It's time to retire the old saw about the Reeves Center being a great economic development contribution to U Street
In honor of the City Paper article, "Swap and Go," quoting City Administrator Alan Lew about how moving government agencies, from the Reeves Center, to Anacostia, will make Anacostia better:
1. For 20 years, the nearby properties on the adjoining blocks continued to suck.
2. Few if any new businesses were generated by the existence of the property during its existence
3. Most of the retail businesses operating in the building failed, or certainly, left owing DC Government hundreds of thousands of dollars in back rent.
I first wrote about this in August 2005, energized in part by the failure of the two "government" office buildings on the 600 block of H Street NE to have any more general economic benefit to the greater community, rather than to the community development corporation collecting the rent checks.
Not to mention the issue of degrading agglomeration benefits of keeping government agencies close together, rather than separating them, a phenomenon that I also call intra-city sprawl.
Reeves Center Myth Revisited
Re-reading the Post article ("Williams Proposes Moving Metro Offices to Anacostia") it quotes Mayor Williams as saying he was inspired to suggest this development at the Anacostia Metro Station by the actions of Mayor Barry's building of the Reeves Center.
The Reeves Center is pretty typical of the urban brutalist DC urban renewal projects from the mid-1970s onwards.
IT IS A MYTH that the Reeves Center sparked the revitalization of U Street. It is an urban brutalist* monster that sucks the life off of the street. Many of the retail businesses in the Reeves Center have failed--most leaving lease debts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars--debts that the District government had to eat.
The other three corners of the intersection have fast food places or a vacancy. AND, it took more than 10 years after the Reeves Center before "revitalization" started happening--much of it being sparked by the opening of the Green line subway stations. (Granted, the construction of the Metro on U Street contributed to the problems.)
And still, the area around Reeves Center is a vacuum. What life around it has it engendered?
Why is learning from Jane Jacobs and other practitioners of urban vitality so difficult?
Right: Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland, Oregon. Photo by PPS.
One could argue that the movement of the Dept. of Consumer and regulatory Affairs and Office of Planning to offices at the Waterfront Metro station has been key to the increased vitality at that location.
If that is the case, and I would argue that it is, it is because unlike the Reeves Center, these buildings were designed to connect to and strengthen the area around the building. Plus they are part of a mixed use complex, including residences, and an updated Safeway Supermarket.
So the lesson is that if you are gonna do such a move, make the buildings connect, not disconnect. Also see "Development economics and Anacostia."
* I know, I know. Reeves Center isn't urban brutalist, but it is hulking and disconnected. More of a superblock styled building.