THE WORDS and music are all too familiar to so many local residents, planners, politicians and urban dreamers who have seen their hopes for neighborhood ventures dashed in red tape and ink to match: a nonprofit group seeks to rebuild a rundown shopping center and revive a struggling neighborhood. This time the story comes from Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road NE, where a mixture of creative minds and money is ready for an ambitious go at creating new commercial life, from tax revenues to jobs and all the neighborhood amenities in between. Will it work?
Nobody can know, and far be it from us to proclaim a "breakthrough" or another "bold urban plan" for "grass-roots community uplift." Still, the initial signs are heartening and the neighborhood people behind this project so far harbor no unrealistic illusions. The nonprofit group, the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization, has put together $3.2 million to buy the shopping center near Minnesota and Benning, and the neighborhood business and civic representatives in the group are talking business, not government grants.
Their purchase was financed with loans from the D.C. government, the D.C. Bankers Association and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a national philanthropic group. Lloyd Smith, executive director of the Marshall Heights organization, which will become a limited partner in the venture and share in part of the income, is quick to note that instead of a government-grant project, this is to be "a straight business deal." If it succeeds, it might produce $80,000 a year in real estate taxes while recapturing dollars now being lost to suburban shopping centers.
True, a quick-fix sprucing won't bring shoppers back in droves. The quality of stores, services, parking and other conveniences will tell the story. But doing nothing does just that; and too many people east of the Anacostia know the consequences of neglect. That bankers and businessmen are involved is encouraging, as is the interest of city hall in reaching beyond the downtown area for a development effort.
Neighborhood support will continue to be critical, and to continue at all, the decision-makers will have to be wary of the kinds of petty politicking, financial shortcuts and weak commercial management that have destroyed similar ventures in the past. That said, we wish the Marshall Heights project lasting success and strong support.