The District would give Ron Moten’s Anacostia business and community house, Check It Enterprises, $2 million under a new bill meant to help Moten acquire the land for a redevelopment project.
Once a regular figure in District politics who drew government contracts, the flow of taxpayer funds to Moten’s ventures dried up when the city sued his publicly-funded crime fighting outfit Peaceoholics in 2013 over misspent funds. A reformed drug dealer, Moten was at the fore of gang intervention efforts in the 2000s before the suit, which he settled by paying $10,000 without admitting wrongdoing.
Until recently, Moten was shut out of the public stage. But this spring, the battle over gentrification and the erasure of go-go music elevated him to public spokesman for the emergent DontMuteDC movement. And with murders up, the District this year put the returned citizen on its payroll once again to train crime fighters who mediate feuds between violent gangs.
Now At-large councilmember Robert White, one of Moten’s top boosters, has written legislation to give Check It $2 million to buy out the property where the organization keeps offices. The funds would go toward a grand redevelopment project. Moten’s plans for the property include up to 12 residential units above storefront retail, including a go-go museum, “tourism and culinary workforce programs,” and other services for LGBTQ and returned citizens. He says Check It and others on the block will be priced out of the neighborhood without help to buy the property at 1920 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE.
“I say shame on us if good local organizations or local businesses are displaced on our watch,” says White, who introduced his bill in July.
Check It is many things. Co-founded by Moten and a reformed LGBTQ street gang, it sells custom T-shirts that the group make in-house, and hosts community sessions on topics like how to preserve Chocolate City. The address—the purchase would include 1918, 1920, and 1922 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE—is owned by a group called “1918-1920-1922 Martin Luther King Jr. SE Partnership,” tied to Arch Development, which is run by longtime developer Charles Gautier, according to public records. Moten has declined to give City Paper details about the asking price.
He says the new proposed money will go a long way to help purchase the land.
White’s two-page bill authorizes the deputy mayor for planning and economic development to award Check It the money. The legislation does not say how much money the city would hand over to Check It, but the councilmember says it’s $2 million. He says he set aside the money in the fiscal 2020 capital budget. “So the bill is a reprogramming of existing funds,” White says.
John Falcicchio, the interim deputy mayor for planning and economic development, is all-in. His office declined to make Falcicchio, who is also chief of staff to the mayor, available for an interview, but it praised Moten in a statement.
“Mr. Moten has been a fixture in the D.C. community, known for programs that serve young people,” says Chanda Washington, a spokesperson for the deputy mayor for planning and economic development. “We will follow existing grant-making policies to implement the legislation.”
The bill is in the Business and Economic Development Committee, chaired by Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie. His office did not have a comment on the bill.
White’s proposed grant follows other legislation he’s proposed to help local businesses. At the D.C. Council this year, he co-introduced a pair of 10-year property tax breaks for Sankofa Video and Books, a longtime community hub on Georgia Avenue NW, and for Ward 8 politico haunt Players Lounge. He says small businesses across the city are beset by rising property taxes or rents that threaten their viability.
The administration of Mayor Muriel Bowser is following the trend. Near Moten’s Check It in Anacostia, the Bowser administration last month handed out $1 million in grants to businesses. Banneker Ventures, headed by politically-connected developer Omar Karim, got $750,000 to “support adding retail to the community” and renovate the American Islamic Heritage Museum at 2311-2323 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, according to a press release.
Meanwhile, Moten in May said he was planning to work with Karim to jointly purchase and redevelop Check It. Now he says that’s changed, and that a developer will need to be chosen later.
“But first thing’s first,” he says in a text message. “We must get buildings before we are put out!”
This post has been updated to include information on the owner of 1918-1920-1922 Martin Luther King Jr. SE Partnership.