Barracks Row Group Resurrects Plan for Redesign of Eastern Market Metro Plaza and Park
Board Considers $500,000 Contract with Architect Weinstein for Design Study
by Larry Janezich
Capitol Hill Corner has learned that the Barracks Row Main Street (BRMS) Board of Directors is considering a $500,000 contract with architect Amy Weinstein’s design group to commission a study for a new design concept for Eastern Market Metro Plaza and Park; also under consideration is a proposal by Minerva Marketing to manage public relations for the process. Chairman of the BRMS Board Tip Tipton submitted the contract and proposal to board members on Monday for consideration, asking them to hold them as confidential until the Board had been canvassed. He requested a response by 5:00pm on Thursday April 25, 2013, saying “we need to sign the agreements and expedite their implementation.”
Tipton told the Board in a memorandum that the study will be funded with federal monies appropriated by Congress several years ago for BRMS to undertake a study of a redesign of the Eastern Market Metro Plaza and its associated parcels. Expiring authority for some of these funds require that they be spent this fall. The Tipton letter says that that, in addition to these expiring funds, “BMRS has over a million dollars from other congressionally appropriated funds.” Implicit in the remark is the earmarking of these funds for planning and development of this project.
The study area is the large rectangle bounded by 7th and 9th Streets, SE, bisected diagonally by Pennsylvania Avenue, and made up primarily of two large spaces: Metro Plaza on the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue and the park lying on the north side between 8th and 9th Streets, SE, (the “north parcel”). Weinstein takes pains to say that plans under consideration do not include any changes to the Pennsylvania Avenue right of way, stating that “design improvements (will) retain the existing roadbed network with perhaps minor modifications to improve pedestrian safety.”
A previous 2007 – 2010 effort to develop a $30 million “Town Square Project” in the study area foundered, both for lack of funding and because of opposition from the residents who would have been negatively affected by the plan to change the existing right of way. The documents circulated by BRMS do not mention the issue of funding, but reference “minority” opposition from neighbors as the primary reason for the failure of that proposal.
As justification for moving this project forward now, the Weinstein proposal cites community development momentum, including the following: the newly developed Hill Center; redevelopment of The Maples (Friendship House) and loss of its children’s play area; Capital BikeShare; the 11th Street Bridge project; the proposed Southeast Boulevard and redesign of Barney Circle; CSX Rail Tunnel; Marine Barracks expansion south of the Freeway; and the Hine School Redevelopment (Weinstein is also the architect for the Hine project.)
Under the terms of the proposed contract, Weinstein would develop a design concept leading to a “visual and functional improvement of the study area,” directed at establishing the long sought link between Barracks Row/Lower 8th Street retail and 7th Street retail including Eastern Market. In addition, she would develop a portion of the “north parcel” for a “tot lot” partly funded by Stanton Development. Stanton committed $50,000 to development of a playground in the park as part of the negotiated benefits and amenities for the community during the Hine Development PUD process.
The accompanying public relations contract describes a tightly managed public input process designed to produce an outcome in support of the plan. In fact, if it develops that what is being proposed is a general beautification of the area, the extent and nature of any opposition seems doubtful.
On the other hand, it seems clear that the study is being driven, in part, by the necessity to spend funds which will otherwise be lost. And given both the uncertainty regarding funding yet another project in an era of tight budgets and the lack of obvious city impetus for the plan, it seems likely that an additional motive for putting the proposal back in play is meant to take advantage of what backers hope will be the election of Councilmember Tommy Wells as mayor, and anticipation of his support. The study will take 7 – 9 months and could begin as early as May 1, 2013.