November 21, 2013 at 10:00 am EST | by Mark Lee
Adams Morgan at crossroads over area’s future
Adams Morgan, gay news, Washington Blade

Adams Morgan (Photo by Aude via Wikimedia Commons)

The once-premier D.C. neighborhood of Adams Morgan has fallen on hard times.

Even the area’s annual September street festival, a signature event that has drawn more than 100,000 attendees in recent years, was a flop. It may be discontinued.

It’s why MidCity residents who earlier this year successfully defeated a proposed liquor license moratorium for 14th and U streets, and including the Logan Circle and Shaw neighborhoods, voiced anxiety about “becoming the next Adams Morgan.”

As had long been anticipated, the neighborhood advisory group in Adams Morgan voted 6-0 on Nov. 6 to ask the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to again renew, for an additional five years, a soon-to-expire liquor license moratorium in the Northwest neighborhood north of Dupont Circle. One advisory commissioner abstained and another was absent.

The Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC-1B) postponed a separate vote until Dec. 4 on whether to request that the ABC Board revise the moratorium to allow new restaurants. However, ANC-1B chair Billy Simpson has proposed a convoluted litany of restrictions that would likely dissuade potential business interests from opening.

The ANC is undoubtedly hoping that requesting a modest “tweaking” of the moratorium will curry favor with the ABC Board and result in an extension of the ban. This cynically acknowledged approach worked for Dupont Circle ANC-2B when the Board on Wednesday renewed the 23-year-old “East Dupont” ban on 17th Street for three more years while allowing new restaurant applications – despite a prior warning that moratoriums were never intended for such long periods.

The 13-year-old Adams Morgan moratorium on alcohol-licensed businesses was first imposed in 2001, renewed twice, and is set to expire on April 14. The already complex details of the existing ban, including a cap on licenses lower than currently exist, would be additionally complicated by Simpson’s proposed conditions. He hopes to limit the types of restaurants that would be permitted to open, restricting operating hours and service enhancements.

Simpson wants to burden a “failed experiment” with additional stipulations. More limits, like those he has pitched, don’t reflect the trends in popular venues eagerly embraced by residents in newly booming destination neighborhoods.

Simpson’s proposal limits operating hours by forcing any new restaurants to close two hours earlier than allowed by law. He would also prohibit entertainment components, and disallow marketing of special events by promoters – all essential business model features common throughout the city for restaurants. No live music, DJs, dancing or cover charges would be tolerated. In fact, his proposal specifically limits music to “acoustic or instrumental” only.

Apparently Simpson had a bad experience with wailing divas or picked up an aversion to songs with lyrics somewhere along the way to becoming chair of the advisory group.

He’s out of sync with the successful new ventures that are rushing to open in more dynamic sections of the city – the areas that are leaving Adams Morgan behind and cementing perceptions of its commercial and retail irrelevance.

What Simpson and the rest of his cohorts don’t comprehend is that these types of overwrought restrictions have created the situation the neighborhood now confronts. Pandering to a vocal minority of obstinate objectors may make meetings run smoothly, but it won’t solve any actual issues as a contributing, well-managed and vibrant commercial district.

Instead, they’d get what they have – prohibition of new marketplace entrants, lack of competition, stale business models, inferior product offerings, churn-and-burn operators – and everything else that results when you encase an entire area in concrete for what will be nearly two decades if an extension is granted.

It’s no coincidence that areas arbitrarily restricting marketplace development have suffered. These areas are now struggling to attract businesses of all types. Sidewalks have become less populated as even neighborhood residents shift their attention to more vibrant zones when seeking shopping, dining and entertainment options.

Languishing under booze bans, these neighborhoods are no longer the envy of anyone.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at [email protected].

  • Mark is right. If the Gladys Kravitz types who populate the referenced ANCs refuse to see that (or care), at least the ABC Board should.

  • Increasing the supply of tavern licenses will ease the crowding that occurs in the few that are allowed to be open per neighborhood. The few become too crowded which results in noise, complaints, etc. and then the ANC uses that as an example of why they should further reduce the amount of tavern licenses. Easy fix: open more bars and lounges. The demand for these is not going to diminish in DC.

  • The proof is on the street today relative to the failure of the Moritorium – little destination retail then or now. With increasing density coming to the neighborhood, we should let the market respond versus squashing the opportunity to raise the rents and increase the quality of businesses.

  • But … but … I moved from the suburbs to an in-town neighborhood specifically to experience the joys of suburban life. You have to respect that.

    On an unrelated topic, I will now bemoan the fact that DC can't match other cities' night life. I'll bet it's the result of market failure.

  • So, exactly who would profit from these properties lowering dramaticly in value over the long run?

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