A rendering of the proposed waterfront project. Monthly public forums… (Courtesy Of The Anacostia…)
Images of the Anacostia waterfront were on display downtown one evening last week at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.
One easel held a print showing an intersection east of Capitol Hill packed with people and offices. Another showed a leafy park by the Nationals' baseball stadium in Southwest. One showed a riverfront promenade with boats anchored to piers that jutted into a clear blue Anacostia River.
The pictures were artistic renderings. Making the images a reality will take billions of dollars and decades of redevelopment.
In March 2000, a memorandum was signed by 20 federal and D.C. agencies pledging to cooperate in the revitalization of the Anacostia and the communities near its banks.
Nine years later, a standing-room-only crowd gathered at the library to learn what progress has been made on the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative. It was the second in a series of monthly forums, scheduled on the third Tuesday of each month through June.
The initiative would affect 2,800 acres and 43,000 residents. Over the course of 25 to 30 years, $8 billion in public funds would be invested to clean the polluted river, revitalize neighborhoods and provide affordable housing. Planners say the Anacostia's banks have the potential to be transformed into a waterfront worthy of comparison to those of London and San Francisco.
Last month's forum focused on transportation. Next month's topic will be "Green Living in a Green D.C." This month's forum was titled "The Economics of Developing the Anacostia Waterfront," and that meant the audience received a crash course in real estate development and how to pay for it. The nitty-gritty of public financing and public-private deal making was covered in a presentation by Nina Albert of the mayor's Office of Planning and Economic Development.
A flow chart defined government obligation bonds and tax increment bonds. A spreadsheet displayed math calculations used to determine a project's financial feasibility. Another chart catalogued the factors influencing residual land value at a development site.
Albert, the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative project manager for the mayor's development office, paused at the midpoint of her presentation for a 10-minute question-and-answer "breather."
One of the forum's goals, she said, was to help residents see how such a project moves from concept to reality.
"Architects are able to deliver renderings so early on in the process," Albert said in an interview after the gathering. "We want to draw back the curtains so that people can understand how we get there."
The projected time span of the project is because of the complexities of finding and approving public funding, she said. The coordination involved in working with the federal and Maryland governments, both of which own large swaths of the waterfront, also extends the timeline, Albert said.
Many of the questions from those in the audience seemed to indicate skepticism about the chances of the grand plans depicted in the drawings and charts becoming a reality.
"I thought the presentation was good, but there are some questions to be asked about how this affects residents," said Daniel Hutch, 47, who stayed after the forum to speak with Albert.
Hutch said he is concerned that the desires of developers will take priority over those of the residents. He cites the area around Nationals Park as an example.
"The whole vision is driven by developers. It's just one big office park-type of development that's not really attached to the neighborhood," he said.
Nationals Park and a new U.S. Department of Transportation building are near the Southeast riverfront. They are among the first developments of the waterfront initiative.
Albert said the recession has made it difficult for developers to lease space in the new office buildings. But, she said, the real estate developments will eventually produce revenue to fund the environmental and recreational components of the waterfront initiative.
"People are mainly concerned about very practical issues of transportation or traffic, and there are concerns about the impact on the neighborhood fabric," Albert said. "People respond to real estate developments and have focused less on the parks and other recreational amenities that will be delivered in concert with those developments."
Renee Meddaugh said she left the forum disappointed that she did not get to ask her questions.
"I am really concerned about what is going to happen to Anacostia High School," said Meddaugh, who is a special education teacher there. "Why didn't they mention the schools?
"Where are they going to get the workers for this? Will our students have a chance?" Meddaugh asked. "How are the families going to be able to afford to live here on their income? Are they going to be pushed out?"