Today, the Southeast Waterfront is a work in progress. What was once a long-ignored slice of warehouses and neglected homes eventually will become a tall corridor of condos, restaurants, office buildings and the much-hyped Washington Nationals baseball stadium. It’s a big transformation — one that some Southeast developers think needs a public relations push.
And so like Capitol Hill and downtown Washington, D.C., before them, they’re hoping to set up a Business Improvement District, where property owners pay a supplemental tax to ensure such services as street cleaning, safety patrol and, of course, neighborhood promotion.
“It is about branding and getting people to think about it as a destination,” said Michael Stevens, president of City Building Consulting. Hired by area developers, Stevens is organizing the effort to create the BID, which must first gain the approval of 51 percent of eligible property owners and then of the City Council.
Businesses have been positive about the BID in meetings, but the petitions asking for their approval won’t be mailed out for a few weeks, Stevens said. But the BID should be officially approved and in action by June, he said.
“Everyone we’ve talked to is very supportive and understands bids and understands the values,” he said. [IMGCAP(1)]
The area certainly has an upward battle ahead. Flanked by a busy highway and the polluted Anacostia River, the Southeast Waterfront was not included in the original Capitol Hill BID, which covers some neighborhoods surrounding the Capitol. Stevens said some friends asked him to help the Southeast Waterfront create its own BID, after rumors circulated that the neighboring Capitol Hill BID might simply envelope the up-and-coming area. The new BID will include about 100 blocks, roughly bordered by Interstate 395, the Anacostia River, the 11th Street bridges, South Capitol Street and the Frederick Douglass Bridge.
“They’re very different. You do need to brand it and market and promote it differently,” he said. “Physically, it’s going to be very different from Capitol Hill.”
While Capitol Hill is essentially a “village in a city,” the Southeast Waterfront will be the city, with taller buildings and a mix of retail, restaurants and homes. A mock-up of one project — that of Monument Realty’s ambitious development along Half Street — shows large television screens on the sides of modern steel-and-glass buildings in an area that in the past has been all chain-link fences and gray buildings.
“It’s creating a perception for this neighborhood — one of safety, one of maintenance,” said Amy Phillips, the project manager for Monument. “We need an arm that really is promoting this neighborhood as a cohesive place.”
Monument is one of several businesses working with Stevens to submit the legislation to the City Council in February. It also is creating a catchy name and logo to go with the flurry of projects planned for the area.
Ideally, the BID will work with the new baseball stadium, the Navy Yard and the planned Department of Transportation headquarters, despite the exemption of federal property from the supplementary tax. Through contracts or similar arrangements, the BID might offer services, such as cleaning and welcoming visitors during games at the stadium, Stevens said.
“It’s really a big area” that is exempt, Stevens said, “but we want to partner with those because they make this area what it is.”
Creating such a partnership between businesses is the first step toward revitalization, said Bill McLeod, executive director of the Mt. Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District. Although not involved in the Southeast Waterfront BID, McLeod led the successful Barracks Row Main Street, a nonprofit organization responsible for the revitalization of the 500 to 700 blocks of Eighth Street Southeast.
“I think it’s great,” he said of the Southeast BID effort. BIDs provide things that city funds can’t cover, he said. And such an organization could have plenty to work with on the Southeast Waterfront; Stevens estimates that the BID could take in $1.6 million a year.
“It’s really a great way to pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” McLeod said, adding that the development agencies are “really looking toward the future.”
And that’s exactly the sentiment of Phillips, who said Monument is glad to be on “the front end of the movement.”
“We’re very excited,” she said. “We think we’re going to make a new neighborhood that will be wonderful for people who live there today and people who come tomorrow.”