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I’d like to weigh in on the Fresh Fields controversy reported by City Paper in recent issues (“Barnett’s Food Fight,” 3/13). Though the information noted seems to be right as regards the facts, there are implications and inferences that may leave your readers with the wrong impression.
Frank Smith’s statement that our community feels we were robbed is misleading, in that it implies that our grievance is with the residents of the Dupont Circle area or with the decision makers at Fresh Fields. In truth, what the Dupont group did was neither unfair nor other than what would be expected of a community intent on capitalizing on its already numerous successes. They practiced economic development, unaided by the public sector. No great crime there. Almost any community would welcome a Fresh Fields in its midst, and Dupont residents and the Gerstenfeld group can hardly be faulted for pitching the Fresh Fields organization a deal that made economic sense to all those parties. To the best of my knowledge, Fresh Fields did not renege on an agreement or back out of a contract. Are we disappointed? Certainly. Were we robbed? Perhaps, but not by the Dupont crowd.
What doomed the 13th & V location is an environment created by a dysfunctional District government that has aided, by inaction and malfeasance, the decay of this once thriving community. A government whose department of economic development and councilmembers time and again have shown remarkably poor judgment in terms of those developers chosen to execute the redevelopment of the area. A government that has refused to issue requests for proposals for valuable parcels that have remained undeveloped for decades. A government whose sole efforts toward the redevelopment of such parcels, prior to the advent of Donatelli & Klein, have been sweetheart deals with unqualified parties. Even with special low-rate financing and other “incentives” made available by the District, these “developers” have not had the experience or qualifications to enable any substantial steps toward completing the projects for which these companies were enlisted. It is a government that, 30 years after the riots of 1968, and a decade after the spectacular failures of Jeffrey Cohen, has yet to devise a formal development plan for the U Street area. It is this “gang that can’t shoot straight” and its nonresults that bear the responsibility for Fresh Fields hitting the road. The myriad businesses and residents all around U Street who have pushed the community to its present state deserve boatloads of credit, but the successes they have achieved have been in spite of, rather than a result of, the District’s backward efforts at “development.” The District has spent so many years doing things the wrong way that there is no longer even an institutional memory of what the right way is.
Barnett, to her credit, has shown indications of what it will take to turn around the departments she was brought on to reform. Most of us hope for and expect great things from her. However, with all due respect to her abilities, she had not been on the job long enough, at the time of her correspondence, to have had much of an impact one way or another in respect to the Fresh Fields deal. If she feels that she has been “set up” by other city officials, I can well understand that sentiment. Contrary to what has been stated by LL, her failure was not due to an inability to override the free market. Instead, it was due to an inability to overcome what has to date been a decidedly counterproductive public “policy” as concerns the redevelopment of this community.
via the Internet