City Vista has many offerings for adults living there — a grocery store, hardware store, swanky gym and a series of restaurants — but there is little in the way of places to play nearby.
Zandt says she takes her daughter to the revamped Kennedy Recreation Center on 7th Street a few blocks north and, particularly when the weather is bad, she joins hundreds of other families in taking her daughter to the National Building Museum, which provides a large carpeted interior space for free.
“We love the Building Museum but honestly she is growing out of it,” Zandt said. “It’s an awesome space but the downside is there isn’t anything to climb on.”
With the District’s downtown population continuing to grow, Zandt said she sees more families deciding to remain downtown rather than de-camp for outer neighborhoods or the suburbs. And for that to work, she said, downtown will need a place to play.
So she decided to try to build one.
Zandt is in the early stages of trying to raise more than $1.5 million to open a large, indoor play place downtown. A former pre-school teacher, she doesn’t have a financing mechanism or even a company (she works as a psychotherapist) but hers is the latest in a line of recent efforts to make downtown more livable for the growing number of residents and families there.
More than 9,000 people now live downtown, up from only about 500 25 years ago, and nearly 17,000 people live within a half-mile of Mount Vernon Triangle. It’s also where the fastest growth in the city is happening; from 2000-2010 Wards 2 and 6, which comprise downtown, added the most residents. In Mount Vernon Triangle, another 700 apartments or condos are under construction.
Zandt considered seeking a franchise from operations like Gymboree Play & Music or Little Gym, but decided they fell short of what she envisions, such as custom-designed play structures — including two central tree-like climbing apparatuses — space for dance or yoga classes and a café for parents.
Instead she designed her own concept and called it Junior’s Clubhouse. She pictures serving not only people who live downtown but the many children in downtown day cares and schools, as well as children of tourists visiting the city and staying in hotels or with friends.
“I remember visiting Washington, D.C. as a kid and I loved it. I loved going to the museums and the monuments but honestly it would have been nice to play at the end of the day,” she said.
The idea is one of the more ambitious of proposals to create a children’s play area downtown. Zandt said she would ideally like to find more than 3,000 square feet with a minimum ceiling height of 15 feet.
“It’s not going to happen without public investment,” counseled Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations. Lynch pushed the city to modernize playgrounds near his home in Mount Pleasant.
“The public infrastructure has not kept up with the speed of downtown’s revitalization,” he said.
Mount Vernon Square has been considered for an outdoor playground, but the best shot for one may be at Franklin Park, where a residents’ group calling itself Downtown D.C. Kids, the Downtown Business Improvement District, the National Park Service and the D.C. government are planning a major overhaul.
“Hopefully there will be a playground there within three or four years,” said Gerry Widdicombe, director of economic development for the BID. He said it was one of the organization’s top priorities.
As a first step toward raising the money she needs, Zandt recently launched a giving campaign on the Web site Fundable. As of recently the site showed $7,345 in commitments out of a goal of $20,000. She acknowledged that in discussions with District officials and a handful of developers, it had been suggested to her that she lower her sights.
“What I’m trying to do is make everything as sustainable and socially conscious as possible,” she said.