Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Changing Stakeholders

Our great neighborhood is the result of the efforts of several stakeholders who pushed the idea of a living, thriving, energetic downtown. Many still compare it to New York City’s Time Square. While that comparison is descriptive, Times Square is a destination people visit. Our neighborhood is that too, but it is also a place where people come to live. At our March DNA meeting, a senior executive with Western Development discussed the history of the Gallery Place project, starting from a city development task force that explored the possibilities of Chinatown. The result of that effort was the mixed use development that includes residential, commercial, retail, restaurant, and entertainment near Verizon Center. Once Gallery Place was more than a promise, a host of other rental and condominium residential buildings began to form. The broad result is that we have moved from about 1,500 downtown residents to over 8,000 residents and growing.

The list of the developers who helped frame our neighborhood is a long one. The city council responded to the vision with Tax Increment Financing and abatements. The small base of early resident activist under the leadership of ANC 6C Charley Docter pushed to keep the required residential units from being swapped to other neighborhoods. Political redistricting freed much of downtown from the burden of Shaw control. With the metro and quick access out by way of 395, residents flowed into our neighborhood as quickly as units could be built.

In short, a lot has happened since the Gallery Place construction cranes arrived.

We know that part of the vision for Gallery Place includes advertising signage. Indeed, the type of signage proposed required new legislation that the council passed before most of our residents arrived. While Gallery Place condo documents appear to have adequate notice of the advertising signage plans, it was not a prominent part of the original sales process. The reality is that this is not 2003. Now we have stakeholders who care about the vibrancy of our neighborhood and deserve to be part of shaping its future. We need signage legislation that addresses the entire downtown area and a moratorium on any new advertising signage until we have it. Similarly, we need legislation that reflects the hybrid nature of our downtown with signage, noise, public space usage rules. We are less a commercial zone with a few residential buildings, but several residential buildings mixed with commercial and retail properties.

We must push our elected officials to support new legislation the recognizes that Downtown is more than Times Square NYC. It is much more; it is a place that many call home.

Miles E. Groves
Downtown Neighborhood Association