District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday he wants to move the city’s labor department next to the Metrorail station on Minnesota Avenue NE, one of the poorest areas east of the Anacostia River.
Mr. Williams has proposed building a $50 million, 200,000-square-foot complex to house the D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES), the city agency that helps D.C. residents find jobs and job training.
The mayor’s plan calls for the new building to include 12,000 square feet of retail space that will bring more shopping opportunities to the neighborhood, now dotted with liquor stores and hair salons.
The department is now located on C Street NW downtown. The Freedom Forum, an Arlington, Va.-based journalism advocacy group, has offered the District $75 million to buy the site to relocate its headquarters and the Newseum journalism history museum.
The D.C. Council is expected to approve the Freedom Forum deal before the end of the year. It is slated to begin considering the Freedom Forum offer and the DOES relocation proposal Monday.
“We’re thrilled by this announcement,” said Lucy B. Murray, a Northeast activist. The relocation of DOES likely would spark further development in the neighborhood, Ms. Murray said.
Other neighborhood activists protested the mayor’s announcement, saying Mr. Williams did not consult them before deciding to move the agency to Northeast.
The mayor has said he wants to move city agencies to distressed neighborhoods to spark economic development and bring public services closer to needy residents.
This past summer, Mr. Williams announced a plan to move the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles from C Street NW to Georgia Avenue NW, part of a $111 million plan to improve the blighted Georgia Avenue corridor.
D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, said using public agencies to bolster urban renewal is “a brilliant idea.”
He said the construction in his district of the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center in 1986 helped revive the U Street NW corridor, which was left depressed after the riots of 1968.
Sources said activists in wards 4 and 8 lobbied Mr. Williams for the relocation of the employment agency.
Butch Hopkins, president of the Anacostia Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit group that works to attract new businesses to the Southeast neighborhood, said most activists didn’t expect the mayor to move the department to Anacostia.
Agency Director Gregg Irish said the highest unemployment rates in the District are in the neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.
The agency could not provide figures on unemployment in the areas east of the river, but said about 15,300 D.C. residents, or 5.4 percent of the city’s total population, were unemployed in August, the most recent statistics available.
Mr. Williams’ plan calls for the department to be built in partnership with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates Metrorail.
Gladys Mack, WMATA chairman, said the agency has been trying to attract new development to the Minnesota Avenue station, one of its oldest, for years.