Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) joins Kojo in the studio, fresh off the conclusion of the Virginia General Assembly's 2015 session.
Filled with historic buildings and retail shops, Georgetown is among D.C.’s most popular neighborhoods for tourists and locals alike. But as trendy new areas around the city sprout restaurants and luxury condos, Georgetown is pondering its future in a changing city. We look at the commercial, environmental and transportation challenges facing D.C.’s most venerable district.
- Ron Lewis Chair, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E in Georgetown and Berleith
- Marlene Hu Owner, Hu's Shoes and Hu's Wear
- Richard Levy Principal, The Levy Group
- Joe Sternlieb CEO, Georgetown Business Improvement District
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. With its elegant row houses and popular shopping streets, Georgetown is arguably the best-known neighborhood in D.C., a mecca for students, locals and tourists alike. Historic Georgetown has a little bit of everything: high fashion and bargain buys, Cafe Milano and Chipotle.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd anyone who's tried to find a parking place, navigate the crowded sidewalks or stand in line for a cupcake would tell you business is booming. But as trendy, new areas of the city sprout lively restaurants and luxury condos, historic Georgetown is pondering its future in a changing city. How will the business district stay relevant to the influx of young professionals who want to live close to work and prefer not to drive? Or do they matter?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIDoes Georgetown finally need a Metro station, wider sidewalks and updated image? Joining me to talk about the future of Georgetown is Joe Sternlieb, chief executive officer of the Georgetown Business Improvement District. Joe Sternlieb, thank you for joining us.
MR. JOE STERNLIEBMy pleasure. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Richard Levy. He is a principal in The Levy Group. Richard Levy, thank you for joining us.
MR. RICHARD LEVYAnd thank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd Marlene Hu is owner of Hu's Shoes and Hu's Wear in Georgetown. Marlene Hu, thank you for joining us.
MS. MARLENE HUThanks for having me.
NNAMDIYou, too, can join this conversation. Just give us a call at 800-433-8850. What changes would you like to see in Georgetown? 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Joe, you took the helm of the business improvement district some nine months ago. How are demographic changes and growth in other parts of the city prompting you to think about how Georgetown can stay competitive as a business community?
STERNLIEBI think that one of the great things that's happened in the city over the last few years is we've had an enormous population growth. As you recall, in the '90s, we were bleeding several thousand people a year from the population, and everything was headed in the wrong direction. We had, I think, 30,000 new residents just in the last two years, most of them millennials. And what's interesting is that, you know, 20 years ago, people in the 24 to 35 age group were coming to Georgetown overwhelmingly because there were fewer other options in the region.
STERNLIEBWhat we see today is we're seeing fewer of those, on a percentage basis, coming in because there are so many other places to go in the city. We're still getting, probably in raw numbers, about the same number of folks we had 15, 20 years ago. Our concern is that as the population begins to level off, we're not gonna be still getting either the raw numbers or our percentage share. And so we have to think about what we can do in Georgetown to continue to be relevant to those folks and bring them in.
NNAMDIRichard Levy, you grew up in Georgetown on M Street above your father's clothing store. What was the neighborhood like back then, and how has it changed over the years leading up to the present?
LEVYA tad different, shall we say. I remember on the weekends riding my bicycle up and down M Street, so not something you can easily do the weekends now.
LEVYGeorgetown was a quiet place in the '50s. And, I mean, the way I often talk about it is when Jack Kennedy was elected president, it was as though somebody flipped a switch, and all of a sudden the electricity running through the city as a whole and Georgetown in particular was amazing. So it's a very different place today, and I would argue that Georgetown is a far more interesting, far more accessible place than it was then.
NNAMDIIt was more like a sleepy village in the 1950s.
LEVYExcept for the bikers who were frequenting the biker bars on M Street, that was not so quiet on a Saturday, Friday night.
NNAMDIAs head of The Levy Group, a real estate investment and management group, you've been involved in real estate in Georgetown for decades. Most recently, you led a team that bought the World War II-era West Heating Plant at 29th and K Streets. The plan is to build high-end condos there in partnership with Four Seasons Residences. So you are clearly still bullish on Georgetown real estate.
