One Year After Shelter Protest, Anacostia Moves Forward (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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One Year After Shelter Protest, Anacostia Moves Forward

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and every year, right around this time, we set aside a week to bring you a show we call, Out In The Cold. It's inspired, of course, by winter. Because, after all, it's mid-January, right? And once upon a time, mid-January meant we were bundling up in our down coats and shivering in our boots. These past few winters that hasn't quite been the case. It's been chilly on occasion, sure, but it's also been pretty balmy, downright spring like on certain days.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:42
Nevertheless, this show has a soft spot in our hearts, so erratic weather be damned. We are going ahead with an hour of cold, cold, cold, both literal and metaphorical. We'll face the frigid waters of the mid Atlantic with a Maryland family sailing across the world. We'll go skiing on a hill in Virginia, where snow is no longer required for a fun day on the slopes. And we'll sample the cuisine of Iceland, as we continue our Eating in the Embassy series.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:01:14
But first, a follow up to a story we featured exactly one year ago this week. The story took place in Southeast Washington, in the historic neighborhood of Anacostia. And it was about a place designed to bring Washingtonians, women specifically, out of the cold. It's known as Calvary Women's Shelter. And when the organization announced its plans to build transitional housing at the center of Anacostia's up and coming commercial district…

MS. GRETA FULLER

00:01:39
The leaders of this community say they have been left out of the loop. Not just left out of the loop, but disrespected by Calvary. Not even responding…

SHEIR

00:01:48
People weren't too happy, like Greta Fuller. She was leading one of the protests at the time.

FULLER

00:01:53
$300 million was spent on the 11th Street Bridge, was supposed to revitalize and bring our community into the rest of the District of Columbia. And what we have at the foot of that bridge is a transitional housing.

SHEIR

00:02:08
Emily Berman brought us the original story last year and she joins me in the studio right now. Hi, Emily.

MS. EMILY BERMAN

00:02:13
Hi.

SHEIR

00:02:14
All right. So tell us, has the shelter had a chilling effect, so to speak, on businesses that are looking to set up in Anacostia?

BERMAN

00:02:21
So the answer is no. It really hasn't been as bad as people thought it would be. In fact, I asked Kris Thompson, who's the executive director of Calvary Women's Services, to show me around their new building. And right outside their window there's a business that wasn't there a year ago.

BERMAN

00:02:36
Is that a new pharmacy?

MS. KRISTINE THOMPSON

00:02:37
Yes. They opened before we did and are great.

BERMAN

00:02:41
It's called Grubb's Pharmacy. And there are also two new Capital Bikeshare racks. And this is just literally right across the street.

SHEIR

00:02:48
Okay. But how is the community responding to Calvary? Did you ask Thompson about that?

BERMAN

00:02:53
I did. And she pointed out they've only been in the space a couple weeks, but it's going really well.

THOMPSON

00:02:58
We have only had positive reception from folks in this neighborhood.

SHEIR

00:03:02
Okay. I don't mean to be a total downer here, but surely not everyone who lives and works in Anacostia can be all that gung ho, right?

BERMAN

00:03:10
No, not everyone. Duane Gautier is the CEO of ARCH Development Corporation. He's been working in the neighborhood for more than 30 years and is sort of one of the central figures in Anacostia's redevelopment.

MR. DUANE GAUTIER

00:03:23
Obviously, the Calvary Women's Shelter was not what the community wanted. It, to a large extent, put a stop on one of the primary properties that could have been a spur to more economic development. So in that way it's definitely a negative. Obviously, it is here now.

BERMAN

00:03:37
ARCH owns a bunch of buildings in Anacostia and is focused on bringing the arts and small businesses to the neighborhood. And if you've been to or heard about an art opening or networking event in Anacostia, chances are this group is behind it. I met up with Gautier at the Hive 2.0, which is the second co-working space ARCH has launched in the past two years. This one opened just a few weeks ago.

SHEIR

00:04:00
Wow, so now they have two spaces. It sounds like they're doing pretty well.

BERMAN

00:04:02
Totally. And this is also the group behind Lumen 8 Anacostia, which is an arts and performance festival. Last year the festival took place over three months in vacant buildings around Anacostia. And they're gearing up to do the same thing this year, but more than half the buildings they used last year are now rented with long-term leases.

SHEIR

00:04:21
So it sounds like it's good for the neighborhood, but harder for like the event organizers.

BERMAN

00:04:26
Yes, exactly.

SHEIR

00:04:27
Are there any other new businesses coming to the neighborhood?

BERMAN

00:04:30
There are. There's actually a lot going on. So I'll give you a little more of a rundown. There's a big warehouse the D.C. Police use to store evidence. And that is being turned into an office building. It's 75 percent leased. There's a theater opening, the Anacostia Playhouse and I poked around the construction site and it's really coming along. That should be opening in April. Duane Gautier has been staring at all these vacant buildings for years and says 2012 was a huge year for the neighborhood.

GAUTIER

00:04:59
Almost every single vacant property that was up for rent has either been rented or there's a letter of interest in renting it. That is unbelievably positive.

BERMAN

00:05:11
And I think one of the most interesting ideas is a partnership between ARCH and the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, also known as the DHCD. They've designated more than $750,000 to help building owners redo their storefronts in 2013. They're going one building at a time to repaint, put up new signs and molding. And speaking of storefronts, I spoke also with Michael Kelly, the director of the DHCD. And he says they're in negotiations right now to purchase two buildings at the intersection of MLK Avenue and Good Hope Road, which is the heart of Anacostia. And these buildings right now are owned by the IRS.

MR. MICHAEL KELLY

00:05:51
The idea, I think, would be what we've talked about up and down the strip, is first floor retail and second floor residential.

BERMAN

00:05:58
Kelly works in the neighborhood and is just as excited as anyone about more retail. He says he really wants to be able to get his dry cleaning done while he's at work.

SHEIR

00:06:07
That sounds like a sweet deal.

BERMAN

00:06:09
Yes. I mean, who doesn't? While there is a decent amount of money flowing in, I don't want to give you the impression that there have been no setbacks. There is a huge building right in the commercial district, a former discount furniture store, that was just bought by a social service non-profit. They're turning it into an office building, but I definitely heard some griping about that. And there's also the issue of Uniontown Bar and Grill. Maybe you remember this story.

BERMAN

00:06:35
It was the first upscale restaurant in Anacostia. And the owners pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges. It was really a shock for the community, but the building owner has released the space and is ready to move on.

SHEIR

00:06:46
Well, then it sounds like there's something positive coming out of all that negative news.

BERMAN

00:06:51
Well, the restaurant's still boarded up, but it should open later this spring. And hopefully the fries will be as good as they were before.

SHEIR

00:06:58
So, Emily, in terms of the big picture for this part of the city, we also have the construction of the new 11th Street Bridge happening right now. We have the renovation of the St. Elizabeth's campus. Would you say then that Anacostia is really going to have a new look within just a year or two?

BERMAN

00:07:14
That's the plan.

SHEIR

00:07:15
Well, thank you, Emily Berman, for this update.

BERMAN

00:07:17
You bet.

SHEIR

00:07:21
For more on the new development in Anacostia and to see a rendering of the façade of the new Anacostia Playhouse, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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