Opinion: Development D.C. Style

Mayor Vincent Gray this week is wrapping up a business development trip to China.

Last week, the mayor toured the rapidly developing CityCenterDC project downtown. About one-third of its $2 billion cost is being funded by financing arms of the Middle Eastern nation of Qatar.

Around the country and around the world, our little District of Columbia is making a name for itself with the billions being spent on redevelopment that’s reshaping the nation’s capital. “I think this is a great example of what’s happening here in the city,” the mayor told NBC4 after his CityCenter tour. “This is right in the heart of downtown.”

CityCenter is considered the largest downtown project in any major city. It is being built on the site of the city’s old convention center, which was imploded a few years ago. The redevelopment plan got started under former Mayor Tony Williams, but the national recession in recent years slowed the money flow.

CityCenter is a 10-acre site bounded by 9th, 11th and H streets and New York Avenue NW. The series of buildings that will house office, retail and residential uses will begin opening just a year from now. And 10th Street, closed to build the convention center in the early ’80s, will be reopened.

Other major projects in the city include work in the ballpark area and the Capitol Riverfront along the Anacostia, the Southwest Waterfront along Washington Channel, the O Street Market in Shaw and many others. You’d hardly think a recession had slowed the whole country.

“What we’re really seeing here is a series of transformations,” said Richard Bradley, head of the Downtown Business Improvement District. He said it all began with the Verizon Center in the 1990s that added rocket fuel to that area. “What’s happening here [in D.C.] is another dynamic in demographics … young people moving in, … businesses like LivingSocial … those are forces that go beyond any particular economic recession.”

Bradley noted that about a thousand people a month are moving into the District, and about half of them are under 35 -- the prime age group for restaurants, entertainment and other city life attractions.

Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans -- the longest serving council member and chair of the Finance and Revenue Committee -- says decades of redevelopment are solidifying the city’s economic future.

“Tom, it couldn’t be better,” Evans told NBC4. “Our finances remain among the strongest in the nation -- city, county or state. And development is unparalleled. Every city in the country is envious of what we have going on here.”

The startling growth does exacerbate worries that lower-income families are being priced out of the city. Evans says the development helps create the revenues to pay for city services that assist those families and provide housing.

Take a drive around the city and you’ll see something new or renewed going up almost everywhere.

• Scandal humor. We want to knock down a rumor that, well, we helped start. We joked with a few friends that on his trip to China, Mayor Gray would be seeking political asylum from all the scandal stuff back home. Even the mayor laughed when we told him.

• A passing grade? Do you ever feel like your complaints about government service aren’t going anywhere? Well, the mayor has initiated something called grade.dc.gov, where you can lodge your complaints. (We checked: The website is working.)

Of course, you could also surprise someone and leave a compliment.

According to the news release, “The new Web interface will enable agency leaders to gather and interpret real-time, continuous feedback from constituents and use it to make data-driven decisions that will improve agency operations as quickly as possible.” Uh, maybe we should file a complaint about unwieldy sentences like the one we just quoted.

• A final edit. Michael Schaffer is leaving his job as editor of Washington City Paper. He and the paper’s lauded real estate columnist Lydia DePillis are both heading off to The New Republic. Schaffer says he’ll be part of the TNR edit team and will help beef up its digital offerings. He says leaving the City Paper was a hard, emotional decision.

We said on the Kojo Nnamdi Politics Hour that the City Paper was Schaffer’s “heart and soul.” We heard back from him a short time later. “Thanks so much for your kind words. … [Leaving] was maybe the toughest life choice I’d ever made.”

The City Paper -- like many newspapers -- is going through tough financial times. Schaffer said he hopes that a new owner and the remaining editors will improve the paper, but he added, “I’ll eat my heart out if someone gets to build my dream of a robust & well-funded WCP without me.”

• A final word. Here’s a heads-up if you’re going to any of the Nationals games July 3 through 8. Parking around the ballpark always is monitored very closely by ticket-writing crews. But don’t think for a minute you can park free on July 4, the national holiday when street parking is normally uncontrolled. Because of the Nats game, parking rules will be in full force anywhere near the stadium. Remember, we told you.

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