Specifics needed to guide Main Street, waterfront development

Published 10:34 am Sunday, March 22, 2009

By Staff
In the Washington Daily News’ guest editorial on March 14, the writer expressed his views concerning the proposal made to the City Council by the Citizens for Revitalization Committee. As one who has championed the committee and has been involved in most of its meetings, I’d like to offer a different point of view.
The Citizens for Revitalization Committee did exactly what the council requested of it. It compared two previous studies, the Renaissance Plan and the W.K. Dickson Plan, and the recommendations of each study, many of which were redundant.
The committee then identified which of the recommendations are still pertinent to revitalizing the Downtown Central Business District (it must be noted that out of 10 Renaissance Plan Phase I recommendations, nine have already been implemented.)
After completing this task, many on the committee felt that both of the previous studies lacked the degree of specificity required to definitively guide development along Main Street and the waterfront. The group identified three parcels that need further study: Parcel 1 runs from Gladden Street to Respess Street bounded by Main Street on the north and Stewart Parkway on the south. Parcel 2 runs from Respess Street to Market Street bounded by Main Street on the north and Stewart Parkway on the south. Parcel 3 runs from Market Street to Bonner Street bounded by Main Street on the north and the river on the south.
I believe we need to develop a broad public consensus on the development of these three parcels, and I do not define development as simply building a downtown hotel with a view of the water.
The goals of having rational development while still providing green space, river access, a performance park, adequate parking and connectivity to Main Street are not mutually exclusive. They can be, and often are, compatible and support one another.
Over the past eight years, many buildings on Main and Market streets were bought by investors who assumed the economic boom would continue, real-estate values would escalate, and demand for vacation and retirement homes would remain high.
Since last October, all of these assumptions have proven false, and we are now faced with a large number of vacant buildings on Main and Market streets. Without a detailed plan accepted by a large majority of our citizens and the City Council as fair and realistic, our downtown will continue to drift from proposal to proposal with few, if any, projects coming to fruition.
As a community, we need to move beyond the green space versus hotel argument. We need to conduct a study which, while limited in geographic scope, will detail the type of development that will be permitted and encouraged on these three parcels.
These details will help ensure our citizens understand and have agreed to the concept of what our downtown could be. By doing this, we can raise funds to build such public venues as a performance park or public pier, while providing investors the assurance that if they propose a development activity which meets guidelines we determine, they will have public and political support.
One final note: For an urban-design study to be accepted by our citizens and adopted by the City Council, it must be conducted in a transparent and open manner as the Citizens for Revitalization have tried to do. This will help ensure that there is no hint of bias or undue influence. We will have wasted our time and the city’s money if the public is not vested in this process and accepts its outcome.