D.C. Councilman to Congress: Public Market, Please

Posted April 24, 2013 at 4:41pm

A group of Ward 6 residents is looking beyond the eyesore that is a rundown government warehouse to a pedestrian-friendly shopping and dining complex that would theoretically bolster the local economy.

The question is, will Congress buy into the vision?

D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells will champion the cause of the Half Street Market initiative, the community-founded group seeking the new mixed-use project, Thursday at a House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations

, Thursday at a House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations field hearing at the barren location, 49 L St. SE.


“We are advocating for the creation of a public market and restaurant that will operate a workforce development and education program for D.C. residents, host community education programming, and provide a commercial kitchen incubator with access to small business formation resources for culinary entrepreneurs,” HSM collaborators posted on their online petition page.

According to Wells, who is pursuing a mayoral run in 2014, installing a community market and dining hub just blocks from the well-trafficked Nationals Park is just the shot in the arm the budding neighborhood needs.

“Within the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood, we are building the equivalent of a small city — with tens of thousands of residents,” he said, adding, “It’s one of the city’s neighborhoods experiencing the greatest population growth.”

The problem is, Congress can’t just hand over a huge chunk of land to just anybody.

“There’s a lot of red tape and different stages to go through to dispose of vacant federal properties,” an Oversight subcommittee aide told HOH.

Per federal law, other government agencies get first dibs on all “excess” real estate (paying fair market value, of course). Then public benefit providers (homeless assistance groups, nonprofits, state and local governments). Then municipal entities. And, finally, private investors.

According to the congressional aide, several government agencies — an earlier bid from Veterans Affairs fell through; the Library of Congress is now actively pursuing — have expressed interest in the rotting shell of a structure.

Still, there’s really nothing anyone can do to speed up the unloading process.

“There isn’t a deadline. They really can languish indefinitely,” the committee aide said of the Department of Defense castoff, which has sat dormant, costing the government $70,000 per year in maintenance, since 2009.