December 11, 2013 at 11:15 am EDT | by Jim Graham
Reeves Center redevelopment raises questions
Reeves Center, gay news, Washington Blade

The Reeves Center. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

I recall learning that the shortest distance between two points is usually a straight line. The plan for a new DC United soccer stadium is anything but. It’s instead a meandering country road with all manners of detours and pitfalls.

Remember how the Nationals baseball stadium was built? It was pretty straightforward — the D.C. government obtained the land, provided the money and built it. Thus bringing major economic revitalization to an otherwise underused area of D.C.

Soccer promises to transform Buzzard’s Point, so called because the slaughterhouses dumped the remains of animals there to the delight of buzzards.

Permit me to be just a little facetious by saying the “buzzards” are back — since certain key landowners are central to the deal’s complicated path involving multiple land swaps of public land and private developments.

We haven’t received much detail since the announcement in July. I have questions. Cost is No. 1. Another concern to me as Ward One Council member is the proposed relocation and land swap involving the Reeves Center, located at 14th and U, now housing several District agencies, the popular 14th and U Farmer’s Market, and the new home of the DC (LBGT) Center (an achievement in which I was actively involved.)

In this plan, the government offices at Reeves will be moved to Anacostia, and the building will be sold, without competition to the same developer who owns parcels relevant to the soccer stadium in Buzzard Point.

The Reeves Center and the corner of 14th and U are operating better than they have in a long time. When I came into office, the building’s first floor was a mess and the weekends were like Dodge City with late night violence.

The Reeves Center opened in 1987. There is no doubt that the Reeves Center, along with the opening of Metro’s Green Line, was a driving force behind the revitalization of the 14th and U streets corridor from Thomas Circle to Columbia Heights. In 1967, a year before the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the corner was the home of D.C.’s branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, a cab company, hardware store, auto parts store, Zanzibar Restaurant and other businesses.

U Street was the center of “D.C.’s Black Broadway,” a vibrant commercial corridor lined with locally owned retail, professional offices, and entertainment venues like the Lincoln and Howard Theatres. If Reeves is to be redeveloped — a deal the Council must approve — 14th and U does not really need more high-end condominiums and market rate apartments. Historically, the corner has been a centerpiece of daytime commerce and service. And it should remain so.

Daytime commerce is the key to the new prosperity of U Street. The neighborhood is now engaged in controversy regarding a proposed moratorium on new liquor license establishments.  Amid the disagreements, there was widespread agreement on three quality of life issues that affect all residents — the desire for additional daytime commerce, cleanliness and safety.

I am willing to consider this deal even with all its complexities if it includes a new office building that will include the Gay Center and farmers market and other opportunities of small business and non-profit office space.

If the proposed soccer stadium agreement moves forward, the District may have a unique opportunity to help stimulate daytime commerce at 14th and U. It worked in 1987. And it will work again. A major private commercial office building ought to find this space very attractive, just blocks from downtown, excellent public transportation and amenities.

If we must have this complex adagio, then this must be one of its accomplishments.

Jim Graham represents Ward One on the D.C. City Council.

  • C-dog

    I actually agree with Jim Graham for a change. The Reeves Center absolutely transformed Street. Anyone who says otherwise clearly did not live in DC in the 80’s. I think DC is getting hosed in this deal because it will give up office space that it OWNS for space that it will have to lease, at greater expense, just to build a soccer stadium. Graham is right that the whatever replaces the Reeves Center should be commercial and not residential. We have more than enough rentals and condos in that area. Law firms and lobbyists are already high tailing it from K street due to the high rents. Could U street be their next destination?

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