Marc Ferris is a resident of Dupont Circle.
On the surface, Dupont Circle is doing fine. The neighborhood still hums with activity into the evening and offers a mix of retail, dining and nightlife that attracts residents and office workers alike. So why does the area need a new Business Improvement District (BID)?
The short answer is that Dupont’s hip factor has waned. The BID’s business plan admits as much: The neighborhood “no longer enjoys its position of prominence as a premier destination.” Shaw, Columbia Heights, Southeast, the Southwest Waterfront and the H Street corridor in Northeast are pulling younger residents away from this established nook.
Capturing the zeitgeist, a young urban professional selling his home in the 1700 block of P Street noted the rash of baby carriages on the streets. “We never saw that before,” he said. He and his partner moved to Columbia Heights.
Also spurring the BID is a $10 million commitment from the city to develop what is tentatively known as the “cap park,” which will cover the down ramp on the 1500 block of Connecticut Avenue and route express traffic underneath the circle. The BID pledges to oversee the maintenance and management of the park, which is slated for completion by 2020.
Boundaries of the BID include Connecticut Avenue up to the Washington Hilton, P Street west of the circle to 22nd Street and a portion of Massachusetts Avenue to 21st Street. It also includes tiny slivers along P Street east of the circle and New Hampshire Avenue. The southern portion of Dupont Circle falls within the jurisdiction of the Golden Triangle BID.
Some of the new BID’s responsibilities overlap with the extant Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets organization, including the overarching “commercial district revitalization,” but the latter’s boundaries extend to the 17th Street commercial district between P Street and Riggs Place and the businesses on 18th Street from S Street to Florida Avenue. It is unclear how the two entities will coexist.
Even though the new organization imposes costs on businesses already suffering from a bit of an image crisis, the push has remained free from the rancor that scuttled the proposed Alexandria BID.
A majority of the circle’s property owners approved the plan. (BID boosters surveyed property owners and stopped recruiting when they reached the required 51 percent acquiescence.) The D.C. Council passed the bill in March, but the measure still requires signoff from the mayor’s office and Congress before it takes effect.
Commercial and residential property owners will be on the hook for an annual tax to the BID: 0.09 cents per $100 of assessed value for commercial buildings and $120 for each unit in hotels and residential buildings. The plan is projected to raise $1.1 million in its first year.
BIDs are publicly chartered, privately run nonprofits that are subject to mayoral oversight. A board of directors plans to hire four professionals to institute the BID’s initiatives, along with maintenance and landscaping staff.
The goals are at once prosaic and ambitious. The BID plans to spiff up the area’s appearance and provide security, including new cameras. Expect to see light-pole banners, trash-can logos, flower baskets, planters and holiday decorations.
In addition to adopting a “unified high-quality set of streetscape standards,” the BID will work with D.C.’s Urban Forestry Administration on tree maintenance and replacement. It will also undertake a “comprehensive assessment” of retail properties and “develop a coordinated recruitment program working in conjunction with retail brokers to attract a higher standard” of tenants, according to the business plan.
On a more ephemeral level, the BID intends to create branding and an “integrated marketing strategy” that will boost perceptions and improve the retail mix, contending that property values will increase 10 percent to 20 percent. In addition, a website, newsletter, public relations outreach and social media initiatives are “intended to create buzz and drive foot traffic.” Activities and “signature brand events” are also part of the mix.
More than a decade in the making, the new BID’s business plan pledges to help this once “distinctive, upscale yet edgy” area regain “its position of prominence.” Will it be enough to rekindle Dupont Circle’s lost luster?