of Adam's Morgan and Dupont (The Original, Original Gentrification) revitalization in the 90's.

  • tntdc

    In spite of Barry's boasting that he threw the first molotov on 14th, there were never any riots around there.

  • Kevin

    @Actually: The Reeves Center was the first significant construction on U Street since the riots. It DID have an impact, and of course the Metro did, too. Even with both of them the "New U" was something of a joke for years. There were macro forces at work that eventually had U Street pick up steam in the late 90's (a national trend of people returning to cities) plus some smart incentives from the city (first-time home-buyer tax credits) and let's face it, really great old housing stock in an historic neighborhood at good prices.

    Bottom line: The Reeve Center was one of the things that jumpstarted U Street revival, but it would have happened without a number of other factors.

  • Chris hauser

    Blesses are the dealmakers, some more blessed than others.

    Next to dhcd, huh?

  • Dan

    There are some in this city that hate with a passion to give Mayor Barry any credit for anything. Give THE MAN a break. He is Mayor for LIFE.

  • ACyclistInTheSuburbs

    "He is Mayor for LIFE."

    in saecula saecolurum, world without end, Amen!

  • http://westnorth.com Payton

    If Dupont was "The Original, Original Gentrification," what does that make Georgetown? The primordial soup from whence gentrification evolved?

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