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The District may be in a box, restricted from taxing commuters, federal land, foreign governments, nonprofits, and corporate giants like the Maes and Mac—Fannie Mae, Sallie Mae, and Freddie Mac—but that doesn’t mean it has to stay there, says D.C. City Administrator Michael Rogers.
At a seminar in April on the District’s future sponsored by the Brookings Institution, Rogers, talking about Mayor Marion Barry’s highly touted transformation plan, suggested the District seek title to the west campus of St. Elizabeths mental hospital, snatch away its historic landmark designation—which currently serves no one—and establish a partnership with an entertainment company to co-develop an in-town theme park.
Some may think the idea is far-fetched, but New York has Coney Island. When I was growing up, we had something very similar in New Orleans.
As a teenager, I spent pleasant weekends walking arm-in-arm with Jerome around the grounds of Pontchartrain Beach, which was on the lake front. We took our turn on the roller coaster, the Ferris wheel, and pushed each other around in the bumper cars. But the more romantic carousel received our greatest attention. Pontchartrain Beach also provided a whole bunch of people with jobs. Pontchartrain Beach has long since closed—New Orleans’ City Park offers a smaller but equally exciting version. I don’t know where Jerome is, but fond memories of those Saturdays remain.
The Barry administration wants to create similar experiences for District residents while helping to fill the government’s depleted coffers. Neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River are starved for the economic stimulation that even a small theme or amusement park could bring. Properly developed (and with a stunning view), the park could be extremely successful. Residents from the neighborhood could get jobs, spinoff businesses could sprout, and yes, some Jeromes and Jonettas could create their own memories.
The Southeast amusement park concept wasn’t the only provocative idea Rogers dished out at the seminar. He mentioned some others that deserve consideration:
•Sell the Water and Sewer Authority at market price, which could generate nearly a billion in income.
•Have the federal government transfer title of the Washington Aqueduct to the District, which would then lease it to a private water company which would be responsible for financing capital improvements.
•Sell the D.C. Village site—about 10 acres—for development of a new shopping mall.
•Sell JB Johnson Nursing Center. (The residents and employees would love this.)
•Develop the new convention center underground; sell the air rights for commercial development.—Jonetta Rose Barras