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Who controls our downtown?
(Published November 20, 2000)

The downtown business community joined Mayor Anthony Williams and his top economic development appointees Nov. 14 in a grand presentation of their new "Downtown Action Agenda" designed to be, in the mayor’s words, "a strong engine that drives economic prosperity throughout the city."

There was a lot of talk about new jobs and new housing — the usual carrots that get dangled in front of D.C. residents to gain their support for political agendas.

There was also a lot of talk about "making sure this happens" — that this new plan doesn’t languish like all the rest.

The intent to "fast-track" this far-reaching agenda was evident. City planning director Andrew Altman went so far as to announce that "these things are on the way and are actually happening."

Altman also mentioned the possible use of "eminent domain" — the right of government to take private property for public use, with compensation determined by the government — to spur the redevelopment of what he called "10 acres in the heart of downtown." Tax abatements for housing developers also are part of the overall plan, which will be driven by a new public-private partnership.

Whoa. Time out.

We asked the mayor later that day how D.C. residents’ opinions about the future of their downtown were included in the planning process. The answer, in short, was that they weren’t. A handful of downtown residents were included on a business-dominated task force. Oops!

Significant public resources and public consequences are part of the mayor’s new downtown agenda. The public needs to have a significant role in the process.

 

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