LEVYWell, I just think that Georgetown is unique. I mean, I think, yes, as Joe has mentioned, the city has evolved significantly in the last 10 years. To -- and I would attribute that to Tony -- Mayor Williams' tenure because, for me, with a portfolio of real estate in Georgetown, in the early -- late '80s, but especially the early '90s, the real question was, were we becoming the next Detroit? Were we becoming the hole in the doughnut?
LEVYAnd I think arguably today, it's a very different picture. And to my mind, the evolution of H Street, 14th Street just makes it better for everybody. I don't -- I mean, yes, we have to sit on top of our game, but this is not the end of Georgetown. I mean, Eve Zibart in the early '90s proclaimed the end of Georgetown. I don't think it's ended, and I don't think it's about to.
NNAMDITell us a little bit about that development you're working on with Four Seasons.
LEVYWell, the Four Seasons approached me, looking -- expressing their interest -- this is 3 1/2 years ago -- looking to -- you know, they've been looking at this eyesore, the West Heating Plant, for almost 30 years. And they said, you know, do you have any idea of what it would take to acquire it and transform it into a -- residences of the Four Seasons? And we began exploring that. This is way before Congress and the White House were putting pressure on GSA to get rid of excess property.
LEVYAnd the notion is, as we looked at it, this is a great opportunity to open Georgetown to Rock Creek Park and Rock Creek Park to Georgetown because you've got 2 1/2 acres that have been walled off from Georgetown. So we're pretty excited about what we're seeing, and we're very excited about the community response as we have begun talking to members...
NNAMDIHotel and then residences.
LEVYYeah. This was the -- it would just be a condo project that would be managed by the Four Seasons and connected to it.
NNAMDIMarlene Hu -- oh, please, finish your statement.
NNAMDIMarlene Hu, how did you choose Georgetown as the place to open Hu's Shoes in 2005?
HUWell, I think when we started the search process, we knew we had to be in Georgetown. It has the foot traffic. It's a destination for shopping. Even now, I think -- well, when we had the idea, it was almost nine years ago, and I still think that's what people think of when they come to D.C. If they want to go shopping, they go to Georgetown.
NNAMDITalk about who your customers are and why you decided to open a clothing store, Hu's Wear, around the corner from your shoe store just four years later?
HUWell, we have -- we've been very successful at the shoe store, and we've been very lucky we have great customers. We have locals that support us. We do out-of-town businesses as well, and we thought about expanding into other markets. But for us, you know, we've made a commitment to D.C., and we love being in Georgetown. So it was organic for us to expand into the ready-to-wear business since we already had the relationships with the shoe vendors.
NNAMDIBut you came to Washington to be a graphic designer...
NNAMDI...in a PR business.
NNAMDIWhat made you fall in love with the city in general and Georgetown in particular?
HUWell, my boyfriend and I, who is my business partner, we both come from families that have their own businesses. And so we were always trying to think of ways of how we can do -- make our mark on the city, and I think D.C. has a lot of opportunity, and that's kind of how we got started.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're having a conversation about the future of Georgetown and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. What do you see as Georgetown's greatest strengths as a shopping and dining destination? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let's talk with Phillip in Washington, D.C. Please don your headphones, please, so that we can all hear Phillip. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PHILLIPOh, thank you for having me. I think Georgetown obviously is a very eclectic place for business and tourism. But I also think it's a detriment towards people who are trying to buy into Georgetown and trying to redo their homes or trying to deal with the ANC or historical preservation, even updating their windows.
PHILLIPAnd this is something that I think has to be addressed, even with the Commission of Fine Arts, that every month you have to go ahead and submit countless reviews and stuff like that that's costing the homeowner a lot of money through architectural design, as well as costing the small construction industry potential business in the area.
PHILLIPAnd actually I would like to address this conversation, too, Mr. Levy, The Levy Group, saying, how does one go around this, and what are -- what is -- is there any future where less power goes into the ANC or historical preservation committees?
