Everywhere you look in Washington these days you see construction crews, scaffolding, jackhammers and cranes soaring. Drive down any major street in the city, Georgia Avenue Northwest, Benning Road Southeast, or M Street and you see older apartment buildings and row homes mixed with new condos and contemporary construction. As the rest of the country slowly emerges from a recession, the nation’s capital is experiencing an unprecedented economic boom.
Economic development in the city has been a highlight of Mayor Vincent Gray’s tenure, and he put forth a robust plan to continue to improve the city’s economic picture in his State of the District address on Feb 5.
“In partnership with the private sector, we’ve developed a bold Five-Year Economic Development Strategy – the first comprehensive economic-development strategy ever created by the District government. The goals are ambitious, but they are achievable: to create 100,000 jobs and $1 billion of new tax revenue for the District over the next five years,” the mayor said.
The plan entails six focus areas: becoming more business friendly, developing a tech hub for the East Coast, boosting tourism, increasing retail, creating a medical and research hub and attracting more foreign investment.
City residents can look at major groundbreakings in 2012 as indicators of the city’s future landscape.
One of the largest developments to open recently is The Shops at Dakota Crossing anchored by big box retailer COSTO at the intersection of New York Avenue and South Dakota Avenue Northeast in Ward 5. City officials project that 1,200 jobs will be created and $634 million in revenue will be generated over the next 30 years.
City residents also saw the revitalization of the historic Howard Theatre in the Shaw District in Ward 1 near the intersection of 7th Street and Florida Avenue.
Plans for this site also include 200 plus housing units and street level retail near the theater, adjacent to the Shaw-Howard University Metro Station.
Major changes are coming for the city’s historically African-American and lower economic areas East of the River. Residents have complained over the years about the lack of development and underutilized space in Wards 7 and 8 but these areas will look completely different in the next five years.
One of the largest planned developments in the city is in Ward 8, the redevelopment of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital East Campus that will bring 3,700 employees from a new Coast Guard headquarters by year’s end. Phase One is valued at $113 million and is scheduled for completion by 2015.
In Ward 7 the Skyland Shopping Center at Alabama Avenue and Naylor Road Southeast is being remodeled with Walmart as the anchor tenant in a working-living community of 500 housing units and other retailers.
Also in Ward 7 at the intersection of Benning Road and Minnesota Ave Northeast near the Benning Road Metro Station, the $40 million project Park 7 is taking shape and will include more than 300 housing units and 23,000 square feet of retail space.
African-American business advocates are excited for the changes but want to ensure the city’s black residents have an economic and cultural stake in their neighborhood changes.
“Park 7 is a $40 million project, right now we’ve already spent close to 15 percent of that money with local CBE (locally certified business enterprises) companies,” said Scottie Irving, President of Blue Skye Development and Construction. “As construction continues to grow in our city, you’ll see more African-American companies be a part of it.”
For development at St. Elizabeth’s, city officials are looking to attract major tech companies, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and cyber security businesses to the 180 acre location. “Those are new markets for opportunity that’s happening right here in Southeast Washington,” said Stan Jackson, President of the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation.
Irving, a Washington native, also shared a word for those worried about the city’s changing African-American landscape.
“When other people come in you will see it diversifies but our culture will never leave. Don’t be scared when people move into your city, be a part of it,” Irving said.
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