- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2006

Will the tide of economic development that began during the first Williams administration continue after in January, after the new mayor and lawmakers are sworn into office? The answer to that crucial question could determine whether the District continues to rise in prosperity or again sink in red ink.

The Washington business establishment’s “candidate” did not win. The Board of Trade PAC, the D.C. Building Industry Association and the D.C. Chamber of Commerce all endorsed the outgoing chairman of the D.C. Council, Linda Cropp, in the Democratic primary. They also rejected the candidacies of one of their own, former Verizon executive Marie Johns, and that of Vincent Orange, the very council member who worked alongside Mayor Williams on economic development policies.

As things now stand, the city is in the throes of an economic resurgence: It enjoys an A+ bond rating; a $370 million rainy day fund; and a $1.6 billion accumulated surplus. Affordable family housing is either under construction or on the books, and commercial development abounds in all wards of the city. Moreover, as Mr. Orange repeatedly reminded us on the campaign trail, “D.C. will produce 47,000 new jobs over the next decade.”

Thousands of those new jobs will be in the construction industry, where tradesmen will be needed to build the new stadiums for our baseball and soccer teams; to build new housing of all costs; to modernize and renovate our school inventories; and to build upon our burgeoning commercial real-estate market.

It’s worth noting that one of the largest projects in modern D.C. is being planned in Ward 5, where a “new” New York Avenue will include two hotel chains, including Marriott, that are scheduled to open by the spring of 2008. Those openings coincide with the opening of the Washington Nationals’ new stadium. The new face for this long-neglected stretch of one of the Washington-Baltimore region’s busiest gateways is proposed by Abdo Development. Preliminary plans for the billion-dollar project, which is near the National Arboretum and the art deco Hecht’s Building, call for more than 3 million square feet of housing, retail establishments and an “Arbor Club,” a fitness/recreational facility.

Of course, the permitting and zoning processes have not been fully vetted, so the final say and look are to be determined. In the meantime, there’s much going on in other areas of the city undergoing massive development, too. Ward 7 taxpayers are anxiously awaiting retail and single- and multifamily developments. Ward 8 residents are holding their collective breaths that development of the former federal munitions site, Camp Simms, means taxpayers will finally get a supermarket. Big-box retailers — Costco and Harris Teeter, among them — are shaking hands in City Hall.

What will happen when the current occupants of City Hall, especially Mr. Williams, Mrs. Cropp and Mr. Orange, are replaced by a group of freshmen in January? New officeholders sometime bring new ideas, and that can bring promise. We hope the need to finish “old” business isn’t lost on “new” leadership.

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