Washington is safer, cleaner, greener and more economically vibrant than it was 20 years ago. Despite some recent warning signs about a slowing regional economy, a diverse wave of professionals moving into the District over the past decade has made the city stronger and better.
However, parts of Washington still badly need an economic lift. Certain neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River and around Langston Golf Course remain among the most disadvantaged. Bringing the Olympic and Paralympic Games to Washington — literally hosting the world — would boost the whole region but particularly some of the places in our city that need it the most. For me, that provides a compelling reason to support the bid.
Much of the most dramatic neighborhood progress we have made over 20 years has been spurred by major investments like Verizon Center and Nationals Park, which have transformed the surrounding neighborhoods downtown and in the Capital Riverfront community, respectively. Those areas, once underdeveloped and underserved, now bustle with businesses, tourists and residents who flock to office buildings, retail stores, restaurants, entertainment venues — and the jobs all that activity brings.
The numbers tell a powerful story of that transformation. According to a report produced by the DowntownDC Business Improvement District, the neighborhood surrounding Verizon Center saw more than 50,000 jobs created, 758 hotel rooms added and more than 7,000 residences built since the final construction plans for the arena were announced in 1995. Recent data about the economic impact of Nationals Park on the Capital Riverfront are just as impressive. An estimated 2.8 million people visited the Capitol Riverfront last year, and the community is now home to more than 32,000 daytime employees and 3,000 residences, according to data from the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District.
For a deeper understanding of how our city and our residents can benefit from hosting the Olympic Games in 2024, we need only look to London. I recently toured some of the facilities created for the 2012 Olympic Games. The city has seen remarkable economic growth and the revitalization of neighborhoods that would have never been possible without the resources provided by the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Specifically, London’s East End, a focal point of the 2012 Games, was once an isolated part of the city. Now it is a shining example of how the Games can transform a community for the better. The athletic housing created there for the Olympics has been converted into thousands of private units, half of which are earmarked as affordable housing. More than 100,000 jobs were created in London over the summer of 2012, and overall approximately 70,000 previously unemployed Londoners found work because of the Games. Within the first year following the 2012 Games, London had recouped all invested costs, and since then there has been a reported $5 billion of new business investment in London as a result of hosting the Olympics. London residents say that hosting the Olympics was the best thing that has ever happened to the East End neighborhood.
The effort to ensure that the Games left a lasting legacy in London was led by Andrew Altman, the founding chief executive of the Olympic Park Legacy Co., who was formerly the head of the District’s Office of Planning and chief executive of the Anacostia Waterfront Corp.
Certainly, as with all economic growth in the city, we need to minimize the number of people who would be displaced. Affordable housing is a challenge now, and it will continue to be as the city grows. We need to sharpen our tools to make sure that residents can stay in their neighborhoods. But jobs for people near their homes is also an enormous challenge, and the Olympics is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for investment on this scale in and around the neighborhoods that need it most.
I have been invested in Washington’s long-term success for decades, and I can think of no better legacy than the promise of a future made brighter by jobs, neighborhood and community improvements, and an economy that will provide opportunities for the capital region for decades after the Closing Ceremonies of the 2024 Games.
The writer was mayor of the District from 1999 to 2007.