Image courtesy of the City Paper
The current issue of the City Paper includes a sorry tale of woe regarding the situation with the building located at 14th and T streets. Though it's not overly in-depth, it does take you through a nice history of the building, from its beginnings as a factory for Model T cars, up to its current status as the (maybe?) future home of Minneapolis-based furniture retailer Room & Board.
The piece is both fascinating and frustrating, as one learns how the massive edifice went from abandoned warehouse, to a church, to a condo building, to a future home of a Diner and Dave Chappelle-back comedy club, to the future home of Room & Board, to its now uncertain situation.
Undoubtedly, the most aggravating part of the story comes from the March 2008 time period. It was at this time that plans were formulating for Tryst and Diner owner Constantine Stavropoulos to open up a new cafe/diner on the first floor of the building, with the second floor featuring Riot Act Comedy Club (co-owned by Dave Chappelle) and Boundless Yoga operating on the third floor. The City Paper quotes Stavropoulos as saying that the deal fell apart due to a failure to secure tenant allowances, which Stavropoulos called "crazy." However, that relates only a portion of the story.
From an October 2008 post from greatergreaterwashington (subsequently picked up by Borderstan), we learn of the ardent opposition to the developer's plans by ANC2B09 commissioner (and ANC2B chair) Ramon Estrada, in particular the "24 hour aspect" of the operation. This, in spite of the fact that many in the Logan/U Street corridor had advocated for the project as a way to both increase the vibrancy and security of the area. (Estrada, it should be noted, has also strongly advocated for a reduction in the size of the proposed project at 14th and U streets). The idea for the diner/comedy club went by the wayside, and furniture retailer Room & Board stepped in to claim the spot (although that deal now appears in doubt due to the economic calamity).
So, why bring this up now? Well, for one the City Paper has dredged it up as an example of urban development and local government involvement gone awry. But, perhaps more importantly, with several new operations, along with two massive developments, set to descend upon the neighborhood during the coming months and years, it's important for the community to understand how these types of decisions get made.
I wrote in an earlier post that I could foresee problems with the proposed operating hours of two forthcoming 14th Street restaurants/lounges, and this is precisely the reason why. Even with strong community support, the voices of a few prominent (or loud) members of the community can dictate neighborhood developmental policy, frequently to the detriment of the community as a whole. The ramifications of this type of behavior extend far beyond that of the development in question. DC as a whole is changing, and it's not merely U Street and Logan that have reaped the benefits. Business owners are presented with the ability to pursue opportunities in neighborhoods such as Columbia Heights, H Street, Petworth and other locales should they find the climate there more hospitable.
This doesn't mean that the interests of residents and others in the community should be ignored; far from it, in fact. But stories such as the one at 14th and T show the consequences of ignoring broad-based community sentiment in the name of protecting the interests of a vocal minority.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Posted by Mr. 14th & You at 2:57 PM