The Coast Guard-Driven Neighborhood Revival That Wasn’t
Last summer, city and federal officials cut the ribbon on the new Coast Guard headquarters on the St. Elizabeths West Campus, between Anacostia and Congress Heights. The city, which is undertaking a companion mixed-use development on the St. Elizabeths East Campus across Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, hoped that the infusion of 3,700 Coast Guard employees (and the Department of Homeland Security staff that's expected to follow) would create a new customer base for the struggling surrounding neighborhoods, which would then see a boom in restaurants and other retail.
There were safeguards in place to ensure that Coast Guarders wouldn't just hunker down in their offices and then head back home without setting foot in the neighborhoods. Parking at the West Campus was restricted to one space per four full-time employees to encourage people to take the Metro to Anacostia or Congress Heights. The Coast Guard cafeteria was limited to 260 seats, with the hope that employees would head into the surrounding neighborhoods, or at least across the street to the food trucks and vendors at the Gateway Pavilion on the East Campus, which might become a community gathering spot.
"In planning the DHS complex, and the Coast Guard headquarters in particular, we have taken the steps to help the DHS complex be a part of the revival of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, as federal agencies have done in other areas, such as NoMa and the Capitol Riverfront,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton trumpeted at the ribbon-cutting.
So how's the project going? According to an email from one Coast Guard employee, who asked to remain anonymous, not very well:
I read your article about the new Coast Guard Headquarters published on July 29, and I have to say as an employee at the new building, you were absolutely right to doubt the impact we have on the neighborhood. There just isn't anything around the building that is easily accessible and would have any attractions to people who work here. Yes they have food trucks coming to the Gateway Pavilion every once in a while, but that's about a mile walk just to get there from the main building.
There is a shuttle bus from the Anacostia metro station to the front gate, as well as one from L'Enfant. I'm pretty sure that 90% of the people who metro in spend only as much time on the ground in Anacostia as it takes for them to catch a bus. Additionally, the headquarters building and site itself is situated on a dead end road purposefully built alongside 295. There's just nothing around. No street vendors, no easy access to anything in the neighborhood, absolutely nothing. If Anacostia and Congress Heights transform themselves and become an attraction for the employees here, there might be more interaction between us and our surrounding communities, but having this building here is doing absolutely nothing for them right now, and I don't see any way of changing that on this side of the problem.
Photo via @mayorvincegray