At Forums, D.C. Residents and Officials Discuss Plans for Anacostia Waterfront

A rendering of the proposed waterfront project. Monthly public forums are scheduled through June to discuss the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative.
A rendering of the proposed waterfront project. Monthly public forums are scheduled through June to discuss the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative. (Courtesy Of The Anacostia Waterfront Initiative)
By Stephen Lowman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 26, 2009

Images of the Anacostia waterfront were on display downtown one evening last week at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

One easel held a print showing an intersection east of Capitol Hill packed with people and offices. Another showed a leafy park by the Nationals' baseball stadium in Southwest. One showed a riverfront promenade with boats anchored to piers that jutted into a clear blue Anacostia River.

The pictures were artistic renderings. Making the images a reality will take billions of dollars and decades of redevelopment.

In March 2000, a memorandum was signed by 20 federal and D.C. agencies pledging to cooperate in the revitalization of the Anacostia and the communities near its banks.

Nine years later, a standing-room-only crowd gathered at the library to learn what progress has been made on the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative. It was the second in a series of monthly forums, scheduled on the third Tuesday of each month through June.

The initiative would affect 2,800 acres and 43,000 residents. Over the course of 25 to 30 years, $8 billion in public funds would be invested to clean the polluted river, revitalize neighborhoods and provide affordable housing. Planners say the Anacostia's banks have the potential to be transformed into a waterfront worthy of comparison to those of London and San Francisco.

Last month's forum focused on transportation. Next month's topic will be "Green Living in a Green D.C." This month's forum was titled "The Economics of Developing the Anacostia Waterfront," and that meant the audience received a crash course in real estate development and how to pay for it. The nitty-gritty of public financing and public-private deal making was covered in a presentation by Nina Albert of the mayor's Office of Planning and Economic Development.

A flow chart defined government obligation bonds and tax increment bonds. A spreadsheet displayed math calculations used to determine a project's financial feasibility. Another chart catalogued the factors influencing residual land value at a development site.

Albert, the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative project manager for the mayor's development office, paused at the midpoint of her presentation for a 10-minute question-and-answer "breather."

One of the forum's goals, she said, was to help residents see how such a project moves from concept to reality.

"Architects are able to deliver renderings so early on in the process," Albert said in an interview after the gathering. "We want to draw back the curtains so that people can understand how we get there."

The projected time span of the project is because of the complexities of finding and approving public funding, she said. The coordination involved in working with the federal and Maryland governments, both of which own large swaths of the waterfront, also extends the timeline, Albert said.

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