Lucy W. Ricks spends her Saturdays taking long bus rides from her 14th Street NW home to suburban Maryland shopping malls. "I get on the bus and just ride until I get there," said Ricks, a housekeeper who has lived in the 14th Street since 1966.
These trips weren't always necessary. Some residents say they can remember when 14th Street was Washington's second largest commercial and shopping strip, a "boom town" that stayed open until 9 every night and was lined with every convenience store imaginable. But that was before riots consumed the area in 1968.
Few of those shops have returned in the decade since the riots. Now, however, residents have reason to hope that things may change. The city housing department is seeking developers for more than 11 1/2 acres of land near 14th Street and Park Road NW for a major office, shopping and housing development project. It will mark the first major step to get 14th Street back on its feet commercially since residents began to plan the revival of their neighborhood in 1969.
"As this goes, so goes 14th Street," said Leroy Hubbard, special assistant to the director of the 14th Street Project Area Committee. The commercial development project, he added, is "crucial" to the future of the 14th Street area and its 40,000 residents.
Ricks' reaction to the new shopping area? "Oh, I hope they hurry up and do it," she said. "It'll keep us from having to go downtown or to Maryland. This area used to be so convenient for people who lived here."
Community workers view the project as a way of providing desperately needed employment for area residents, and they see it eventually becoming the inner city's answer to the suburban shopping malls. They predict it will draw customers not only from 14th Street and its side streets but from Adams-Morgan, Mount Pleasant and other surrounding neighborhoods.
"We want to bring back quality goods and quality services," said Hubbard.
The area to be developed is city-owned property lying between Park Road, Irving Street, Hiatt Place and Holmead Place NW. The city's Redevelopment Land Agency has owned most of the property since the early and mid-1970s.
It is a section of the city ruined by the riots, and still harbors many vacant, boarded, abandoned buildings. The old Tivoli Theater sits on one corner, and other sections are anchored by a bank,a drugstore, and a grocery store.
It is also an area that has seen a rebirth in housing development, with several hundred new apartments and houses recently finished or under construction. Just last week, the RLA board gave final approval to the sale of property at 14th Street between Girard and Harvard streets NW for new housing for the elderly.
A new post office has been approved for 14th and Kenyon streets NW, and a fire station has been proposed for a site nearby.
A subway station is planned for the vicinity of 14th and Irving streets NW in late 1984 or mid-1985, and is considered a key part of any development plan that the RLA board may approve for the area.
Two private development proposals for the area already have been made.
The Park Central Development Corp. has proposed a $115 million project that calls for the demolition of existing buildings - including the Tivoli - and new structures, some of them nine-story high rises, for offices, stores, apartments, nightclubs and theaters, plus space for parking.
The corporation, a private firm put together by Jesse Witherspoon Jr., has been working on its plans for two years. Witherspoon is the housing branch chief of CHANGE, Inc., a communtiy service-oriented organization in the Columbia Heights area, and formerly headed his own construction company.
Witherspoon said the corporation already has a developer committed to the project, but declined to name him.
The Temple Church of God in Christ, at 1435 Park Rd. NW, has asked the RLA board for permission to develop two parcels of land at 14th Street and Park Road. The church plans to put up a $10 million, 10-story building, with the first floor reserved for commercial uses and ther rest for housing for low-and moderate-income persons. The building would be named Samuel Kelsey Towers, after the church bishop, church spokesmen told the RLA board.
The church has spent more than $10,000 on its plans, one church official told the board last week, although the board has not yet voted to sell those two parcels of land to the church. The sites will be included in the property the city housing department plans to offer competitively to prospective developers.
D.C. housing program chief Roy Priest cautioned that it will be awhile before residents see the results of any development. Priest estimated it would be at least a year after the selection of a developer or developers before work will begin, possibly even two years. At the moment, he said, "There are a lot of people with a lot of plans."
Some interest has been expressed in preserving the Tivoli Theater and other existing buildings in the area, according to Priest. The housing department has not conducted a market study of the area since 1975 or 1976, he said.
Some major companies already operating in the area want to stay.
Raymond Sparks, senior vice president of Riggs Bank, said his company very much wants to keep a branch bank in the 14th Street and Park Road area. Sparks said the branch already located there - in leased space - is "one of the most active in the city," serving even some customers who no longer live in the 14th Street area.
Sparks said the bank is "willing to cooperate with any developer," and would also be interested in buying back from the city the property it sold to RLA in 1974.
Joseph Pollard, vice president for public relations at Peoples Drug Stores, said his company also definitely wants to remain at 14th Street and Park Road.