The headline on a recent Washington Post article about New York Avenue posed the following question: Can a dilapidated gateway to the nation's capital become a hotbed of high-tech activity?
The more compelling question is, have District officials finally recognized the economic development potential in the New York Avenue corridor and will they develop a comprehensive plan to take advantage of that potential?
After being shunned by city officials and developers for the better part of two decades, New York Avenue is again the focal point of redevelopment speculation.
Near the intersection of New York and Florida avenues NE, developers are converting an old warehouse and a former printing plant into office and retail space. At least one other developer plans to build an office building in the same area. And there's a strong possibility that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms will build a new headquarters on a city-owned site at First Street and New York Avenue.
This spark of activity has prompted property owners in that part of the city and D.C. officials to pledge financial support for construction of a Metro station nearby.
Still, the question is, are city officials prepared to guide development in the corridor in a way that will make the city more competitive as a business center?
"We're going to put emphasis on [redevelopment of] New York Avenue," Douglas J. Patton, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, said last week.
With fewer commercial development opportunities remaining downtown, said Patton, "from a geographical aspect, New York Avenue seems the logical place for developers to move next."
True enough. But just because it's there doesn't mean that developers will rush to join the few who have taken the plunge. Neither is there reason to believe that the New York Avenue corridor will become a hotbed of high-tech activity merely because the idea happens to be on some people's wish lists. Lest we forget, it wasn't that long ago that developer Giuseppe Cecchi built what was to have been Tech World, a state-of-the-art high-technology employment and exhibit center in downtown Washington.
Several high-tech companies expressed interest in the project, but alas, Tech World today is just another garden-variety office building.
Even though people in the high-tech community have generally been predisposed to set up shop in the suburbs, there is no reason the District can't develop its own critical mass of high-tech activity. But it's going to take more than shiny new office complexes and retrofitted buildings to create a hotbed.
The District will offer tax incentives, not only to high-tech companies but to others as well, according to Patton. In addition, he said, there will be transportation incentives and public safety incentives for businesses to invest in the corridor.
"We'll also look positively at tax abatement and tax increment financing," Patton said.
That's all very encouraging. But what about a land use plan? A strategic development plan? Is any thought being given to adding another Metro station on New York Avenue, northeast of First Street NE?
What steps, if any, will the District take to make New York Avenue an attractive boulevard, replacing the long narrow stretch, choked by traffic, between the Prince George's County line and the Interstate 395 terminus at Fourth Street NW?
Patton offered assurances, without going into detail, that officials are discussing a range of issues related to redevelopment of the New York Avenue corridor.
That in itself is a quantum leap forward from the inertia that seemed to paralyze previous administrations when presented with proposals to redevelop this section of real estate.
As far back as 1982, a consultant suggested the District create a development plan for the crumbling New York Avenue industrial corridor. Suffice it to say the idea never gained favor in the administration of former D.C. mayor Marion Barry.
Little more than a decade later, former D.C. council member John Ray proposed legislation calling for establishment of a New York Avenue Development Corp., modeled after the federally created Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp. But with officials in the administration of former mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly expressing concerns about "structural flaws" and legal issues, Ray's proposal also went nowhere.
Now the ball is in Mayor Anthony A. Williams's court. He need look no further than the District's Comprehensive Plan for the game plan for New York Avenue.
"Without a prescribed land use and development plan, many available properties [in the New York Avenue corridor] will be haphazardly improved," according to the city's comprehensive plan. "It is important that a blueprint be prepared to guide and direct preferred land uses."