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Well, it’s been a while since we checked in on Bruce Monroe, the former Brutalist school that was demolished to make way for some basketball courts and random trees. Don’t worry: They’re not going anywhere anytime soon.
But Adrian Washington, half of the only development team to respond to the request for proposals that the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development issued nearly two years ago, still dreams of developing the three-acre site. His current thinking is this: Build on only about a third of the space, putting retail on Georgia Avenue and apartments above, while leaving the rest of it as a park. Yes! Organic Market owner Gary Cha is very interested in taking part of the commercial space, given that it’s just far enough away from his Petworth location to be viable. And Busboys and Poets’ Andy Shallal is also interested in doing some sort of concept there, though Washington says they haven’t talked in a while (UPDATE: It’s quite preliminary; Shallal says he hasn’t even seen the site yet).
That’s the problem with this whole process—-the city, with its hands full of more pressing projects, has zero desire to move quickly on this one. That could come from a lack of willingness to tangle with the kind of neighborhood politics that gave rise to picketing the last time anything happened at Bruce Monroe. Meanwhile, there’s no money to put into the project, and as long as it’s serving a valuable purpose as a park, why rock the boat?
The thing is, Washington says he wouldn’t need direct subsidies to make something happen there—-just a break on the price of the land. If it got built, he’d like to kick some of the proceeds back to the park that would remain on the majority of the site, which currently has little in the way of programming or infrastructure. Sylvia Robinson, who organizes around Bruce Monroe as coordinator of the Georgia Avenue Community Development Task Force, says she’d like to see some kind of educational component on the site. Right now, the city hasn’t offered to pay for it. (This is also a problem with the brand-new senior wellness center a few blocks north, she says: The operating budget isn’t there to provide lunches and other activities to seniors who make it there despite a lack of parking.)
Should the new development involve a school, as activists had demanded? It’s sort of unclear: A recent report on D.C. education needs (however flawed) designated Columbia Heights/Park View/Mt. Pleasant/Pleasant Plains as a priority area, and said that closed schools should be offset with new construction or more seats at existing buildings. But the nearest elementary, Park View, is only at 78 percent capacity, so the immediate need doesn’t appear very urgent.
So that’s what’s going on at Bruce Monroe: Basketball games, and a whole lot of dreaming.