Columbia Heights is getting a new Target store, a Staples, new condos, a Starbucks, sit down restaurants, parking and other services. The new commerce is made possible because the local government provided initial funding (Tax Increment Funding TIF) for the projects. Mayor Adrian Fenty and several councilmembers unveiled a new $95 million TIF Tuesday to bring new development to other blighted neighborhood corridors. These include a total of $35 million for Georgia Avenue in Northwest, $10 million for Martin Luther King and South Capitol in Southeast.The H street Corridor in Northeast will see 25 million. Minnesota-Benning in Northeast will get $15 million and Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast will receive $10 million.
What's not reported here is that Columbia Heights residents waited for these businesses for a decade or more. Columbia Heights has a tragic history going back to the 1968 riots. I've only observed it since early 2000 when I moved there. For seven years, the commercial center of the neighborhood, around the metro, looked like a moonscape - literally several acres of dirt. Until a Giant opened in the neighborhood in 2005 you'd have been hard pressed to find a place to buy milk. It remains to be seen if the sudden big box development will really produce a viable, organic neighborhood.
So why did this happen in Columbia Heights while surrounding neighborhoods, such as Adams Morgan and U street, and the city as a whole experienced a historic rebirth? The answer is that city bureaucrats essentially owned Columbia Heights, treated it as an urban planning experiment, and doled out the development rights to a single monopolist, unaccountable to the taxpayer. Columbia Heights never suffered from a lack of access to capital. It suffered from central planning.
A much simpler, more straightforward, and less discriminatory approach to revitalizing DC's neighborhoods would be to make them more attractive to business by reducing DC's notoriously high taxes and regulation.