It’s a frustrating phenomenon: A “groundbreaking” takes place, and the relevant local figures all stand around making speeches and patting themselves on the back. And then…nothing happens. Shaw saw a slew of groundbreakings last summer, and a several projects are under serious construction or renovation, including the Howard Theater, Progression Place, Gibson Plaza, and the Convention Center hotel.
Others, however, have languished. O Street Market, which did its song and dance last September, only closed on its HUD financing late last month, allowing work to commence. A mixed-use building on 9th and P Street, slated to contain a Burmese restaurant, is still a hole in the ground, having applied for its construction permit on April 14th (the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs says they still have some issues to sort out with the District Department of the Environment and DC Water).
The worst offender, though, is Shiloh Baptist Church, which closed down 9th Street on September 12th of last year to celebrate the start of construction on the $2.1 million Wallace Charles Smith Community Services building. They didn’t have all their financing locked down, but it was supposed to be ready to start by the end of the year, and promised “suites available mid-2011.” Nine months later, the banner has disappeared, no permits have been issued, Church officials haven’t returned my calls, and community leaders don’t know what’s going on. That initial approbation, it seems, was premature.
The problem this creates is confusion, resentment, and cynicism on the part of people living in the area (and, in the case of O Street Market, a political event right before a hotly contested primary). I know that construction delays happen and it’s hard to get lots of important people in the same place at the same time, but keeping groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings as close together as possible is better for everyone.