DON'T LOOK NOW -- unless you're in Georgetown and can't help it -- but the Fine Arts Commission has just awarded that neighborhood its very own apparently permanent Blight to Remember on the waterfront. Thanks to the latest ill-considered decision of this commission, that ugly complex of rubble, parking lots, trash and ghosts of buildings past down by the riverside may rot there for generations.
Those Georgetowners who have lobbied so mightily for so long to allow nothing on this site except another empty wedge of parkland should give themselves some credit, too, for preserving the current eyesore for their descendants. The plan that came before the commission (for the sixth time) would have turned 15 acres of the 18 acres on the site into park and open space, anyway, as part of an appealing residential-commercial-green-space attraction. But no, the all-or-nothing faction from this area -- an area that is already ringed by large and beautiful parks -- convinced a new membership on the commission to kill the plan.
The result: Either Mayor Barry acts forthrightly to issue a building permit for the project -- which he has authority to do -- or the blight stays around until all the court battles are over, including what could be a hefty "reverse condemnation" case against the city government for originally encouraging private investment and development at the site. This could wind up sticking the city with a liabiltiy of perhaps $94 million.
But relax: J. Carter Brown, the current Fine Arts Commission chairman, noted after the latest decision that Washington has had its share of blighted areas that took decades to turn into national treasures, including the Washington Monument and the Capitol Dome, which sat uncompleted for years, and the World War I "Tempo" buildings that didn't disappear until 11 years ago. That's good old government enterprise for you -- but the waterfront proposal wouldn't be a government project; it could proceed.
If Mayor Barry is at all about stimulating creative, responsible -- and attractive -- economic development -- not to mention tax revenues and recreational facilities, he should go ahead and grant a permit that would allow the waterfront plan to become an attractive reality in our lifetimes.