Mayor Marion Barry and a coterie of D.C. economic development officials swept into the depressed commercial core of Anacostia yesterday, opening a storefront revitalization office and promising to revive the long-neglected community.
"We are coming east of the Anacostia River -- not just in name, not just in rhetoric but with programs," Barry said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony held for the city's Neighborhood Commercial Revitalization Program office at 2028 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE.
Council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6) also delivered a speech, shook hands with area merchants and promised she would be spending at least two days a week at the storefront. Winter, like Barry, faces reelection this fall.
Some Anacostia leaders, who have complained in the past of neglect by the city, said they would wait to see the results of the new program, observing that so far very little has been done by the city for their community.
"We are waiting. We haven't seen anything yet," said Frieda Murray, chairwoman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6C. "We are hoping we will see some revitalization before November."
The Anacostia program, which is run by the Office of Business and Economic Development (OBED) and will offer services and loans to area businesses, is part of a campaign announced last year to boost development in economically disadvantaged areas of Wards 6, 7 and 8.
The streetside ceremony, held at midday in a city block marked by struggling businesses and vacant buildings, took place outside the newly painted two-story building that will serve as the revitalization office.
Shortly after the speeches were completed, a hearse pulled up to the sidewalk and Willis Dunn, a former Anacostia businessman, got out.
Proprietor of Dunn & Sons Funeral Service, Dunn said he had been forced to leave the community in March after OBED delayed two years in providing his firm with a business loan. Dunn's financially strapped firm was evicted from its offices by the U.S. Marshals Service and he is trying to start over in Southwest Washington, he said.
"Two years ago we applied for a loan," Dunn said. "Two years later we still were waiting. OBED never did anything. They told us they lost our file."
Kwasi Holman, executive director of OBED and master of ceremonies at the ribbon-cutting event, acknowledged there have been some problems in processing loans. "We have made some improvements recently," he said. "We brought in three more loan officers . . . to improve the timeliness of disbursements."
The revitalization program, announced last year by the mayor, reflects an effort by the Barry administration to target economic development outside the downtown corridor where the most visible redevelopment has occurred.
"It is fine to redevelop downtown -- we are very proud of that -- but we have to develop our neighborhoods simultaneously," Barry said. "Left alone, the private sector will not come here. The government must come to act as a catalyst."
Visible across the street from the portable stage where the mayor and others spoke were the offices of the D.C. Lottery, which the city relocated to Anacostia in late 1984 to stimulate the area economy.
The movement of government workers, also occurring at the city's new Municipal Center in the depressed neighborhood around 14th and U streets NW, is one of the Barry administration's redevelopment strategies.
Holman said the city, which has earmarked $3 million for the revitalization program in Wards 6, 7 and 8, plans to establish five neighborhood revitalization offices.
In addition to the Anacostia office, which is the third to be opened, there are storefront offices at 910 H St. NW and 4422 Georgia Ave. NW.