NNAMDILater in the broadcast, Phillip, we will be joined by Ron Lewis, who is an ANC -- the chair of ANC 2E in Georgetown. So even after you hang up, you wanna start listening because he might want to address this issue. But, Richard Levy, I guess this also has to do with the historic nature of Georgetown.
LEVYIt's -- I'm trying to think about how to begin to answer that question. First off, if it were so impossible to survive the process…
NNAMDIYou wouldn't be sitting here.
LEVY...Georgetown would not look as it looks today. Houses continue to turn over and get renovated, yes, but there is really a need to protect the integrity of what is our real historic district. And there are -- you know, some architects know how to work through the process and know what to expect. It is a tad more -- it's simply more cumbersome than if you're just doing something in Montgomery County.
LEVYI would agree, but we have much more to protect, and where you walk and how you walk that line between respecting history and not being trapped by it is a challenging line, to be sure.
NNAMDIOh, go ahead. Allow me to have Joe Sternlieb respond first.
STERNLIEBI was just gonna say that one of the things that -- Phillip's comment isn't the first time we've heard this. We get a lot of feedback from businesses in Georgetown about the amount of friction, specifically in Georgetown, some because of the historic preservation laws and some because of a very active and engaged ANC. What we see is that as people are engaged in the process of talking together about a bigger vision for Georgetown, they're more willing to consider all the different factors that go into making a decision.
STERNLIEBWe had a interesting conversation with some historic preservation folks just a couple of weeks ago describing to them the economic development goals and the physical improvement goals to the streets of Georgetown in order to keep it lively and engaging. And one of the comments that we got back from somebody who sits on one of the boards was, you know, he said, we don't often think about those issues when we're considering historic preservation application. We're really only looking at the building.
STERNLIEBThat's a problem, and what we need is for everybody to be thinking about the whole ball field and not just their little piece of it in order to help businesses and citizens move through the process more easily. So we're working on it. It's on our radar screen.
NNAMDIPhillip, thank you very much for your call. Change in that respect may be in the air. D.C. has seen a huge influx of young professionals, people in their 20s and 30s who want urban living close to work and public transportation. How important is that demographic group to the future of Georgetown? Joe, I'll start with you, but I'd like to hear all of you answer that.
STERNLIEBExtremely important. They may be young today, but they'll be starting families in a few years. And they're our customers, our future residents, and we're really interested in what they think. We'll be doing some focus groups with just that demographic in September to respond to some of the ideas that have generated through our Georgetown 2028 project over the last few months 'cause we really want to understand what do they want, what do they need and how do they plan to get around now and in the future?
NNAMDIIt's a group, Marlene Hu, that is reputed to have significant disposable cash and is interested in shopping. So I guess you are interested in that group.
HUVery interested, all the time. You know, I feel like we're getting new customers all the time, and a lot of them, I see, like Joe mentioned, they're young families. They're moving into Georgetown, and they're becoming our future regulars. So we're excited to have them.
NNAMDIHow about you, Richard Levy?
LEVYWell, I look back to when I returned to Washington in 1986 and returned to Georgetown, a town that I grew up in as a kid, as you mentioned. And there were not -- there were no strollers on the streets of Georgetown. My daughter who was just going into high school was of a small number of kids her age. And it was quite amazing, you know, 10 years later to see the beginning of strollers. And what Georgetown has is it has the waterfront. It has the parks. It's a great place to raise your kids.
LEVYAnd if people wanna live in the city, I can't think, you know, and there are also -- in terms of affordability, one of the interesting things that's often overlooked about Georgetown, think -- people think about all the expense of real estate. But you have a whole range of housing stock, from small houses to mansions, and it affords people of various incomes to participate. And I think that's what's makes Georgetown interesting.
STERNLIEBOne of the other things that we realized is there are about twice as many folks in the demographic right between 25 and 34 as there are between the ages of 45 and 54. And they have almost twice the disposable income. That's a very significant amount of spending. About $3.9 billion of disposable spending just in a three-mile radius, which includes not only the District neighborhoods like U Street and Adams Morgan but also Clarendon, Boston and Rosalind where a lot of young folks are moving. So...
