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Residents of Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, and Columbia Heights are responding cautiously to a plan that’s anything but cautious: a multimillion dollar proposal to recast the area as an “international enterprise zone” and focus for Latino tourism.
The project, reported last month in the Washington Business Journal, would include a large outdoor plaza, pedestrianized streets, and a multilevel sports arena designed for soccer games. (Possible locations for the facility include Community Park West and the Tivoli Theater site.) According to other sources, the project’s planners—the Las Americas Avenue Development Corp.—would like to rename Columbia Road “Avenida des Americas.”
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V. Hector Rodriguez, president of the Las Americas Avenue Development Corp., served on Clinton’s transition team; he’s expressed confidence that he could get federal development grants for the undertaking. His corporation has already received a $100,000 grant from the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development for a feasibility study.
In its account of the plans, the Journal headlined the neighborhoods as a “riot area,” and lumped together Columbia Heights’ bleak 14th Street with Adams Morgan’s bustling 18th Street as areas that have “no nearby Metro stops, a high crime rate, large numbers of street people, and poor race relations that have erupted, twice, into riots.”
The Arlington-based Journal is known for its suburban sensibility and loose grip on D.C. geography (in the Christmas shopping guide included with its Nov. 5 issue, it claims—and not for the first time—that Chevy Chase Pavilion is in Montgomery County). Those who know the neighborhoods better, however, don’t see the sense in grouping Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan together.
One of the features of an enterprise zone, notes Kalorama Citizens Association President Bill Scheirer, is the reduction or elimination of taxes. That would be a curious strategy for Adams Morgan, whose restaurants, bars, and nightclubs make it a “cash cow” for the city, Scheirer suggests. Developing further tourist attractions in Adams Morgan would be hindered by the liquor-license moratorium that is widely supported in the neighborhood, he adds.
Citizen activist and Columbia Heights resident Dorothy Brizill credits Rodriguez with “political savvy,” but says the project “has not been thought through from the neighborhood’s point of view.”
Pedro Aviles, executive director of the Latino Civil Rights Task Force, says he supports exploring the concept. Arguing that the city’s Latino community needs to “go beyond civil rights to economic development,” he expresses hope that the project will provide opportunities for small businesses. According to Ward 1 Councilmember Frank Smith, who represents the area, the proposal “needs a lot of work.” He dismisses the notion of renaming Columbia Road and says building the sports arena is equally unlikely. He supports marketing the area’s international flavor but says, “I’m leery of promoting one group over another in an area known for its diversity,” suggesting that the neighborhoods probably have more Ethiopian than Latino businesses. As for the Kelly administration’s preliminary support of the plan, Smith explains, “They don’t know their tails from a hole in the ground.”
Rodriguez and the corporation’s vice president, Alejandro Moya, could not be reached for comment.