Recently The Triangle had the opportunity to interview through the email format the Executive Director of the Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District. We chatted with Bill McLeod about issues ranging from basic daily functions of the CID to the future plans for this community. In the process we gained a greater understanding of what the CID has influence in and what solutions are steered by the market (developers) or D.C. government agencies.
What does the CID do?
The Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District operates programs that promote a cleaner and safer neighborhood. MVTCID also raises public awareness about the Triangle through its website, broadcast emails, quarterly newsletters, press releases, and neighborhood events.
<The Triangle’s Clean Team works seven hours a day, seven days a week, between 7:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. They keep the neighborhood looking great by picking up hundreds of pound of trash each day. And, they provide an added benefit through outreach to those in need from the community.
In August 2007, MVTCID started safety services by hiring a Metropolitan Police Department officer (through Reimbursable Detail) Friday and Saturday nights from 6:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. In the spring, we were awarded a grant to double the police on Friday and Saturday nights – to two officers.
We recently launched three committees: Property Managers Committee, Jobs Committee, and Marketing Committee. The Property Managers Committee focuses on several issues, such as building construction, streetscape timelines, homelessness, safety, security, and other matters of interest to our property managers, business owners, and building owners.
The Jobs Committee organized two job-training fairs for residents in the immediate community looking for employment training, and we hope to host another job-training fair in the autumn. And, the committee works closely with life-skills training organizations, such as Strive DC, to assist people with resume building and interview skills.
The Marketing Committee was formed to implement strategies to promote the neighborhood, including updating the website, branding the neighborhood, and planning community activities. This year, the website was restructured, adding pages that tell the story of the neighborhood, and we updated the development map to include retail listings. Two park clean-up events were organized in partnership with the National Park Service and two walking tours were given through Walking Town DC. In June, we organized a bike ride with police officers, and this August, we will have a dog walk with MPD.
Tell us about your background. How did your past experience as Executive Director of Barracks Row Main Street prepare you for this job? Are the challenges of the job similar or mostly different?
That is a loaded question. In college I studies Social Sciences with a concentration in Sociology. I worked for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street Center for seven years before moving to Barracks Row Main Street, where I works for 4.5 years. In December 2006, I switched jobs and came to Mount Vernon Triangle CID because I knew the neighborhood well since I lived at 5th and R in 1991-2. The development of the neighborhood has been amazing.
My experience with Barracks Row Main Street totally prepared me for this job. But there are two major differences: as a BID, funding is secure, so I don’t spend nearly as much time fundraising, and we have very few volunteers since the neighborhood is not very well populated yet. I still do grant writing here and volunteer recruitment, but I’ll be ramping that up in the next year.
The challenges are similar in Mount Vernon Triangle as Barracks Row. Mount Vernon Triangle had few buildings, and Barracks Row had lots of old buildings but most of them we empty or occupied by marginal businesses.
The area is facing a potentially massive influx of new residents in the coming year. How do you see these residents fitting into the community? What are some of the most important ways for new residents to become involved in the community? And conversely, is the community doing anything to welcome or attract new residents? What concerns do you have about this influx of new residents?
I love density! New residents mean more active streets, better-used parks, more eyes on the street, and more dollars to support retail. It is a win-win all the way around – more people using facilities creating a cleaner and safer neighborhood.
There are several ways a resident can get involved. MVTCID has committees where volunteers can direct their energy: Marketing Committee, and Jobs Committee. And it time, we will add more. Plus we have neighborhood clean-ups and safety events throughout the year. And, for those really involved in the CID, we are always looking for stalwart board members.
We don’t “attract new residents” directly. I think that is best left to the developers and sales teams from the condos. But, I like to think we are marketing indirectly through our website, articles in the paper, and events like WalkingTown DC.
Papa John’s, 5th Street Ace Hardware and the Results Gym Sales office have recently opened. Is there any word of unofficial ETAs for the Safeway, Busboy and Poets or Ledo’s? After these businesses deliver what is next horizon? [Ed note: This question was asked prior to Safeway hanging up their banner]
Yes, Safeway is planning to open September 12, and Busboys & Poets and Results are hoping to open around that time too. Having worked with retailers for a number of years now, I know that opening dates seem to slide, especially when DCRA inspections are required. Ledo’s has not been working on its building for a while, which makes me worried. Don’t know what is going on since the owner has not been in contact with me for six months. Once the retail in City Vista opens, there will be a few retail spaces left, and we hope we can identify some local businesses to fill those slots.
