The Martin family, owners of Martin’s Tavern, have watched as other locally owned institutions — such as Nathans Restaurant, Swenson’s and the Third Edition — closed.
“All these bars started changing a few years ago, whether they became corporate or franchise, they just aren’t really locally owned any more. So a lot of the uniqueness of Georgetown has faded or has lost the battle against the recession,” said Mayu Horie Lasch, general manager of Martin’s.
The Georgetown Business Improvement District, a group funded by commercial property owners and merchants, has begun floating ideas for how to retool the neighborhood. The idea, said Joe Sternlieb, chief executive of the BID, is to think big. “It’s about how the place feels, how it functions and the infrastructure that goes into all of that,” he said.
Sternlieb has begun convening focus groups and task forces to rank priorities. In the initial meetings, “all people wanted to talk about was parking and transportation,” said the former city official and developer for the real estate firm EastBanc.
Here’s a look at some of the bigger ideas on the table.
Anyone who heads to Georgetown to shop on a sunny weekend knows what they’re getting into: Sidewalks that are mobbed with people, overcrowding the corners and spilling into the streets, particularly when Georgetown University is in session.
Sternlieb says the neighborhood could accommodate more shoppers and diners if it made more space for walking, even if it was at the expense of parallel parking spaces. His idea is to lease spaces along M Street on Saturdays and Sundays and block them off for pedestrians. “When you double the width of the sidewalks, you actually more than double the number of people who can go there,” he says.
Among the hurdles: Many Georgetown businesses are concerned about there being too little parking already. Also, Sam Zimbabwe, associate director for policy and planning at the D.C. Department of Transportation, said the city would have to be reimbursed for all the lost parking meter revenue. “I don’t think we’ve blocked off parking spaces for a festival or singular type event like that in the past,” he said.
Build a gondola lift
No, not for skiing. A handful of cities worldwide have built gondola lifts, or enclosed cable cars, for urban transportation purposes. Sternlieb was impressed by one he saw in Portland, Ore., which transports commuters up a steep grade to a medical campus, shortening commute times.