The District government is rethinking its 15-year-old plans for reviving the H Street NE corridor because changing economic conditions have made the original proposals unworkable, city housing director James E. Clay said yesterday.
The thirteen blocks of H Street between Third and 15th Streets formed one of Washington's major shopping centers before the fires of the 1968 riots left half the stores damaged, some in smoldering ruins. Fifteen years of city planning have so far produced 738 units of federally subsidized housing and long stretches of cleared land.
Meanwhile, the new 30-store Hechinger Mall just a few blocks away has siphoned off both businesses and customers who might otherwise have gone to H Street.
"Back in 1978 and 1979, designating small minority businessmen to redevelop the street's largest parcels was a good idea but the market changed and in 1983 it is not feasible to do the kinds of things that were envisioned," said Clay.
"How we intervene is something we have to do some hard thinking about," he added. "The ball is back in our court."
Clay's remarks yesterday followed a lengthy meeting called by D.C. City Council member Nadine Winter with city officials and H Street residents.
After the session, Winter criticized the city's unsuccessful efforts on H Street. She called on officials to end contracts with developers who have held rights to city-owned H Street properties for years and not developed them.
"No one should be allowed to sit on any parcels of property," she said, adding later: "If you can't develop them you need to give them to someone else."
"I don't think the city has had the will to rebuild H Street," said Winter, whose ward includes about half the damaged area. She said she would attempt to take charge of coordinating the redevelopment project, but offered no specifics on how she intended to proceed.
Rev. Stanley Barry, executive director of the H Street citizens group that was to help the city plan the area's redevelopment, attributed the "slow" pace of redevelopment to an early emphasis on small developers and on building new housing.
A group of H Street businessmen, calling themselves the SUCA Corporation, was awarded redevelopment rights to the street's largest commercial site four years ago, but their plans for a retail and office complex failed to get under way.
Last year the city's urban renewal agency threatened to remove a second group of developers, Farragut Partners, who had failed for six years to complete H Street's largest residential and commercial redevelopment project on eight blocks of cleared land between Eighth and 10th Streets NE.
The Redevelopment Land Agency later relented after the small Cleveland-based group presented proof that three tenants, including Dart Drug Corp., were interested in leasing space at the site.
Developer Ozzie Clay is trying to buy a small sliver of unwanted city-owned land adjacent to his property holdings at Eighth and H Streets for a $700,000 shopping center. His project has been delayed by disagreements with the city.
Clay attended yesterday's meeting and said later, "I'm delighted that Mrs. Winter is committing herself to seeing that H Street is redeveloped in 1983. For many years every time there is an election year, candidates talk about H Street and they never follow through when they are elected to office."
The city still owns nine parcels of land along H Street. The United House of Prayer has asked to buy two parcels near 13th and H Streets for a new church, and real estate dealer Jerry Lustine plans a new High's store between 11th and 12th Streets.
While the redevelopment plans have dragged on, the area has continued to suffer. Barry said three firms on the street have gone out of business in the last three months.