- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2000

15 minutes with…Adrian M. Fenty

Twenty-nine-year-old Adrian M. Fenty turned the D.C. political scene on its ear last month when he defeated city Councilwoman Charlene Drew Jarvis in the Ward 4 Democratic primary.

Mr. Fenty campaigned on the need for economic revitalization in the ward, especially along Georgia Avenue NW, a gateway into the city from Maryland that has been depressed since the 1968 riots in the city.

Mr. Fenty said Mrs. Jarvis, a council member since 1979, neglected the needs of businesses in her ward, even though she chairs the council's Economic Development Committee, which doles out funding for D.C. business projects.

In addition, Mr. Fenty said his small-business background his parents own Fleet Feet Sports Shop in Adams Morgan, where he worked as a kid will make him an advocate for businesses.

Ward 4 is heavily Democratic, and Mr. Fenty is strongly favored to win the general election in November. His only opponent will be Renee Bowser, the D.C. Statehood Green Party nominee.

Last week, Mr. Fenty discussed his economic development platform with The Washington Times at Mocha Hut, a coffee shop that opened last month in the 4700 block of 14th Street NW.

Question: Georgia Avenue was once considered D.C.'s main street, and a lot of folks have talked about ways to revitalize it over the years. What is your vision for the corridor?

Answer: We're going to re-create what existed here at one point. We need shops like the one we're in right now the small coffee shops, the restaurants, the kinds of businesses that serve the needs of the neighborhood.

We're on 14th Street right now, but this corridor is very similar to Georgia Avenue. There are a lot of little footprints that have been neglected.

It is my understanding that there was a Safeway in this corridor in the 1970s. And the next block down, there were shoeshine businesses, small clothing stores, some restaurants.

The same thing was true of Georgia Avenue. It boomed until the late '60s. But even through the '70s and the early '80s we did have some good businesses here. There was a Hechinger [hardware store] on the corner of Georgia and Missouri [avenues]. There was a really popular restaurant called Faces that was [open] until the '80s at least. Then you had a nice deli.

There were lots of other shops that people in my neighborhood used to frequent.

Q: What has kept this area so depressed?

A: A combination of factors, and they all fall under the heading of "neglect."

If you look at right where we are, the 4700 block of 14th Street, you look at the sidewalk and it's unbelievable. It looks like it hasn't been maintained in 20 years, and it probably hasn't.

If you're going to attract businesses and consumers and keep businesses and consumers you have to make the environment look attractive. That is Business 101.

We haven't done that. There's a [new] plan to redevelop this sidewalk, but it's about 15 years too late. We also have to keep the streets clean, the alleys in good shape [and make sure] abandoned properties [don't] sit too long… .

People also want to know crime is under control in the business district. That's big too.

And of course, we've got people moving back into the city now, after all those years of middle-class flight. We have to do things to keep them.

I think it's important to note that the Georgia Avenue problem the neglect, the lack of development is a ward-wide problem. Georgia Avenue is our biggest business corridor, but we have [other] corridors that are also in need of capital infusion.

Q: So where do folks here shop?

A: Obviously it depends.

If you're on the border of Ward 4 and Maryland, you're going to do your grocery shopping at the Giant right across the line. You're going to do your clothing shopping anywhere.

If you live in Shepherd Park, parts of Takoma, Colonial Heights, you shop at the Giant in Silver Spring.

There is a grocery store at Piney Branch and Georgia [avenues], but people on the 14th Street corridor and west, go west of the park. They'll go over to Connecticut Avenue.

Before this place (The Mocha Hut) opened, people here went to Connecticut Avenue just to get a cup of coffee. That's a problem.

That's what we're trying to emphasize: people will shop in the neighborhoods, if you give them opportunities.

Q: Mayor [Anthony A. Williams] said this year he plans to move the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles [from C Street NW] to Georgia Avenue. How significant will that move be?

A: It shows the commitment of the [city's] executive branch of government. I think that is key.

The developers want to know that the mayor is committed to this area… .

DMV is one of those things where the people of Ward 4 want to move quickly. Getting a government building in, and all the people it will bring in, is good. The idea is it will bring more private development.

Q: Are there opportunities for other white-collar jobs in the corridor?

A: I [believe so.] I've talked to people at Bell Atlantic. I've talked to people at the D.C. Technology Council. I've talked to people at the [D.C.] Chamber of Commerce.

What we think can also happen on Georgia Avenue is we think we can take advantage of some of the technology businesses that are coming into our area. We have all these small footprints that haven't been developed. We can take advantage of the technology development taking place around us.

Q: What do you think a technology business would like about Georgia Avenue?

A: They'll like the fact that this is a business corridor where probably the cost per square foot of property is lower than other parts of the area.

You also have the resources close to downtown. There are three [Metrorail stations] near Ward 4, so that's good for their employees.

You have the commitment of the government to do the type of streetscaping and facade improvements that will attract businesses. A technology business, any kind of business, wants to make sure they won't have to spend all their money sprucing up public space.

The technology businesses aren't like the retail businesses that need a lot of square footage. You could bring in a small technology business that could operate out of a storefront. Once [other technology businesses] see one of their peers is in, more will start to come.

Q: What about the other side of Georgia Avenue [in Montgomery County.] Are there opportunities to feed off the redevelopment of Silver Spring?

A: All the right players are involved.

We have our own community development corporation that moves plans along. The mayor has met with [Montgomery County Executive Douglas M.] Duncan.

I think the Silver Spring business community and political community doesn't want that blight [in the D.C. section of Georgia Avenue] to continue. They don't want only one half of the gateway between the District of Columbia and Maryland to be redeveloped.

This whole move to make the District an international city is going to have to involve all the gateways of the city New York Avenue, Georgia Avenue. It doesn't do us any good to build up downtown if the first thing you see when you cross into the District of Columbia is a blighted corridor.

Q: Your predecessor was close to the mayor. What is your relationship like with him?

A: Yeah, we do have a good relationship. But let's be honest, Mrs. Jarvis and the mayor formed a much tighter relationship this year there was a lot of pressure on him to support her, for whatever reason. And he did… .

Don't forget, I worked on the council. I was there. [Mrs. Jarvis'] relationship with the mayor was pretty much like the other council members.

We have a fine working relationship [with Mr. Williams]. We have talked with him since the primary. I look forward to his support not only in the election, but after I'm sworn in.

Q: What kind of relationship do you have with developers and the business leaders of the city? Do you interact with them?

A: We're having no fewer than three meetings a day talking to developers and other people who are interested in the area, to make sure we hit the ground running when I get sworn in.

I've met with all of the people … everybody who you'd expect, just to let them know we will have an open door policy.


Adrian M. Fenty, Democratic nominee, D.C. Council, Ward 4

Age: 29

Education: J.D., Howard University School of Law; B.A., economics and English, Oberlin College

Background: Lawyer; former lead staff attorney, D.C. Council Committee on Education, Libraries and Education; Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4C3

Family: Married; two sons

Contact: 202-545-9490

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