455 Mass has a restaurant space, and they were talking to Lawry’s Steak House, but that deal fell through. But another restaurant is in the works. Also, I heard a UPS store is going into 455 Mass, but the sign has come down for some reason.
Have there been any recent updates on development that has yet to break ground such as Mount Vernon/Carmel Place, Steuart Investment’s parcels or Bozzuto’s 460 New York Ave? Has the recent softening of the real estate market changed development plans for the area or simply shifted out the time horizon?
Developers keep their business very close to the vest, so I am not privy-ed to that information. But, I suspect the softening of the housing market and now the mortgage crisis has contributed to the delay of some groundbreakings. As far as I understand it, no deals have fallen through – just longer timelines.
The Best & Final Offer date for the 5th and Eye RFP has been pushed back a couple times and is presently August 18th. What has been the CID’s involvement on this process to-date? What future involvement would take place after the city awards the site?
As a BID, we are precluded from commenting on land use. I’ve gone to several meetings about the site but kept silent. Whatever developer is selected, I’m sure it will be great because it will add density to the neighborhood, and I liked all of the top four choices. We would like to see public art included in whatever is built since it is a gateway site into Mount Vernon Triangle. And, we want all buildings to be good neighbors – whether commercial or residential. So whatever developer is selected, I want them to understand that Mount Vernon Triangle will be primarily a residential neighborhood – so no loud music, build with double paned windows, etc.
The Mount Vernon Triangle Action Agenda outlined a vision for a vibrant mixed use community. A solid foundation of residential buildings has delivered in the last year. But the office component, especially on K Street, is needed to realize the goal of being an 18-hour community. One can’t help but notice that the NoMA and Capitol Riverfront BIDs are poised to add a combined 25 million s.f. of office space to the city and have landed major tenants like the ATF, DOJ, DOT and NPR. How does the MVT CID meet the goal to add offices/tenants to our community in this competitive market?
The DC office market is still strong, and Mount Vernon Triangle is situated very well – on the east end of downtown. Location, location, location – are our three advantages over SW, NoMa, or the Capitol Riverfront. New office space will open on K Street and it will be great! Think of K Street on the west side of Mount Vernon Square as our vision for what will be built on the east side – only better with more retailers and cafes and fewer offices on the first floor.
The final report for the Mount Vernon Triangle Transportation and Public Realm Design Project included several recommendations for improving transportation in the Triangle. These included bike racks, bicycle lanes, redesigning New Jersey Ave, L Street and a segment of 4th Street as two-way streets before 2010. L Street has undergone its transformation. Any word on the other plans? Bike racks at City Vista would seem appropriate.
Streetscaping is a big-ticket item, and we have been working behind the scenes with DDOT, Councilmember Tommy Wells, and Councilmember Jack Evans to fund the streets and sidewalks plan in the Public Realm Study (rendering). L Street is basically done, and 4th Street will return to two-way traffic in DC’s FY09 budget. Next up will be to return NJ Avenue back to two way traffic and then new streets and sidewalks for all of K Street. Bike racks are easy in comparison and should be going in at City Vista shortly.
Economic development in the Triangle is geared around new high-rise construction, which requires a long development cycle to build. Unlike 14th Street NW or H Street NE our streets lack a stock of vacant commercial spaces to tap into on a shorter cycle via renovation. With no construction currently underway nor any new construction slated to break ground until 2009 our growth may pause after the retail at City Vista delivers. How can we work around this limitation? What tools are at our disposal?
Sadly, you are correct. There are very few old buildings remaining in Mount Vernon Triangle – partly because of the MLK riots, partly because of the urban renewal plan for Lower Shaw, and partly because of demolition by neglect and the construction of the 395 Freeway in 1962. Nevertheless, both the lack of vacant buildings and the lack of construction sites does affect the economic potential in the short term. To work around this limitation, some people have suggested adding street vendors, which I’m not convinced is ideal because of the state of street vending in DC. Others have suggested a weekly market – like the Georgetown Antiques Market. Sadly, they are not willing to move from their current home in Clarendon. Personally, I am banking on the success of Safeway to spur further development as the neighborhood is transformed by new residents, office workers, and visitors from all parts of the city.
A big thanks to Bill for participating in this chat with us. We hope to have more in the future.
Inspiration for this post was from DCMud’s interview with Michael Stevens.