“Georgia Avenue is the next place,” he said.
Romeo Morgan, owner of Morgan’s Seafoods, which has been on Georgia Avenue for more than 80 years, has his own plan for a small development around his store.
One of Morgan’s main goals for the project — which would include new stores and apartments, among other amenities — is to bring more people and the money they would spend to the area.
“Look, it’s 5 p.m.,” Morgan said on a recent day, gesturing outside. “We’re talking about three people up here! The biggest issue is we need more foot traffic on Georgia Avenue.”
Redefining the corridor
D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) apologizes for being “unabashed,” but there has been a lot of progress on Georgia Avenue, he said. A new police substation has provided stability for what came after it, including the Park Place Apartments above the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro station, the CVS pharmacy across the street, and the small apartment buildings and lofts that dot the street, Graham said.
There’s also E.L. Haynes Public Charter School and a new senior center.
“Things have come to life on Georgia Avenue,” Graham said. “The revitalization of lower Georgia Avenue is a certainty now, and just a short time ago it wasn’t so certain.”
The historic Howard Theatre is being refurbished near the Shaw-Howard University Metro station, and, across the street, construction has begun on the mixed-use Progression Place, which will include apartments and the future home of the United Negro College Fund.
One of the biggest developments on its way is called Howard Town Center, on the drawing board since 2002. The site is to bring a grocery and other retailers to Georgia Avenue and V Street. The development would encompass several city blocks on lower Georgia Avenue, and residents and Howard students have long wanted to see it finished.
“We continue to work with the District to ensure the successful development of the project as speedily as possible,” Kerry-Ann Hamilton, a Howard University spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
But lower Georgia Avenue is still a mixed bag. There are pesky liquor stores and vacant storefronts, but also nonprofit organizations and artists’ studios, the kind of neighborhood-friendly businesses many neighbors want to see.
Shirikiana Gerima, co-owner of Sankofa Video Books & Cafe, which sells African heritage books and items, worries about what gentrification could mean for her business.
“We’re like a black church,” Gerima said. “We depend on a black clientele. Without a black clientele, there’s no store. I would like to see businesses that are here be supported. A lot of the businesses up and down Georgia Avenue have been there for decades. You don’t always have to bring in Whole Foods.”
A seat at the table
Graham said residents moving to the area, anchored by new housing, will drive the demand for new businesses and services.
No one knows how quickly development might speed up — the economy and other forces play a role beyond what residents can control. But there are things resident can do, they say, and they aren’t going to wait for the city to make good on past promises.
“They do the plans and there’s a lot of hype, and nothing happens,” said Robinson, of the task force. Now, she said, “we’re large enough, and we make a lot of noise.”
Residents put pressure on city leaders to restore more than $1 million in Great Streets streetscape funding to the area and worked with a property owner to bring in a theater and jazz club instead of a liquor store.
“We didn’t like the model of ‘let’s bring people in and then develop the community,’ ” Robinson said. “The change that was coming needed more people at the table . . . namely, the community.”