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Ward 8 eager to see promised development

Officials work to see new arrivals aren’t isolated islands

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 28, 2011

D.C. Council member Marion Barry says his Ward 8 constituents have been "greatly neglected" by previous mayors.

So it was good news when Mayor Vincent C. Gray, a friend and political ally, signaled a follow-through on his pledge to help areas east of the Anacostia River. In bold remarks, the mayor on Monday said "the future of development in the District will be centered in Ward 8" through a full slate of projects in government, the private sector, retail and real estate.

"We welcome all of this," Mr. Barry said Tuesday.

But Mr. Barry does not want new arrivals, some already on their way, notably the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to become isolated campuses of employees who shuttle in and out every day, with no benefit to the ward. Construction companies, he added, tend to "bring in their own people."

Mr. Barry cited Bolling Air Force Base, located on the southwestern edge of Ward 8, as an example of isolationism.

"It's an island to itself on the Potomac River," Mr. Barry said. "Same thing's going to happen at Homeland Security."

To turn the tide, he said, new entities in Ward 8 must place a premium on hiring D.C. residents and be a springboard for development, notably restaurants, off their campuses and into the surrounding community. The ward has been a "food desert," he said, in need of more than its smattering of carry-out eateries.

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown said laws and regulations have changed in the past 10 years to ensure the hiring of more D.C. residents, with projects such as the Nationals Park as precedent.

"There will be more accountability, more focus, more attention," he said, noting the new development extends to areas such as Martin Luther King Avenue and other sectors of Ward 8 that are not part of a select campus.

Mr. Gray also has signaled he is aware of these concerns and has called for a federal-local partnership to leverage any potential benefits to the community.

"My office is working closely with Secretary Janet Napolitano and her team to achieve these goals so that we do not wind up with a federal enclave, but have a federal catalyst for community development," he said at his State of the District address in March.

Homeland Security is completing its headquarters on the St. Elizabeths Hospital campus, a large parcel that is the focal point of several ambitious development projects in Ward 8.

The U.S. Coast Guard is scheduled to open its headquarters on the hospital's West Campus in 2013, bringing with it about 4,000 employees. Aside from Bolling, it is "the largest magnitude of development in the history of Ward 8," the mayor said.

Mr. Gray said appropriate "companion" development is in the works for the hospital's East Campus, including office space, retail and restaurants. Printer supply company MVM Technologies announced on Monday it will generate about 300 jobs when it moves its operations to the city and locates its headquarters on the site.

The sprawling hospital campus still needs final approval on zoning and planning, a "major task" that may take a few years to complete, according to Mr. Barry.

"This is still a long process," he said.

Six months into his term, Mr. Gray's stated the efforts to improve Ward 8 come after years of perceived neglect. The ward had the highest unemployment rate in the city as of April, at 23.2 percent, and has seen the most homicides to date this year, with 14, according to D.C. statistics.

It was also an area of the city from which Mr. Gray drew overwhelming support. The mayor won the ward 82 percent to 16 percent over incumbent mayor Adrian M. Fenty in the 2010 Democratic primary election.

Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, said the community impact of these developments will depend, in large part, on how they are built.

"It can't be behind a wall," he said, noting previous developments in the area were near freeway access, bypassing communities altogether.

Mr. Evans said Ward 8 should see progress, but only after about "10-plus" years.

"That's kind of the pattern," he said.

The same is true of the area surrounding Nationals Park on the Southeast Waterfront, he said. In his own ward, Verizon Center was built in 1997 and "it was not until the completion of Gallery Place that the area really came into its own."

Council Member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, said historic Anacostia is ripe for development as long as new businesses are encouraged in the area, the city keeps up with business trends and transit is maintained to complement the 11th Street Bridge project that connects the portion of Ward 8 with areas west of the river.

"There's no doubt in my mind old Anacostia will be like the new U Street," he said.

To keep residents appraised of developments in Ward 8, Mr. Gray is holding a daylong summit at Savoy Elementary School on July 9.

"I think there's a lot of enthusiasm at this stage," Mr. Gray said during a brief interview, noting three community meetings he attended in the ward last week. "Those rooms were packed."

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