Ward 7 residents call their neighborhood the forgotten part of the District. Last week, however, the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization initiated an effort to eliminate that stigma.
At a conference sponsored by the community group last Saturday, about 75 residents, merchants, investors and realty representatives outlined a plan to rejuvenate the area, primarily by attracting new business.
"We have to do what Fairfax County has done," said Lloyd Smith, the group's executive director. "Business is what will strengthen our neighborhood."
The organization wants to bring in small merchants as well big business. Members say development would improve the look of Marshall Heights and attract stable, middle-class families to the community. More stores also would create jobs, they add.
"That means people in the area would have more money and spend it here instead of in Maryland," said Smith. "We have to build a strong tax base."
In a study commissioned by the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization, Robert Nash and Associates found that Ward 7 residents spend $133 million each year -- $100 million of that outside of the District.
One resident, Charlene Jackson, said she must travel to Maryland to visit her doctor, dentist, hairstylist and church. When she shops, it is usually at the Landover or White Flint malls in Maryland. "I shouldn't have to go outside my neighborhood for everything," she complained. "Some of the necessities should be a little more convienent to me."
James O. Gibson, assistant city administrator for planning and development, has helped the organization in its goal by conducting an analysis of Ward 7, which stretches from Eastern Avenue NE to the center of the Anacostia River; Minnesota Avenue SE to 25th Street SE; Pennsylvania Avenue SE to Naylor Road SE; and Gainesville Street SE to Southern Avenue SE. "We have extensive market research," he said. "We know what these people need and where. A business coming into this area has it all."
Marshall Heights, one of the oldest black communities in the nation, remains 98 percent black. The area is largely middle class, with many retirees. One-third of the District's public housing is in Ward 7, housing officials say.
"There are the comfortable and the not so comfortable," said Smith, who has been with the group since it formed in 1977. "It's a very diverse neighborhood."
With a slide presentation, he outlined to conference participants the marketable aspects of Marshall Heights: the new schools, recreational facilities and accessible public transportation. "We have two Metro lines here. Georgetown has none," he told the developers. "Keep that in mind."
Although many are eager for improvement, some Marshall Heights residents worry about the negative impact development could have. "It will be good for us in some ways," said Mary Crawford, "but what about the noise and the crime business will bring? We might lose our quiet residential living."
Several local politicians pledged their support to the community group's plans. "I will study all sides of this issue and help in what ever way I can," said City Council Member Hilda Mason.
H.R. Crawford, Ward 7 council member, was especially encouraged by the group's efforts. "All we've got going for us now is Chicken George," he said. "We have the busiest Chicken George and more 7-Eleven stores than any other section of the District. It's going to take more than that."
Charlene Drew Jarvis, chairwoman of the City Council Housing and Community Development Committee, said she is confident Marshall Heights will turn itself into a growing community. "They organize and fight for what they want," she said. "They know what they want and don't give up. They know how to keep the pressure on. Marshall Heights should be a model for other neighborhoods in this city." Marshall Heights residents care so much about their community, said Richard Hamilton, chairman of the MHCDO board of directors, because many of them have lived there all of their lives. "We have our roots in this place. We are tremendously proud of Marshall Heights," he said. "We won't be the forgotten part of the city anymore. We've come a long way, but we're really on our way now."