Recent revelations from a federal probe into the successful 2010 campaign of DC Mayor Vincent M. Gray (D), has dogged the veteran community organizer-turned-politician. An investigation is also scrutinizing Kwame Brown (D) for leasing two costly SUVs in the days before he became Chairman of the DC Council.
While these stories may dominate the attention of mainstream media outlets, District business leaders have another focus, development.
According to the Gray administration, there is currently more than $60 billion in the District’s development pipeline for residential, commercial, retail and institutional projects. This development is on pace with the trend over the past decade to ensure that development dollars are spread beyond the District’s downtown commercial hub into all sectors of culturally diverse DC, in line with the Gray “One City” theme.
The results have been astounding.
In just a decade, scores of new developments have cropped up around town, from the blocks of new businesses near the New York Avenue Metro Station (the North of Massachusetts Avenue (NOMA) district) to 14th Street/Columbia Heights project, and even the National’s Ballpark/Riverfront community. With this development has come an infusion of over 50,000 new District residents, taxpayers.
Keeping up the pace of local development is what’s on the mind of Andy Shallal, a popular political activist, developer and owner of the popular Busboys and Poets restaurant chain. Shallal, a Ward 1 resident, believes that scandals of politicians “are a mere distraction to issues that face Washingtonians; good schools, jobs, development…issues that pertain to improving the quality of life for all district residents.”
Shallal doesn’t completely dismiss the alleged missteps of local officials and understands that “such publicity cannot be good for the city.” Nonetheless, the noted restaurateur believes that extended media preoccupation of local scandal news amounts to “silly sensationalism” and could “set back any kind of further autonomy” that he and other activists and business leaders alike realize is essential for the District to truly prosper.
Darrin Davis, a young real estate professional and broker-owner of Anacostia River Realty, based “east of the river” views claims surrounding Gray and Brown as, at worst, “minor errors in judgment and shouldn’t be distracting from the city’s goals.”
For Davis, the real news is what’s in store for the District’s east of the Anacostia River neighborhoods, places he describes as “hidden jewels.” Davis has recently seen new interest, particularly in Ward 7, by entrepreneurs and investors seeking to get ahead of the curve. The fact that Ward 7 is home to three of the District’s top political leaders, Mayor Gray, Council Chair Brown, and incumbent Councilmember Yvette Alexander (D) is only a plus contends Davis.
The chance to spur development recently bought a delegation of District leaders to the International Council of Shopping Center (ICSC) convention in Las Vegas, considered by many as the world’s largest annual development industry networking and deal-making event. Each year, the retail conference brings together more than 30,000 government officials, retailers, developers and other professionals from around the world.
At the ICSC conference, DC Council Chairman Brown, outside the microscope of DC mainstream news outlets, met with a variety of “retailers and developers to discuss various projects” in all of the District’s eight wards, said the first-term Council Chairman. Now that he’s back, Brown hopes to take advantage of contacts that he and other local leaders made at ICSC to lure “retailers and developers who seriously intend to invest in the District.”
Brown is particularly bullish about development in his home Ward, noting several economic development priorities in Ward 7, such as the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor, the 4800 Nannie Helen Burroughs project, and the long-anticipated redevelopment of the Penn-BranchShopping Center.
According to Brown, Ward 7 and other underserved neighborhoods are perfect opportunities for developers. Ward 7, in particular, Brown notes, includes more than 75,000 residents who all require basic services and amenities that currently are not offered, including grocery stores, restaurants, and entertainment options. “In my view, smart investors will realize these gaps in the market and deliver these services to Ward 7 residents,” stated Brown.
There is a balancing act in promoting new business in the District, while making sure that development does not come as a detriment to local, home-grown enterprises.
To achieve this balance, Victor Hoskins, the Gray administration’s Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development leads a staff charged with ensuring a level playing field. Hoskins and his team are supported by District laws that require at least 51% of jobs created by new development projects to be given to DC residents.
Hoskins’ team has also built a webportal for developers that “allows anyone interested in doing business in the District to determine what incentives they would be eligible for depending on their location within the District.”
In sum, the word on DC’s main street is development, not scandal.
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