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Hill Business District Plans Celebration

The new fiscal year will bring bigger budgets and expanded offerings for the fledgling Capitol Hill Business Improvement District, now marking four months of service to the Hill neighborhood.

The Hill BID — formed earlier this year to improve the cleanliness and safety of the area’s commercial environment — had planned to take stock of its accomplishments Thursday during a noon celebration at the Eastern Market Metrorail station. But concerns over the effects of Hurricane Isabel prompted the BID to postpone the gathering.

The event — scheduled to feature Mayor Anthony Williams (D), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Councilwoman Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), among others — will likely be rescheduled for a date in early October, said Executive Director Patty Brosmer.

Among the group’s most significant accomplishments, BID Vice President Don Denton cites its safety and clean “ambassadors” programs, which draft unemployed and formerly homeless individuals to scrub graffiti, sweep streets and provide visitor assistance and first aid throughout the BID’s 81-block area. Ready, Willing & Able, a group that helps rehabilitate formerly homeless substance abusers, provides staffing for the clean ambassadors program.

“If we can hire one or two [homeless individuals] every six months, we can make a significant inroad into our problem up here,” said Denton, adding that BID volunteers periodically conduct homeless counts to pinpoint where the problem is most severe.

Through these cleaning and safety programs, the group — funded by a self-imposed tax on Capitol Hill businesses — currently collects about 3,600 bags of trash and assists 1,200 visitors per month. It has also treated and mulched 800 tree boxes, said Brosmer.

The BID will soon unveil its new “It’s All Here On The Hill” banners — which will feature a telephone number to call for visitor information and the group’s Web address.

Thanks to higher assessments on property values, the BID’s budget grew from about $450,000 in fiscal 2003 to just less than $600,000 in the upcoming fiscal year, Brosmer said.

The extra funds will be used to add staff to both its ambassadors programs — increasing the days its safety personnel are on the streets from five to seven days a week — and to purchase a pickup truck for its cleaning crew. Its safety ambassadors currently patrol the streets from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday through Monday, while the clean ambassadors are on duty from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week.

To date, the Hill BID — one of four such groups in the District — has signed memorandums of understanding with the Department of Public Works and is close to having MOUs finalized with both the District Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Police Department.

The MOUs address the levels of service expected from both the agencies involved and the BID and are meant to ensure there will be “no decrease in city services” that might offset the BID’s work, Brosmer said.

“For example in our MOU with the DPW it states that any bulk trash that we report would be picked up by them in three days,” Brosmer said.

“We sort of act as a public liaison. I think the general public doesn’t know how to go about getting these things taken care of,” she added, noting that the group’s lobbying of the city had netted 80 new trash receptacles along Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast, as well as helped secure a long-promised new sidewalk along one portion of Stanton Park.

Next month, the Hill BID plans to kick off a $4,000 pilot program that would provide Nextel phone communication with one police officer per PSA in the BID’s area. (Specific criteria for which businesses can call the number — such as for suspicious loitering or car theft — will be in place, Brosmer said, emphasizing that the details of the program have yet to be finalized.)

The initiative will likely first be implemented in PSA 106, which includes the Stanton Park area, then expand to PSAs 108, 111 and 112 and possibly 109 by early 2004 if it proves successful, Brosmer said.

Eventually, the BID hopes to broaden its purview to include the federal enclave, parts of M Street Southeast and in the longer-term possibly H Street Northeast, an area currently targeted by the District for revitalization efforts.

Preliminary talks over expanding the BID’s service area to include the perimeter of the federal enclave buildings have occurred with officials from the U.S. Capitol Police and Architect of the Capitol offices, said George Didden, the group’s treasurer and president.

Currently, the Hill BID includes the area between South Capitol and Fifth streets and between Massachusetts Avenue Northeast and E Street Southeast. It also includes businesses along Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast from the Capitol to 15th Street, as well as those on Seventh, Eighth, 11th and 12th streets Southeast. Union Station, Station Place (still under construction) and Eastern Market are also part of the district.

The Hill BID comprises about 560 properties, 800 tenants and 400 property owners.

The group recently joined forces with other community-based groups and individuals to form the Eastern Market Metro Plaza planning group, which seeks to define “a broad brush vision” to revitalize the area around, and adjacent to, the metro stop, said Didden.

As part of ongoing efforts to attract new business to the Hill, in October the Hill BID will begin distributing marketing information that will include a basic introduction to the neighborhood, occupancy and rental rates, as well as other demographic data, said Denton, chairman of the BID’s promotions committee.

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