- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2016

Missing out on the boom that has transformed other once-rundown parts of the city, the struggling Kennedy Street corridor in Northwest could finally see economic development after eight years of waiting for the city government to move on a plan to revitalize the area.

The D.C. City Council is moving on a bill that would create the Kennedy Street Economic Development and Small Business Revitalization Advisory Committee — a body made up of business owners, residents and government representatives charged with finally acting on recommendations in the neighborhood’s six-year-old Small Area Plan (SAP).

The plan sets out 22 recommendations for the city government to help spur economic growth along the corridor, which spans Kennedy Street NW from North Capitol Street to Georgia Avenue.

“It’s a corridor that’s long needed a little more help than it’s been getting,” said Council member Robert White, at-large Democrat, who lives just blocks from the corridor.

Council member Brandon Todd, who represents the area on the council said the corridor has come a long way in the last decade, but still has a lot of room for growth.

“While we’re not entirely where we want to be, the tremendous growth along the corridor in such a relatively short time is reason for great optimism,” Mr. Todd, Ward 4 Democrat, said. “My legislation is intended to keep the ball moving forward and bring about increased prosperity along this crucial Ward 4 corridor.”

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The 11-member committee would include representatives from six city agencies, two local business owners, a representative from the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission and two independent community members. The group would meet quarterly and last at least two years.

Residents who testified at a council hearing Monday said the District has done very little to make good on promises in the 2008 SAP, also known as the Kennedy Street Corridor Revitalization Plan.

“To date, of the 22 recommendations in this council-approved plan, only five have been fully implemented and three of those by our volunteer initiatives,” said Tiffani Nichole Johnson, a member of the Kennedy Street Development Corporation, which is a resident-run nonprofit that has been trying to enhance economic development in the neighborhood.

KSDC, which started as an informal neighborhood coalition called the Kennedy Street Development Association but has since received nonprofit status, has long had its hands in trying to compel the city to make good on its recommendations.

Ms. Johnson said even the easier parts of the revitalization plan recommendations — improving the visual appeal of the corridor, removing excess utility poles and wires, and widening sidewalks — have been left undone.

Dr. Willie Hasson, who lives in the neighborhood, said the wait for help has been far too long.

“A new look with updated storefronts, sidewalks and a wider variety of businesses serving community … could give Kennedy Street its place among other great Washington D.C. avenues,” Mr. Hasson said. “But currently it underserves residents’ needs.”

Sybongile Cook, who works for Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Brian T. Kenner, could not provide the hearing with a strong answer on why the effort had lagged to date.

“I don’t have the full answer as to why DMPED hasn’t done more on Kennedy Street in the last eight years,” Ms. Cook said when questioned by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat.

Ms. Cook who runs DMPED’s Great Streets program, which provides grants for small, local businesses, said that since fiscal 2014 only one business in the Kennedy Street corridor has received one of the agency’s $50,000 grants. She could not say, however, how many businesses applied for the money and why Kennedy Street was so underrepresented.

“There were more applications, but I don’t know how many or why more didn’t get money,” she said. “There needs to be more of a presence in the corridor for the Great Streets program.”

Council member Brandon Todd, the Ward 4 Democrat who introduced the legislation, said the bill is meant to make sure “all of the government agencies that would have any responsibility in moving forward the small area plan on Kennedy Street would be at the table.”

But several residents who testified Monday were skeptical. Mr. Hasson said he’s been on walks through the neighborhood with government officials over the years and not much has come out of it.

“A lot of times on these walks that we’ve had, the department has sent people that can’t meet the needs of the projects themselves,” he said. “They have absolutely no idea why they’re there and don’t follow up on recommendations that came from the walks.”

Ms. Johnson echoed that sentiment, saying officials sometimes don’t even show up for meetings. “We have seen in the past that it’s been a little difficult to get agency representatives together,” she said.

But Mr. Mendelson said that might not be possible. “It’s really hard to compel attendance,” he noted.

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