- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2000

Pledges to spend $111 million

Mayor Anthony A. Williams pledged last week $111 million toward the revitalization of Georgia Avenue, joining civic groups in their efforts to make infrastructure improvements and boost economic development along the historic corridor.

The money will be used during a five-year project, encompassing 65 city blocks crossing Georgia Avenue, which runs from downtown into Maryland.

The corridor should be revitalized because it is "one of the longest, most historic avenues in Washington," said D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis, Ward 4 Democrat.

Mrs. Jarvis ran on a platform pushing for the cleanup of Georgia Avenue, and, after her election in 1979, she created the Ward 4 Revitalization Task Force.

Before the late 1960s riots, Georgia Avenue was one of the city's most prominent commercial corridors, with retailers of all trades, restaurants and movie theaters. Today, long portions of the street languish in decay, blight and high crime.

The mayor's initiative involves plans for commercial facade enhancement, streetscape improvements, promoting home ownership and small business development. In another potential boon for the corridor, the city is moving the headquarters of the Department of Motor Vehicles adjacent to the Petworth Metro station. No date for the move has been set.

There are existing incentives for new businesses on Georgia Avenue, including a $3,000 tax credit for every D.C. employee hired by a local business, and other federal funds.

This is not the first time civic leaders have sought to revitalize Georgia Avenue. Civic leaders even recently started a parade in the honor of the historic avenue. Still, only one new business has opened in the corridor in decades, said Terry Lynch, executive director for the Downtown Cluster of Congregations.

North Carolina Furniture, at the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Missouri Avenue, opened a little more than a year ago. Its progress has not been easy so far, said Adrian Fenty, a Ward 4 advisory neighborhood commissioner who is running against Mrs. Jarvis in this year's city council election.

"They have been robbed six times in the last six weeks," said Mr. Fenty, who doesn't believe enough is being done to boost the corridor.

"People who live here have nowhere to shop," he said.

Mr. Fenty said if he's elected he will work to put more money toward the renovation of streets. He will also seek separate funding for street cleaning and will pressure the police department to stop crime in the area.

Then "what we will do is bring the developers and tell them this is a viable place surrounded by good neighborhoods that can sustain business," he said.

While most agree that the revitalization is a good sign, some civic leaders say the region needs more leadership from both government and business.

"I have heard that song, and I have seen that dance before," noted Mr. Lynch. "But I think ultimately it's going to come down to the small entrepreneurs, who, building by building and block by block, are going revitalize Georgia Avenue more than anything."

Economic development and revitalization are two issues the mayor has stressed the most during his term. One of Mr. Williams' main objectives was to clean up downtown. Retailers have now moved in the area, and bigger developments such a mega movie theater are in the works.

"We are certainly seeing a difference," said Mr. Lynch. "But Georgia Avenue is farther from that. We need a few more anchors. The demand is there, but we don't have the vision, the organization, and the leadership to capitalize as of yet."

Why should businesses move into the corridor?

"Because the price is right," Mr. Lynch said. "These is a large nearby residential base, and the lower lease values make it very economically viable for them."

He added: "There is plenty of pent-up demand for hardware, sit-down restaurants, movie theaters. Private entrepreneurs who identify those niches are going to be successful there."

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