As D.C. works to stem the spread of coronavirus, government officials and business owners have had to get creative to keep businesses open and customers safe.
One solution for local restaurants has been to work with the city to designate public spaces like parking areas for use as outdoor dining spaces.
Jeff Marootian, director of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), who’s gay, was appointed by Mayor Muriel Bowser in August 2017 and has played a key role in that effort.
Prior to joining DDOT, he served in the Obama administration as the Assistant Secretary for Management and White House Liaison at the United States Department of Transportation. He previously held various roles at the Democratic National Committee where he was the LGBT Outreach Director during the 2012 election.
The Blade talked to Marootian about coronavirus and some of his efforts at DDOT to assist businesses and residents as the city continues its cautious approach to reopening after the long quarantine.
WASHINGTON BLADE: How did DDOT begin the idea of the “streatery?” What prompted the discussion?
JEFF MAROOTIAN: Mayor Bowser convened the Reopen DC Task Force to identify ways to support the District’s phased reopening. Streateries were among the ideas that emerged from that process and the mayor tasked several agencies to work together to develop a plan to implement them.
BLADE: Can you explain how the process works for cafes, bars, and restaurants?
MAROOTIAN: We have worked hard to make the process as simple and streamlined as possible for restaurants and businesses. The link to the registration form is available on the coronavirus.dc.gov website and our staff is available to work with businesses to identify the best ways to repurpose public space to support their expansion.
BLADE: Where in the city has the project been most successful?
MAROOTIAN: We have collaborated with many partners on ANCs, BIDS [business improvement districts], and civic associations across the entire city to operationalize streateries. As the city continues with its phased reopening, I expect that several more will come online. Most of them so far have been successful and we are all learning together as we go.
BLADE: What kind of reception have you received from customers and businesses?
MAROOTIAN: We have had an overwhelmingly positive reception from both businesses and the public.
BLADE: Let’s focus on Dupont and Adams Morgan. Has the “gayborhood” been especially involved in the process?
MAROOTIAN: Several ANC commissioners, BID leaders, and civic associations have partnered with us to stand these up across the District. Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan were the first two neighborhoods to approach us and they helped lay the foundation for others.
BLADE: How has the city supported LGBTQ-owned restaurants and small businesses?
MAROOTIAN: We continue to partner with many businesses since the start of the public health emergency to ensure they have as much support from the city as possible. We created a pickup and drop-off zone concept for food deliveries and upwards of 400 businesses, including several LGBT-owned and operated, have taken advantage of that.
BLADE: Similarly, what is your opinion of the rainbow-painted barriers outside Pitchers as part of the expanded sidewalk initiative in Adams Morgan?
MAROOTIAN: I think the rainbows look great. We encourage businesses to be creative with the barriers. DDOT has published design guidelines on our website to assist businesses that want to paint them.
BLADE: Finally, let’s discuss the rainbow crosswalk at P Street and 17th Street, N.W. How did this idea come about? Is it permanent?
MAROOTIAN: Many in the community, myself included, have wanted to do a rainbow crosswalk installation for some time. My team and I worked to develop a concept that reflected the history and diversity of our city. We partnered with the ANC to install it at 17th and P and will be adding other locations along 17th Street in the coming months.
BLADE: Are there other similar initiatives that we can look forward to in the summer or fall months?
MAROOTIAN: We have seen the incredible power of art in public space over the past few months. DDOT recently launched the Art in the Right of Way program and will be partnering with communities from across all eight wards of the District to identify other opportunities to install art on roads, sidewalks, and other public spaces.