Lower Georgia Avenue is a neighborhood that recalls fond memories for third- and fourth-generation Washingtonians.
Clifton (Skeeter) West Jr., who owns seven buildings in the area, remembers his student days at Howard University when "you could grab a young lady and walk up to the Kenyon Grill for a beer and some chicken."
Valerie Barry, Mayor Marion Barry's special assistant for boards and commissions (but no relation to him), looks back on childhood trips to the bakery with her father to get cheesecake.
West and Barry, who lament the fact that neither of their culinary expeditions could be carried out today, are two keepers of the faith that the currently depressed Northwest neighborhood can be restored. To that end, they have joined with about 60 others interested in Georgia Avenue to incorporate the nonprofit Lower Georgia Avenue Business and Professional Corp.
"Business owners have noticed over the years that the Georgia Avenue corridor has become a very blighted community," Barry said. "They realize they have to come together to strengthen the neighborhood, to encourage people who come through there to use their businesses and shops. It's a very heavily traveled area."
While the group is just now beginning its drive to clean up the neighborhood, it has already attracted the attention of the likes of D.C. City Councilmember David Clarke, Director of the D.C. Department of Environmental Services William Johnson, and Larry William, director of special projects for the D.C. Office of Business and Economic Development. Mayor Barry also attended their last meeting.
Noting that the neighborhood gets traffic from the Washington Hospital Center, Children's Hospital, a Veterans Administration hospital, Catholic University and Howard University with its hospital, attendant work force and 14,000 students, West points out that "the place has tremendous economic potential."
"This is one of the few commercial areas in the city where minorities actually own the land," said West, who is the corporation's interim chairman. "Now we're trying to say 'Look, we've got something' and do what we can do for ourselves and possibly with some help from the government."
As it stands now, West says Georgia Avenue businessmen believe that despite the wide array of services they offer--attorneys', accountants' and doctors' offices, hardware and other retail stores, beauty shops and even an art gallery--residents and those traveling through the area are deterred from patronizing their shops by the appearance of the avenue itself.
Some of the problems the group hopes to tackle first include supplying more trash cans on the streets, working with a VA methadone clinic on the avenue to cut down on loitering by its patients--an issue they have raised with the police--and preventing Howard students from monopolizing metered on-street parking.
Long-term concerns include, according to Barry, "the threat of real estate speculation trickling down from the east side" and displacing senior citizens and others who have lived on and around the avenue for years. West also mentioned the need to change laws he says prohibit economic development because of building height limitations.
The group, which incorporated Nov. 25, has held meetings on Thursday afternoons "to keep the interest flowing," as Valerie Barry put it. The next meeting will be held Jan. 19. In the meantime, Barry said, members of the group will conduct a door-to-door recruitment drive in the neighborhood.