The metaphors for the 14th Street corridor may be different: It’s a room with a reupholstered couch and old curtains, or a rusted car with a brand new left fender. However, the message is the same: It needs to be updated.
Ward 4’s population is changing. Although at 77, 500 residents, it is smaller that its 1980 figure of 83,000, but the demographics are far more diverse.
The number of Latinos in the ward has nearly tripled since 1990, according to the American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. The number of Asian and white residents has also grown in the same time period.
As well, Ward 4 is beginning to feel the spillover of the commercial success of Columbia Heights in Ward 1, with which it shares a border.
Amid these changes, the storefronts that line the business corridor of 14thStreet have remained the same.
Revitalizing the Corridor
That is why the D.C. Office of Planning is working to revitalize the commercial zones on the 14thStreet corridor from Spring to Longfellow Streets Northwest.
“It was something that was born out of community concerns primarily in the area between Spring and Shepherd, and a want for a more aesthetically pleasing few blocks there, and a greater amount of diversity for retail offerings,” said Gizachew Andargeh, project manager for the 14thStreet corridor revitalization from the Office of Planning.
And so, an idea that originally focused on just .2 miles of the corridor quickly grew into a plan for almost 1.5 miles of 14thStreet. Through a series of public and private meetings since October, the Office of Planning has been working with the general public, consultant firms and businesses to develop plans for the corridor.
Marketing a Cup of Sugar
The commercial zones on 14thStreet have been broken up into three nodes; each node with its own identity and plan of development.
For Node 1 (Spring to Shepherd Streets), the goal is to strengthen business connections to Columbia Heights. In Node 2 (Webster to Decatur Streets), the goal is to create a neighborhood-serving retail area, and in Node 3 (Jefferson to Longfellow Streets), the plan is to establish an arts cluster.
Consumers in the targeted area are “cup of sugar customers,” according to the retail market analysis conducted by Streetsense, one of the consulting firms.
“When you’re at your house and you need something, even though there’s a Wal-Mart a few blocks away, you would rather go to the corner store,” Heather Arnold, director of market analysis from Streetsense, explains in describing these customers.
It’s this sense of neighborhood that attracted Sandra Gartrell to the area. She owns the Intown Uptown Inn at 4907 14th St. N.W.
“It’s a great neighborhood and it gives my guests a sense of community, being a little bit farther from downtown,” said Gartrell, who started the bed and breakfast seven years ago.
It’s also this sense of neighborhood that brought Tallib-din Uqdah to the area. He lives in the ward and owns several properties in D.C. Uqdah is also president and executive director of the 14thStreet Uptown Business Association at 4700 14th St. N.W.
Both Gartrell and Uqdah have attended business meetings for the 14thStreet corridor revitalization.
Gartrell’s business lies just outside Node 2, so it is not on the receiving end of many changes.
“I would like to see what everybody would like to see, definitely an anchor business in the area, something that would give a better identity to this area,” Gartrell said.
Uqdah has been vocal and involved throughout the process. He says what the Office of Planning and its consultants have proposed is weak.
For him there aren’t enough concrete plans for local restaurants or grocers. There are no plans for utilizing the space taken up by a large Metro bus barn on 14thand Buchanan Streets.
“I’m looking and saying where is the motivation behind this? What is this all about?” he said. “My fear referencing this proposal is that the plan itself won’t contain any substance.”
A Spotted Idea
Renovating the 14thStreet Corridor is no new idea to Uqdah. In early 2010, he and his partners in the 14thStreet Uptown Business Association came up with a “spotted idea.”
At the end of the table in the Uptown Business Association office is a drawing of the corner on which the office sits. People are walking down the sidewalks, holding hands and sitting on benches. It is a happy scene made even more so by the colorful polka dots painted onto the sidewalk and store sides.
“Spot or dot,” Uqdah said, “it started out as wanting to create some color on the storefronts … so everywhere you go you will recognize this as being connected to something.”
For Uqdah, the gaps between each node in the current plan represent a disconnect, but these dots and colors would keep them together. It’s a hopeful plan, but one that has gone no where, he admits, although it has been proposed to the Office of Planning, the council representative and the mayor.
Creating an Arts District
Uqdah does not oppose all the provisions of the plan. He fully supports the recommendation for more mixed-use development in Node 2. He also likes the idea of making Node 3 an arts cluster.
Over the planning period, Node 3 began to take on more precedence when Wal-Mart announced in November it was planning a new location at 14thStreet and Concord.
“It was actually announced while we were doing the marketing analysis,” Arnold said. “We had to completely redraw the trade areas because it’s going to affect where they can draw customers from … and we started looking at Node 3 in a different way.”
The idea was to capitalize on a unique aspect of that area, one that wouldn’t be impacted by the array of goods and services offered at Wal-Mart. The solution came when D.C. artist Sam Gillium announced he would be moving his art gallery to the area.
“We’re looking forward to talking with him and learning a little about ways to make it an arts cluster,” Andargeh said of Gillium and Node 3.
Something Uniquely Ward 4
The plan that is developing for this stretch of 14thStreet is all about learning how to use what they have. Instead of fighting against a booming Columbia Heights, the Office of Planning is looking for ways to ride the momentum, Andargeh said. Instead of competing for Wal-Mart customers, they will try to draw their attention to something uniquely Ward 4.
Most of the plan focuses on urban design and new storefronts with an effort to keep Ward 4 and its businesses obviously loyal to its local patrons and residents.
In the meantime, the Office of Planning knows its operating in the red.
“Everyone is aware of our deficit issue but that doesn’t mean that’s going to be the case forever so we don’t want to miss an opportunity,” Andargeh said. “We can definitely shoot high, and in the meantime that doesn’t mean we can’t meet whatever the overarching goal may be.”
They’re focusing on baby steps – things like cleaning light fixtures on the sidewalks instead of replacing them.
“All the time there are maybe some small wins that could be had within the budget,” Andargeh said.
The last public meeting will be held March 10, after which the Office of Planning will draft a plan for the corridor and make it available to the public by fall.
Over a two-month period, the public will be able to make further recommendations to the plan online and at a mayoral hearing. The Office of Planning will reconvene to address those concerns, and then refer the document to the city council.