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South Capitol Vision Is Met With Praise

After 10 months of study, a task force for the federal government’s central planning agency for Washington, D.C., unveiled a new vision last week for the transformation of South Capitol Street into one of the city’s premier urban boulevards.

The new National Capitol Planning Commission proposal, which would create a grand waterfront gateway along the Anacostia River next to the site selected for the city’s new baseball stadium, was met with praise by Congressional leaders and commission members. Still, some commissioners encouraged planners not to forget about the Anacostia community on the south side of the river and expressed hope that future planning would look to connect that part of the city more to the rest of Washington.

“The Anacostia River and the South Capitol Gateway deserve to be a place of dignity; a place of amenity and pride; a place for economic growth and business development for the region,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who has long championed the restoration of the South Capitol Street area. “I pledge that I will work to secure the federal resources to effect the completion of this vision, not just for the gateway, but for the surrounding neighborhoods, businesses, and visitors.”

The most dramatic component of the new plan — which builds on the NCPC’s 1997 Legacy Plan to extend the “monumental core” of Washington — would be the creation of a large oval traffic rotary and 7-acre South Capitol Commons open park area to be built where a new Frederick Douglass Bridge would intersect South Capitol Street and Potomac Avenue. The South Capitol Commons, which would sit above a large two-level underground parking garage, “would afford an area large enough to be a destination,” said George Toop, a design officer for the commission.

Adjacent to the Commons area would be a new South Capitol Waterfront Park, which would help better connect the city to the Anacostia River and, planners hope, be the location for a major new cultural facility.

North of this area, South Capitol Street would be a six-lane boulevard framed by mixed-use development but with open views of the Capitol.

Architect of the Capitol spokeswoman Eva Malecki, whose office has participated in the meetings leading up to Thursday’s presentation, said the new NCPC plan is compatible with the plans that the AOC is developing for the future of the House Office Buildings and the southern area of the Capitol grounds.

“While the NCPC concept plan represents a very long-range development plan for the South Capitol Street area, the vision for the grand boulevard development of the corridor is consistent with the long-term planning for the Capitol complex,” she said.

Acknowledging that the realization of this new plan is a ways off, Bill Dowd, the NCPC director of planning and project implementation, said, “What this plan should do is provide a vision for decisions that should be made over the next 20 years.” He said that the redevelopment of the South Capitol Street bridge would probably have to be the first step in this process.

At Thursday’s unveiling, NCPC Commissioners Jerry Shiplett and Arrington Dixon praised the new plan but added that it was time to start looking more on the Southeast side of the Anacostia River and build an equally dramatic terminus to the city there.

Task Force Chairman and NCPC Commissioner José Galvez agreed that “we need to bring this across the river” to make the Anacostia community more a part of the fabric of Washington.

Meanwhile, NCPC Commissioner John Parsons said that since most of the land discussed in the new plan is currently privately held, the next step the city needs to take is to help the general public understand how South Capitol will be transformed and what the development will mean for Washington.

“Unless we get people excited about this, it will be just another plan sitting on a shelf,” Parsons said.

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