by Mary Beth Ray
President, Van Ness Main Streets, Inc.
If today’s Van Ness Main Streets grant application prevails, you can start looking for a new vibe in Van Ness!
The group formerly known as the Van Ness Vision Committee, now Van Ness Main Streets, Inc., has submitted an application to become a Main Streets grant recipient. If the Department of Small and Local Business Development awards the grant (expected Nov. 16, 2015), then soon we will be able to hire an executive director, fund various events and design changes, and provide meaningful support to our merchants. The grant is worth $200,000, the same size as a grant made available to Tenleytown in legislation proposed by Council member Mary Cheh and passed by the DC Council earlier this year.
Volunteers have spent more than a hundred hours drafting the application, meeting with experts, creating a budget and driving consensus with dozens of stakeholders. One hundred percent of the Van Ness Main Streets Board of Directors pledged their financial support, and together with other commercial property owners, merchants and neighbors we have pledged over $13,650 so far!
Each of the four committees has spent months collaborating on ideas that are not just creative but realistic. Marlene Berlin, Forest Hills Connection founder and editor, has led the charge for the organization committee, and Adam Tope, ANC 3F chair, has donated vast amounts of time as our pro bono lawyer (big thanks to his firm Akin Gump as well).
Ken Terzian and Sally Gresham co-chair the design committee, and together with neighbor and architect Travis Price they have put in several years of study and brainstorming to make our commercial corridor more beautiful and sustainable. They are exploring not just design changes but also branding to help identify who we are and what we aspire to be at Van Ness.
The economic committee, chaired by Dipa Mehta and Larry Rausch, focuses on economic vibrancy. How can we support our existing merchants and attract new ones to create a more appealing mix and range of options? What will make Van Ness the first place neighbors go for shopping and dining? They have offered local merchants hands-on assistance with the complicated process of applying for Great Streets grants that now offer merchants up to $50,000 in funding.
The Events and Promotions Committee, currently co-chaired by Benae Mosby, Frances Wu and Patricia Davies, aims to add pizzazz. How can we make Van Ness a cultural destination, building on our existing rich cultural assets like UDC’s jazz program, Hillwood Museum, the Levine School of Music, and our wealth of artists and embassies? Why not hold more concerts (UDC’s performing arts theater and amphitheater are perfect venues), include quality music at our farmers’ markets, and feature local artists’ work in shows at UDC’s new student center, or even the former Walgreens and Intelsat? This committee of artists, journalists and event planners, together with volunteers like you, will make it happen!
Van Ness is in a time of big change, but change means opportunity. Our biggest liability is empty retail space, including the former Intelsat, Walgreens, Fannie Mae and part of building 52 of UDC. But can some of that empty space be used for pop-up art exhibits? Concrete and construction currently define our streetscape.
But soon, Park Van Ness and UDC’s student center will open, offering thoughtful landscaping, outdoor café seating and new retail opportunities. Roadside just bought the Potbelly building at the intersection of Windom and Connecticut. While that redevelopment will take several years, it opens the possibilities for more local retail and better restaurants. Polinger Co. bought Calvert Woodley, and while we hope CW stays in the neighborhood forever, perhaps clever design would permit something on top of that space while preserving a neighborhood favorite.
Please offer your thanks to these hardworking volunteers. And join the team as a volunteer or to share your constructive ideas as well. We know our liabilities – too much concrete, heavy traffic, and vacant retail space. But we are in a major transition, and we invite everyone to join our efforts to make Van Ness more beautiful and more economically vibrant. Together we can turn our liabilities into assets and put the vibe back in Van Ness!