NEIGHBORHOOD: Southwest Waterfront

Welcome to DC’s smallest quadrant: Southwest!

This week at DC Hood Hopper we’re featuring the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood. Our featured post is brought to you by a guest blogger, Evan Milberg. You can follow Evan @EvanMilberg and @WhatsGood_DC, and check out his blog at http://gooddc.wordpress.com/.

Photo by Alycia Williams

All Hands on Deck in Southwest

By Evan Milberg 

The Southwest Waterfront is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. By 2020, it will be one of the newest. Over the course of centuries, the Waterfront, a maritime community highlighted by the Maine Avenue fish market, The Capitol Yacht Club and The Washington Marina, has become what many think is an underutilized area with literally boatloads of potential.

Starting in 2012, Monty Hoffman’s development team, PN Hoffman, along with the development team Madison Marquette, plan to transform the Waterfront into a “world-class destination” that will be known as The Wharf. The Wharf will be complete with affordable housing, hotels, basic neighborhood amenities, local businesses, a multitude of parks and a redeveloped marina and channel.

“I believe [the developers’] intention is to make this used 18 hours a day, 12 months a year, as opposed to just during people’s nine-to-five when nobody’s there,” says Zev Feder, a local Southwest resident who lives a short walk away from the Waterfront.

Like any attempt to rebuild a community, the project does not come without a broad set of challenges and community concerns. Feder says that the developers are making a concerted effort to make sure the community’s voice is heard.

Photo by Alycia Williams

“The developers have gone to great lengths to involve the community intricately and exhaustively in many details of the planning process. However, not all of the concerns of the community have been addressed yet,” says Feder. “Southwest residents may be negatively impacted by traffic, and we’ve yet to see how that will be managed.”

For Hoffman and his team, challenges exist not only on the land surrounding the waterfront, but on the water as well.

“Infrastructure doesn’t stop at the river’s edge,” says former member of the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation and current Captiol Yacht Club member Carl Cole. “There has to be a connection between the water side and the land side.”

On the water side of the equation, there is still a lot “up in the air” according to Capitol Yacht Club member Guy Nolan.

“The developer really doesn’t know what he’s going to be allowed to do on the water,” says Nolan. “They’re depending on the deauthorization of half the channel, and if that doesn’t happen, that means they have to work within the same footprints that they have now.”

Another issue that has yet to be addressed is what is going to happen to the houseboats (known as liveaboards) on the Waterfront Marina.

Photo by Alycia Williams

“I hope we maintain liveaboards here. Liveaboards are an important and crucial part of every waterfront community,” says Cole.

Keeping the liveaboards as an active part of the Waterfront is only one of many hopes residents have for the project.

“I think what we do here will be best suited to independent merchants, boutiques, maybe one or two national chains with respect to restaurants, but beyond that I’m hoping that we can encourage entrepreneurship within the border community,” says Cole.

Cole also believes that since a good part of the community is adjacent to the water, the project should include places that help young people become equipped to handle the water.

“I’ve pushed hard for the creation of a maritime school to train young people how to operate vessels,” says Cole.

Cole has also made it clear what he does not want from the project.

“I’m not looking for a recreation or a duplicate of National Harbor Place, nor am I looking for a duplicate of the Baltimore [Inner] Harbor,” says Cole.

The project, which is scheduled to begin next year, is supposed to be done in eight years, according to the project’s website, http://www.swdcwaterfront.com.

“It’s tough to do it all on as tight a time schedule as they have,” says Nolan.

Hoffman’s plan to rebuild the Waterfront would not be the first time the area has undergone major development. In the 1950s, well-known architects I.M. Pei and Harry Weese attempted a now-infamous urban renewal project that failed on many levels. According to a Washingtonian article by Mary Clare Glover, “the government razed hundreds of homes, businesses, and churches. In all, 560 acres were cleared and 23,500 residents displaced.” The article goes on to explain the urban renewal’s structural deficiencies as well, citing the attempt to replace the city grid with too many suburban elements.

“What was done in the ‘50s was poorly thought out,” says Cole. “We’re still feeling the effects of what they left behind.”

Despite past failure, both Feder and Cole are optimistic about what completion of Hoffman’s project will mean to their community.

“I think everyone from Southwest will benefit – owners from real estate values and renters from increased recreational, shopping, and retail opportunities,” says Feder.

In 2006, PN Hoffman was selected from a group of 17 competitors to rebuild the Waterfront. Cole believes the city made the right choice.

“I like Monty’s leadership and charisma,” says Cole. “I’m confident that in time, we’ll get it done.”

To learn more about the Southwest Waterfront and the developments being made to it, visit http://www.swdcwaterfront.com/index.htm.

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