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Federal community development grants are traditionally steered toward housing projects and small businesses in embattled District communities. But thanks to an initiative under consideration at the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), a $10-million federal community development block grant is earmarked for the largest building ever proposed in D.C.: the new convention center at Mount Vernon Square. The money would defray the cost of moving water pipes and connecting other utility links to the six-block site. Opponents view the grant as evidence that the Washington Convention Center Authority (WCCA) couldn’t stay within its $650 million budget if its project depended on it. “This amounts to $10 million in additional taxpayer dollars for this project,” argues Shaw Coalition leader Beth Solomon, noting that federal funding for the convention center may exceed $50 million. WCCA spokesperson Tony Robinson, however, says the more federal dollars the project attracts, the less burden it puts on D.C. taxpayers. “The police department is getting accused of not spending federal funds, and that’s a bad thing,” says Robinson. “Now we’re taking advantage of federal funds, and that’s somehow a bad thing?”
Post Mortem Last Friday, the Washington Post Metro section reported two killings in the District. In the first story, found on page C3, the Metropolitan Police Department lamented the death of Duke, a 5-year-old German shepherd police-dog-in-training. “He was a wonderful dog,” commented Lt. Stewart Morris, commander of the department’s K9 unit. Three pages later, the Post reported another untimely death: a local 21-year-old stabbed to death by his younger brother. Respective word counts: “D.C. Police Dog Trainee Dies in Fall,” 194; “Juvenile Charged in Brother’s Death,” 99.
Account Withdrawal The recent departures of both Signet Bank and Citibank branches from the Hechinger Mall on Benning Road NE have some locals thinking that the financial community has given up on the struggling neighborhood. “My concern is especially with seniors and minority businesses not having access to a bank with full service,” says John Frye, an advisory neighborhood commissioner for the area. Bank officials counter that the closures reflect changes in the financial community
rather than the surrounding neighborhood. The Signet branch closed soon after the company merged with First Union Bank, prompting First Union to consolidate its multiple branches in the area. Citibank officials offer a more complicated response. First of all, says Ernest Skinner, vice president and director of community development for Citibank, the branch has not closed but “reconfigured its service.” Two automatic teller machines capable of processing all bank transactions have taken the place of tellers and customer service agents, following a general trend in the industry, Skinner says. But he adds that a dwindling customer base and lack of interest from mall management in increasing branch visibility factored into the decision. “During the times when trees [were] blooming, you could not see the location,” claims Skinner.
Alley Rats Upper Georgetown residents say they were initially thrilled when they heard that the Corcoran School of Art was planning to move into the old Filmore School building off Wisconsin Avenue. That joy quickly turned into anger when they learned that Corcoran officials were planning to construct a 104-space parking lot next to the building and would use a small residential alley for entry and exit. “I smelled a rat,” says Westy Byrd, an advisory neighborhood commissioner for the area. “This was a case of ‘Let’s see how long we can hide the parking lot.’” Byrd says that in a zoning board meeting where community members were present, Corcoran officials remained mum about plans for the lot. But a few weeks ago, Lucy Thratcher became suspicious after she noticed a city surveyor scoping out the alley behind her home. She called administrators at the Corcoran, and they confirmed that he was there to help make way for a big, shiny parking facility. Corcoran school administrators insist there was never an intent to deceive. “We did mention that we wanted to build the parking lot, [but] we didn’t go over it in detail with the neighbors,” says Jan Rothschild, an official with the Corcoran.
Reporting by Amanda Ripley, Elissa Silverman, Jamal Watson, and Erik Wemple.
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