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Georgia Avenue seeks its crown

(Published May 17, 1999)


Staff Writer

With a $19 million development project already underway, the opening of the Petworth Metro station planned this September and the support of business owners, developers and the city council, Georgia Avenue may be on its way to getting its crown as the District's main street.

People's Involvement Corp., the community development organization credited with much of the avenue's southernmost developments in recent years, has completed over $15 million in housing and commercial real estate development including a CVS drug store, Howard Inn and Colony House Apartments. In the process, PIC also has created 130 housing units and 90,000 square feet of commercial space in Wards 1, 2, 4 and 5.

Joan McKenzie, PIC's development director, said she thinks all the recent development is sure to bring people back to the neighborhood.

She said she also expects tourists to take note of the avenue's history when PIC completes placing 54 markers on historic sites on the avenue as part of a Heritage Tour project with the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. She said tours could start as early as this summer. A brochure is being printed and three of the markers have already been placed on Emory Park, Eastern Avenue and Florida Avenue. McKenzie said her organization also wants to purchase a trolley to run along Georgia Avenue.

Yet, despite the flurry of activity and McKenzie's enthusiasm, some Georgia Avenue business owners, like Gloria Robinson of Fabulous Flowers and Fruit at 3206 Georgia Ave. NW in Petworth, say they don't think the Metro station's opening and currently planned developments will affect business along the avenue at all. For the last 30 years, Robinson has done most of her business over the phone.

"I've seen many development plans come and go over the years," she said. "People just don't want to shop down here," she said. Life on the avenue is bleak, say many of the business owners. Owners like Robinson say the proliferation of liquor stores, the people that hang around them and the litter scare away potential businesses and shoppers.

According to the city planning office, the northern part of Georgia Avenue already has benefited from some rehabilitation efforts. Curtis Chevrolet, at Missouri Avenue, has expanded its car lot and acquired land from Peabody Street to Missouri Avenue.

The old Ibex Club, located across the street from Curtis, has been dramatically transformed into the North Carolina Furniture Gallery, under the direction of the Ramamni brothers who also own furniture stores in Takoma Park and Waldorf, Md.

The Georgia Avenue store opened May 7 with three stories and an accessory showroom. In a PIC newsletter owner Zina Green said she's "thrilled about the value the business will add to the Georgia Avenue Corridor." The parking lot next door on Colorado Avenue was also bought.

"There's many opportunities for small-scale projects," said McCoy. She noted that merchants along the avenue need more space.

City Councilwoman Charlene Drew Jarvis, D-Ward 4, said the city is working with Metro to attract more investors to the area surrounding the soon-to-be-opened Petworth Metro station on the green line. Jarvis said she's aware of tremendous disinvestment and significant loss in restaurants along the avenue. Metro spokesman Cheryl Johnson said she thinks the presence of the Metro station should attract more developers to the avenue.

"We do notify developers of any land available," Johnson said.

"My vision for the avenue is a good mix of retail and old businesses," Jarvis said. "But

no more fast foods, liquor stores and no more dollar stores."

Jarvis created a task force in November to support redevelopment for the area.

She said the task force is composed of "very energetic people who are well connected." Members of the committees include Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, community leaders, and Ward 4 residents.

Nine committees make up the task force: the Gateway Committee, the available sites inventory and marketing committee, the relocation of government offices committee, the transportation committee, the residential development committee, the BID resource committee, the Heritage Tour-ism committee, budget and finance committee, and the communications committee.

"We're conquering the problems," said Jarvis. "We really need a business improvement district along the avenue. I want an avenue where businesses contribute to a pool of dollars which supports a trained workforce out on the street."

While ANC Commissioner Lawrence Guyot said Jarvis has been "most proficient in economic development" for the area, he said the whole community not just elected leaders need to get involved.

"It's just as important for residents to get involved and know what your community development corporation is doing for you," he said. "My concern is to support the empowerment of neighborhoods to make decisions."

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator