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Taking note . . .

Observations about public affairs in the nation’s capital
by the editor of The Common Denominator

TROUBLE ON MAIN STREET: It's been almost a month since The Common Denominator asked the folks running the mayor's reSTORE D.C. initiative to give us a status report on the District's "Main Street" program, begun three years ago to help revitalize neighborhood commercial corridors. At this point, all we've gotten from city officials is a return phone call to ask that we restate our initial request for a schedule of upcoming program reviews and copies of the annual reviews that have been completed.

That response is not the only indication that there's trouble in another city initiative that was launched with great fanfare to show Mayor Tony Williams' attentiveness and concern for residential neighborhoods. A dozen nonprofit organizations were selected through citywide competitions in 2002 and 2003 to get D.C. government grants and technical assistance, aided by a partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, to run five-year, locally based "Main Street" programs. The effort was intended to enliven neighborhood business strips, though some disgruntled organizations that lost out claimed at the time that many of the selected neighborhoods already had such efforts underway without the city's jump-start. Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle were among those selected.

On a lesser scale, the groundwork for revitalization was already being laid in Northeast Washington's Brookland neighborhood when the Historic Brookland Community Development Corp. was selected to run its neighborhood Main Street program in May 2003. Gallery owner Lavinia Wohlfarth, a Brookland native who heads the neighborhood CDC, founded the organization to preserve the culture and history of one of the District's first "suburban" neighborhoods as wealthy developers and real estate agents began checking out properties and talking about Brookland as "the next Georgetown." Wohlfarth and other longtime neighborhood residents began to fear that out-of-control growth, fueled by a trendy label, might destroy the friendly, small-town, relaxed atmosphere that draws people to live in the Brookland area.

Under Wohlfarth's leadership, the CDC has managed to recruit dozens of volunteers to help run some of the organization's most visible community efforts – including an annual street festival, a twice-a-week farmers market, an annual spaghetti dinner and a holiday lights tour. The CDC has also lent assistance to the Greater Brookland Garden Club's efforts to make a neighborhood home and garden tour into an annual event.

Less visible has been the CDC's painstaking effort to inventory the neighborhood's buildings as it completes an application to designate Brookland's original boundaries as a historic district. The designation would place more stringent regulation and review on "economic development" efforts in the area.

With the application nearly completed, the CDC last month faced its annual Main Street program review. The blistering criticism, some of it probably justified, that was delivered at a sparsely attended public meeting left one recommendation ringing in the CDC board members' ears: Wohlfarth must be replaced at the CDC's helm to keep the neighborhood's Main Street designation, city officials said.

It's not surprising that the CDC's reaction, at least at this point, appears to be defiance. "We had our own ‘main street' program before [the city selected the neighborhood] and we'll continue to have a main street program if [the city's designation] goes away," one neighborhood volunteer who works closely with the CDC's board told The Common Denominator.

ALMOST A SHUTOUT: Major League Baseball officials revealed some of their disdain for the D.C. locals who are expected to shell out more than half a billion dollars to build a new stadium for the Washington Nationals when they credentialed journalists to cover the team's historic home opener at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium on April 14. Until two days before the game, The Common Denominator's requests to get even one staff member inside the stadium to cover the game were being rebuffed by MLB gatekeepers in New York, who repeatedly blamed space limitations for keeping D.C.'s hometown newspaper out. (In retrospect, we noted that the Washington Post got more than half a dozen staff members in.) Credit Nationals Vice President Chartese Berry, a local herself, with finally persuading MLB bigwigs that it would be a mistake to not let The Common Denominator in. Award-winning sports photographer Mark Young was the only staffer The Common Denominator could get credentialed to cover the game.

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator