by Mary Beth Ray
Mayor Muriel Bowser and a group of about 100 neighbors and civil servants spent Wednesday afternoon walking the Van Ness Connecticut Avenue corridor. She met citizens and merchants, and listened to a broad range of both complaints and creative ideas.
Pedestrian and traffic safety, retail vibrancy, affordable housing, beautification, stormwater management and homelessness were the predominant themes throughout the walk from UDC to Bread Furst, and numerous points in between.
Officials on the walk included UDC President Ronald Mason and representatives from the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development, the office of Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh’s office, DC Water, DDOT, DCRA, ANC 3F and Van Ness Main Street, including board members and the new executive director, Gloria Garcia.
As we approached Potbelly, neighbors learned that the DDOT community engagement meeting the Van Ness streetscape project will take place this spring, affording neighbors an opportunity to weigh in on how to spend the $1.5 million dedicated to the designing the corridor. DDOT Director Jeff Marootian assured the mayor that efforts to coordinate the design will take into account community concerns including flooding, beautification, retail and UDC’s campus plan.
At Bowser’s side for much of the two-hour walk was Cherie Lester, acting director of Van Ness Main Street. She provided the mayor with an excellent overview of the pros and cons of the commercial district, and efforts to work with UDC to activate retail space.
As UDC President Mason pointed out, the university controls 85 percent of vacant retail space at Van Ness. Construction should begin on the former Walgreens at 4225 Connecticut by the end of this year, he said, and we can expect some ground floor retail there in 2021.
Bowser was especially interested in the pop-up shops hosted by Van Ness Main Street, and she encouraged Mason to consider partnering with Shop Made in DC to offer more pop ups in an effort to activate the surplus of vacant retail space.
Bowser stopped to greet and praise area merchants including Calvert Woodley, Acacia Bistro, Tesoro, Bread Furst and Zips.
— Calvert Woodley (@CalvertWoodley) January 16, 2020
Bread Furst owner Mark Furstenberg even presented the mayor with a custom-made cookie for the occasion.
Mary Beth Ray is a co-founder of Van Ness Main Street and the chair of its streetscape subcommittee.