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House passes bill to allow District to invest in Franklin Park

During lunchtime in the District, a mix of office workers, tourists and homeless people share Franklin Park, the largest downtown urban park.
During lunchtime in the District, a mix of office workers, tourists and homeless people share Franklin Park, the largest downtown urban park. (Lucian Perkins/For The Washington Post)

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton's bill to allow the District to enter into cooperative management agreements with the National Park Service passed in the House of Representatives earlier this week, bringing historic Franklin Square Park one step closer to a substantial upgrade.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has already set aside $13.9 million to build new facilities — including a cafe, public restrooms and a playground — in the five-acre park, which is poorly maintained.

But to make changes to the park, which fills a whole city block between 13th and 14th streets off K Street NW, the District needed approval from Congress to enter into an agreement with the Park Service.

"This is the kind of bill that neither Republicans nor Democrats could afford to turn down," said Norton (D), who added that the bill has been so uncontroversial partly because renovations would not cost the federal government a cent.

Rob Bishop (R-Utah) co-sponsored the bill, which passed in the House by a voice vote Tuesday. The Senate still needs to vote on the companion bill, introduced in October by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), before renovations can begin. Murkowski chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will consider the bill.

Murkowski said the District and the Park Service "share the mutual goal of providing better, more cost-effective management of our park sites across the nation's capital."

"Residents and visitors will reap the benefits of these agreements," she said in a statement.

Beverly Perry, senior adviser to Bowser, said the mayor's office has worked with Norton's staff on the bill.

"We are really excited," Perry said. "We have the money already in the budget, and we have the design all ready. All we need is for the Senate to move this forward."

The D.C. Downtown Business Improvement District has budgeted $750,000 annually to operate and maintain the park, which Norton said has become "rather much of a disgrace" in the heart of the nation's capital.

But she said businesses around the park care about improving it, making the bill "a win-win" for the District, the business community and the Park Service.

Renovations would be conducted through a partnership between the Park Service, the city and the Downtown BID. Plans include reconstructing sidewalks and building a new fountain as well as adding programs in the park including yoga and movie-screenings.

The playground would be especially useful in an increasingly residential downtown that lacks many spaces where parents can play with their children, Perry said.