Mayor Marion Barry, in his latest attempt to start the long-stalled redevelopment of the H Street NE riot corridor, has promised to locate city offices there in a proposed shopping complex.
Barry made the commitment to move 200 city employes to offices on H Street in a letter written to City Council member Nadine Winter (D-Ward 6) earlier this month and made public at a meeting of the city's urban renewal agency last week.
The letter gave no details of Barry's plans. A high-ranking city official familiar with the mayor's pledge who asked not to be named said, "All that stuff is a long way from being settled."
The city has been trying unsuccessfully to rebuild the once-flourishing commercial strip from Third to 15th Street NE since large portions of it were left in ruins during riots after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King in April 1968.
So far, a subsidized apartment building for the elderly, a convenience store and a small office building have resulted from the city's 17 years of redevelopment efforts.
Barry has said on several occasions that the rebuilding of H Street would be one of the top priorities during his second administration, which began in 1980.
"I've been beating on him the mayor for two years to make this kind of commitment by the city," said Winter, whose ward includes H Street. "I'm screaming with joy at this point."
More than 60 stores have closed in the corridor in the last 17 years. About 150 businesses remain among boarded-up buildings and vacant city-owned lots.
Barry's proposal calls for renting space for the city employes in a project the H Street Community Development Corp. has proposed building on a city-owned parcel on the south side of H Street between Sixth and Seventh streets.
The corporation, a nonprofit group composed of H Street business leaders and residents and organized a year ago to help in the rebuilding efforts, asked the city last year for the right to develop the parcel. But the corporation has been unable to get its plans financed.
The city awarded the same parcel to another community group in 1979, then revoked the group's development rights in 1983 because it was unable to arrange financing for a similar project.
Dr. Arthur Williams, chairman of the H Street Community Development Corp., said that until the mayor's promise to move the 200 employes, his group had planned no office space in their project. Instead, the plans called for a major supermarket, several small stores and 126 parking spaces.
Williams said the group had no architectural drawings or firm plans for its original project and that financial negotiations are "up in the air."
The group has asked the Berens Asset Management Co. Inc., a real estate management corporation, to codevelop and finance the project.
"At this point, we're in the process of looking at the proposal and seeing if it's feasible," said Charles Sherren, president of Berens. "It's a complex project that's going to take some time."
Williams said the group has received only one tentative commitment from a retailer to locate in the proposed shopping complex, although several businesses were contacted, including food franchises.
Kwasi Holman, executive director of the city's Office of Business and Economic Development (OBED), said the mayor also has promised to spend $2 million on "infrastructure improvements, streets and sidewalks, as well as acquisition of additional property for the complex."
The city already has spent $60,000 to install a brick sidewalk on the north side of H Street between Eighth and Ninth streets NE.
"We decided to postpone further sidewalk improvements until we made progress on the HSCDC development," explained Holman.
Holman said work space for 200 employes could require a two- to four-story building, depending on which city agency was housed there. The D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development employs 400 workers in a four-story building at 1133 North Capitol St. NE.
Winter said the city has hired the ABC Realty Co. to survey the property along the corridor that is vacant or boarded up. "Within 30 days we plan to advertise that property" in several newspapers, she said.