D.C. City Council member and mayoral candidate John Ray proposed yesterday that the city build large underground parking lots downtown and encourage development of two major shopping centers in other areas to draw suburbanites to Washington for shopping, sightseeing and big-city nightlife.
In a major campaign statement on improving economic development in the city, Ray also proposed abolishment of the D.C. Development Corporation, the city's troubled nonprofit housing rehabilitation and economic development agency, and creation of a new Department of Business and Economic Development from three current city agencies.
He said the development corporation has been ineffective in rehabilitating housing, and cited two Northwest apartment buildings -- the Kenesaw on 16th Street and the Wade at 13th and M -- where the agency had spent more than $1 million each, only to have contractors leave the the project unfinished.
Ray released the position paper while standing in the parking lot of the Brentwood Village Shopping Center in the 1300 block of Rhode Island Ave. NE, a complex dominated by vacant storefronts. Only one store, a bargain variety shop, remains in the center along with a small supermarket, which a sign on the window announced yesterday is temporarily closed.
"I selected this site because I think this center stands as an example of how the present administration has failed to provide incentives for business development throughout the city," said Ray, his voice raspy from a recent bout of laryngitis.
Ray said if he were mayor he would set aside $10 million per year or more in the city's budget to help small businessmen in such areas. He said incumbent Marion Barry has concentrated on downtown development and failed city residents who live in outlying neighborhoods and rely on local shopping areas.
"It disturbs me when I see our young people and our adults who live on Martin Luther King Avenue, Good Hope Road, Minnesota Avenue, Georgia Avenue, going to Georgetown to buy a pair of Converse shoes," said Ray. "They go to Georgetown because they want to shop in a nice, clean store like everybody else. They could get the Converse shoes in their neighborhood stores but they don't want to shop in old, rundown stores."
"Politicians sometimes forget that poor people like nice things, too," he said.
The three offices Ray would consolidate are the Office of Planning and Economic Development, the Office of Business and Economic Development and the economic part of the Department of Housing and Economic Development.
Ray was critical of the current administration for not completing a comprehensive plan for land use in the District of Columbia and said the city had "an extremely poor performance in the solicitation of federal financial aid."
Ray also contended that the city's tax system is a disincentive for businesses to stay in the city or move here because taxes here are higher than in surrounding jurisdictions.
Ray said that if elected, he would complete the comprehensive plan and also would offer businesses a variety of tax credits, deductions and possibly exemptions to encourage them to build in the city, renovate their current facilities and create jobs for city residents.
To help the city get more federal grants, Ray proposed establishing an Urban Development Corporation with the power to purchase, acquire, lease and sell property, to apply for and administer grants and to issue tax-exempt bonds."
Ray said the corporation was needed to keep the city informed of programs offered by various federal agencies to assist in local development. Ray cited a General Accounting Office report that said that between 1979 and 1981, Detroit received several million dollars in federal grants that created hundreds of jobs for that city, while during the same period, the District of Columbia received no federal assistance for economic development.
"The District's record for this sort of procurement [of federal grants] has been particularly embarrassing in light of the fact that we are located in the same city with these agencies," said Ray.
Ray suggested that the parking lots be built near 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, contending that inadequate parking in the downtown area encourages shopping, dining and theater-going in the suburbs.
The shopping centers proposed by Ray could be located, he said, along city-owned land on Maine Avenue, the city's southwest waterfront, and on land near the Fort Lincoln housing development in far Northeast.