- The Washington Times - Monday, May 6, 2002

Developers are pumping millions of dollars into new projects along U Street NW, jump-starting the slow rebuilding of a corridor that never fully recovered from the 1968 riots.
Bethesda-based Donatelli & Klein Inc. will break ground this month for the Ellington, a $42 million apartment building at the corner of 13th and U streets NW.
The eight-story, 190-unit building is one of several new projects slated for the area around the U Street Metrorail station. Other projects include a small office building above the Metro station and more than 100 condominiums at 14th and V streets NW.
"This is an exciting neighborhood for developers. The community supports new development. They want these projects," says Chris Donatelli, president of Donatelli & Klein.
The construction boomlet began in the late 1990s.
Last year, Donatelli & Klein and other developers concluded construction of Harrison Square, a complex of 98 luxury town houses at the old Children's Hospital site on W Street NW, between 12th and 13th streets.
Other recently completed projects include the restoration of the True Reformer office building at 1200 U St. NW and the opening of the Lincoln Condominiums near the Lincoln Theater.
In addition, several small businesses also have opened along U Street in the past year, including a Starbucks coffee shop, furniture stores, restaurants and bakeries. They joined a string of popular nightclubs that have been U Street staples for years.
The work to revive the U Street corridor got a boost from the District last month.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, chose the corridor and four other areas for the new D.C. Main Streets program, which will provide funding and technical assistance to civic groups that work to clean up blighted neighborhoods.
The other areas chosen include upper 14th Street NW, including the Crestwood, Petworth and 16th Street Heights neighborhoods; Bloomingdale; the H Street NE corridor; and Barracks Row.
Each neighborhood will receive about $80,000 in city funding, as well as help from economic development agencies and consultants in the District. The neighborhood groups that manage the money will be expected to raise their own funding, too.
"The designation demonstrates the city's faith in U Street. It's an important step," says Scott Pomeroy, president of the Cardoza-Shaw Neighborhood Association, one of the groups pushing the U Street revival.

'Black Broadway'
Before the 1968 riots, U Street was known as Washington's "Black Broadway."
Miles Davis and Duke Ellington played there. So did Bill Cosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx and Dick Gregory, according to local historians.
Almost from the day the riots ended, Washingtonians have talked about a "new" U Street that would recapture the past glories of the neighborhood.
In 1986, the District boldly built the Frank D. Reeves Center for Municipal Affairs, a city office building at the corner of 14th and U streets NW. The project was an attempt to speed the recovery of the riot-scarred community.
The U Street-African American Civil War Memorial-Cardoza Metrorail station opened in 1991. The restoration of the Lincoln Theater followed soon.
But the rebuilding did not reach momentum until the late 1990s, when projects such as Harrison Square and the Lincoln Condominiums began.
"What attracted us to the corridor was the diversity of the neighborhood. It is an exciting neighborhood with a lot happening, and there is a market for what we're building," Mr. Donatelli says.
Many of the new projects that are planned, including the Ellington apartment building and the new condominiums at 14th and V streets NW, will sit on vacant lots that have been controlled by the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, the agency that operates Metro.
The authority believes strongly in the economic potential of the neighborhood, says D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and chairman of the transit authority's economic development committee.
"By assembling these parcels for development, [the authority] is playing an important role in transforming the street," Mr. Graham says.
The corridor also has been helped by market forces as much as any government-led revitalization campaign.
Adams Morgan, located to the west of the U Street corridor, is a vibrant business and residential center. Likewise, Dupont Circle, the neighborhood just south of U Street, is thriving.
Now that the spirit of urban renewal has taken hold along U Street, there is evidence it is marching farther north.
In April, the National Capital Revitalization Corp., a government-chartered corporation that assists the District with economic development, chose four developers including Donatelli & Klein to rebuild six parcels in Columbia Heights, a neighborhood north of the U Street corridor.
Most of the parcels are home to vacant lots or boarded-up buildings.
"People have recognized the economic possibilities on U Street, and now they recognize the economic possibilities in Columbia Heights," said Lawrence T. Guyot Jr., a longtime U Street resident and a member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B, a panel that advises the District on neighborhood matters.

Mixed bag for merchants
From his storefront at 1213 U St. NW, Ben's Chili Bowl owner Ben Ali Jr. has watched his neighborhood undergo dramatic changes.
The restaurant may be the street's most famous landmark. Mr. Ali likes to tell customers the Chili Bowl opened in 1958 and survived the riots of 1968, the drug wars of 1978, the Metro construction of 1988 and the new housing construction of 1998.
Today, business at the Chili Bowl is just about as strong as it has ever been, Mr. Ali says. On the nights that the refurbished Lincoln Theater holds events, the Chili Bowl gets a steady stream of customers.
Many of the neighborhood's new residents have become Chili Bowl regulars. "Business is on the upswing, the corridor has a better balance of businesses. We're very optimistic for the future," he says.
Not everyone is experiencing a business boom, though.
Bill Hohman, owner of the Julia's Empanadas local restaurant chain, chose the corridor for his fourth store last year.
He believes the neighborhood will one day be as trendy as Adams Morgan or Dupont Circle, but for now, business is slow. The U Street store loses about $2,000 a month, Mr. Hohman says.
He closes his U Street store at about 6 every night. He would like to keep it open later perhaps as late as 3:30 a.m. on weekends but he isn't convinced the neighborhood is safe.
Last June, a Metro Transit officer was shot and killed at the U Street Metro station. Three months later, Kenneth Barnes Jr., a U Street shopkeeper, was shot. Both incidents weigh on Mr. Hohman's mind.
"I can't risk lives for money. I can replace money. I can't replace the lives of my employees," he says.

Avoiding gentrification
Everyone agrees U Street NW is changing fast, but no one is quite sure how to describe it.
Mr. Graham, whose Ward 1 district includes the U Street corridor, doesn't like the term revitalization. He prefers transformation, explaining that there was little to revive on U Street after the riots.
Mr. Pomeroy disagrees, saying he prefers to think of the changes along U Street as a restoration. He points to Ben's Chili Bowl and other landmarks that have weathered the times.
This isn't just a case of semantics. Virtually everyone involved in new development along U Street wants to avoid talk of gentrification, the upgrading of deteriorated urban property by the affluent, which often results in displacement of poor residents.
"We are developing vacant lots that have been used as parking lots. Not only are we not displacing people, we are maintaining the economic diversity of the neighborhood," Mr. Graham says.
Some of the longtime black business owners along the corridor disagree. They complain privately about the influx of Latino residents from Adams Morgan, saying the neighborhood is losing its original character.
But Mr. Ali, owner of Ben's Chili Bowl, says he keeps an open mind. He says many of U Street's longtime black-owned businesses are still going strong, and the city recently started "heritage walks," a new program that brings tourists to U Street.
"It's important to preserve the heritage of the neighborhood, but we also embrace the changes here," Mr. Ali says.


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