In all of the fuss about development around the new Metro station in Columbia Heights, the interests and views of the Hispanic community have -- once again -- been overlooked.
More than a third of the population in the Columbia Heights neighborhood is Hispanic, and a number of Hispanic-owned businesses will be displaced by this development. The city's most diverse and heavily immigrant high school, Bell Multicultural, borders on the property to be developed, and two of Hispanics' most important community organizations -- Calvary Multicultural Learning Center and the Latin American Youth Center -- will be directly affected. But no one is paying much attention to these facts.
The District's Redevelopment Land Agency awarded development rights for this $149 million project to D.C.-USA/Horning Bros. Its partner and chief advocate is the Columbia Heights Development Corp., headed by Bob Moore.
Moore has expressed concern for keeping the residents of the neighborhood in place after the new development is complete. He does not, however, offer any specifics about how that will happen. Instead, he and the developers have begun to make the rounds in the Hispanic community with a message that reads basically: "Don't worry. Be happy."
But the position of the opponents of the project is worse. Dorothy Brazill, a leader of the opposition group, said during her failed D.C. Council bid that the Latino community should face the fact that Washington is a black-and-white town, implying that Hispanics do not count. And while the literature of Brazill's group emphasizes that its opposition is not based on race or economics, the group's membership is largely white and up-scale.
Brazill's group makes a strong case for the renovation of the Tivoli Theater as a performing arts space. GALA Theatre, Washington's premier Hispanic arts organization, needs a home and had lobbied hard for space at the Tivoli. However, the inability to put together a coherent funding plan for the performing arts space was a major factor in the RLA's rejection of plans that included the theater renovation. Rebecca Medrano, GALA's administrator, also backed off the project believing it would take too much time to put together and would be difficult to fund.
The Latino Economic Development Corp. belatedly has begun a survey of Hispanic businesses in Columbia Heights. The D.C. Latino Chamber of Commerce also has suggested a meeting to find out what Hispanics on the Heights think about all of this.
These are excellent ideas. Nevertheless, what is clear is that Hispanics in this area want strong, healthy development as quickly as possible. Many of the businesses in the path of this new development have suffered for years from urban blight. Now they need to be made a part of a dynamic future.
Maria Tukeva, principal of Bell, is an example of what can be done with vision and a strong will. She has put together a school that is the pride of our community and a model for the region, yet none of the development options dedicate one penny to desperately needed improvements at her school. Arcades and skating rinks are nice amenities, but a state-of-the-art educational facility would be much better.
Hispanics want to be included in this development project from the beginning and want to participate equally in the benefits when the project is finished. The Hispanic residents of Columbia Heights deserve a substantial say in what goes on in their neighborhood.
-- Jose Sueiro