Contractors, developers and homeowners have long complained of the District government's lengthy, snarled procedures for obtaining building permits and business licenses. The process often required visiting a half dozen or more scattered agencies, and contributed to the city's image as antibusiness.

Yesterday, the city took steps officials hope will help turn that image around, as Mayor Marion Barry unveiled a new "one-stop" center for licenses and permits designed to make the process less painful.

"We all know time is money," Barry said, standing near the entrance to the new center, located in the city's office building at 614 H St. NW. "We hope this center serves . . . as the centerpiece to persuade business to expand in the District, to remain here or to relocate here."

Formerly, in order to get new construction or renovation permits, a person had to visit a series of different offices, some of which were spread throughout the city. Water and sewer hookups were done at Blue Plains in far Southwest, a good distance from other city offices downtown. Registration for sales and business taxes was done at the Municipal Building at 300 Indiana Ave. NW. Corporation and partnership records were processed at 515 D St. NW, while plumbing, electrical, mechanical and structural permits were reviewed at the 614 H St. building.

Now all these requirements can be met by moving from desk to desk in the two large rooms that make up the two floors of the new center.

All told, 118 business licenses, ranging from those for restaurants to those for street vendors, will be issued on the first floor of the new center. And 71 permits, including certificates of occupancy and building permits such as ones for mechanical and plumbing work, will be granted on the second floor.

The one-stop center is also part of an overall reorganization of the city's licensing and inspection operations that culminated last March 31 when the new Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs was created under director Carol B. Thompson. Barry credited Thompson for developing the new center.

"It's overdue and it's welcomed," said John R. Tydings, executive director of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the city's chief business lobby. Tydings said the new procedures also will make it easier for homeowners and small businesses to get permits and licenses.

John H. Nixon, permits coordinator for the George Hyman Construction Co., a major contractor here, said consolidation was a step in the right direction, but added that a larger staff is needed to reduce the time needed for architectural and development plan reviews.