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Happy Birthday for BID

When a tour bus from New Jersey pulled up alongside Ayittey Fabish on Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast a few weeks back, the 60-year-old Capitol Hill Business Improvement District safety “ambassador” offered to direct the visibly befuddled driver to his desired destination.

But the driver, who was taking a group of schoolchildren to the nearby Sierra Club, was so distraught he asked Fabish to lead the way. So Fabish proceeded by bike to shepherd the bus to the environmental group’s C Street Northeast office, just off Stanton Park. The schoolchildren were so relieved, they promptly broke into applause.

Thanks to the BID — which is marking one year of service to the Hill community this month — such small, but very necessary, acts of assistance are becoming commonplace in the commercial area around the nation’s seat of power.

Indeed, the BID, which employs a combined staff of roughly two dozen clean or safety workers, known as ambassadors, to do everything from scrub graffiti to provide visitor assistance, is fast becoming one of the neighborhood’s major success stories.

“All of us on the board feel the first year of the BID has exceeded our expectations,” said George Didden, the group’s president and treasurer. “We are all delighted.”

What makes the Hill BID unique among the city’s other three BIDs is the focus it places on helping to reintegrate formerly homeless substance abusers into society. Accordingly, Ready, Willing & Able, a group that helps rehabilitate such individuals, provides staffing for the BID’s clean ambassadors program.

“While they are earning [money], they are seeing their lives come together,” said BID Executive Director Patty Brosmer of the ambassadors. “The neighborhood people hug them all the time.”

The program is widely praised, with business owners, such as Rodney Smith of Capitol Hill Sporting Goods and Apparel on Eighth Street Southeast, asserting that if anything, there should be more ambassadors on the streets.

“I think it brings a big plus to the neighborhood,” he said, noting that one safety ambassador recently alerted him to the location of a stolen baseball cap. “They are always checking in on me.”

Buoyed by the success of its ambassador initiative, the BID is now working with District officials in hopes of launching a youth offenders program, in which juveniles sentenced to community service would be allowed to work off their time with the BID.

Under the proposal, Brosmer said, youths would be assigned to work with clean ambassadors to complete neighborhood improvement tasks, such as picking up trash. An annual budget of about $5,000 has already been put aside for this purpose, she added.

The BID — funded through a self-imposed tax on Capitol Hill businesses — has an operating budget of $600,000, including $40,000 a year in private donations.

Within the past week, clean ambassadors began weeding and mulching hundreds of tree boxes on Capitol Hill. On average, Brosmer noted, each month its staff collects about 2,000 bags of trash and carries out some 1,400 assists.

Beyond its ambassadors program, this past month the BID kicked off the first quarterly meeting of the Capitol Hill Operations & Safety Network, a 21-member group, which includes representatives of the Metropolitan Police Department, the Library of Congress Police, U.S. Capitol Police, the Marine Barracks and even private building security personnel.

“It opens the lines of communication between all the different safety concerns in this area,” said Brosmer.

Additionally, the BID has Nextel phone communication with two MPD officers, which allows BID staff and other local establishments to report a variety of low-level security concerns, such as chronic panhandling or suspicious loitering, to police.

Looking ahead, the BID would like to expand its 81-block service area to the Anacostia waterfront along M Street Southeast within the next year or so — a move that would double its jurisdiction. It would also like to broaden its purview to include the Capitol campus, and even H Street Northeast, said Didden. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer has expressed support for the idea, as has the Architect of the Capitol’s office, but lack of federal funding remains an obstacle, Didden added.

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.

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