NNAMDIDo you feel a sense of competition with those areas?
STERNLIEBCertainly not any competition with U Street or 14th Street just because from my perspective -- I take a city-wide perspective, and the city, I think, is indifferent as to whether or not somebody spends a dollar on U Street or a dollar in Adams Morgan. They tax the same way. It creates the same number of jobs potentially for D.C. residents. I -- so I don't feel like we're in competition with the emerging neighborhoods in D.C. But I do enjoy seeing D.C. thrive in the region.
NNAMDIRichard, you were here after the riots. You saw what happened on U Street. You saw what happened on H Street Northeast. Now you see those areas coming back. What does it say to you?
LEVYAs I said before, I think it's really exciting. And I'm looking forward to the redevelopment of the Southwest Waterfront. I mean, to see what's happened to Waterside on M Street and 4th, the recreation of 4th Street and -- I mean, I just had the -- Tony Williams invited me to go to the Nats game on Saturday, and I must confess it was the first time I've been to National Stadium. I was blown away, and I was one of the folks in his inner circle who was against the stadium. I thought it was a folly.
LEVYI grew up with the Senators and the Redskins in Washington loss after loss at Griffith Stadium. And it was not a sports town. To see what has emerged is so incredible. And, again, I mean, I would have to say, hats off to Tony Williams.
NNAMDIGo out and get a real job, Tony, and just stop showing up at National games. (laugh) Of course, he's now head of the Federal City Council here in Washington, D.C. We're gonna be taking a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation on the future of Georgetown. You can join that conversation. When was the last time you where in Georgetown and what did you do there? Give us call. 800-433-8850, or send email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing the future of Georgetown with Marlene Hu, owner of Hu's Shoes and Hu's Wear in Georgetown. Richard Levy is a principal in The Levy Group. And Joe Sternlieb is chief executive officer of the Georgetown Business Improvement District. Joining us now by phone is Ron Lewis. He is chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E in Georgetown. Ron Lewis, thank you for joining us.
MR. RON LEWISThank you, Kojo. It's a pleasure to join you.
NNAMDIRon Lewis, any decisions about the future of Georgetown would have to pass muster with the residence who are not bashful about wanting to preserve the character of the neighborhood. What do the residents want to see in general in Georgetown's future?
LEWISWell, the good thing about the planning effort that the bid is undertaking is that the residents and the business community have largely the same vision for the future: a vibrant community, livable, sustainable, attracting visitors and preserving the historic aspects of what we have while modernizing and embracing the future.
LEWISOne of the best things I find about the Georgetown community -- and by community, I include the businesses, the university and the residents -- is that everyone who thinks hard about it -- there are a lot of people here who do -- feel a real sense of community -- true community where the residents feel that a strong business area is good for everyone. And the businesses appreciate that the historic nature of what we have is a large part of the attraction for the millions of people who come here every year to visit.
NNAMDII'd like to hear you all talk about the restaurant scene in Georgetown. It has a reputation for high-end but somewhat unexciting establishments and low-budget, student-friendly places. Starting with you, Richard, what do you think needs to be done there?
LEVYGood question. One of the problems -- or challenges, I should say, is the fact that a lot of the well-established restaurants, you know, have been here and are still thriving. And so therefore, they're not so propelled to rethink their approach. I do think that the -- with the emergence of 14th Street and even 8th Street Northeast, it is beginning to -- I'm beginning to hear it filter through. We really have to re-imagine the future.
LEVYI think that you're seeing new restaurants -- you are seeing new restaurants move in with a price point across the spectrum. But I think the old players, the J-Pauls and Paolo's and Cylde's, have reason to, you know, to give some thought to the reinvigoration of their concepts.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. What's your favorite store or restaurant in Georgetown? 800-433-8850. Marlene, you're planning to be a part of the restaurant future in Georgetown. You're planning to open a new restaurant. Where will it be, and can you tell us about it?
HUI can tell you a couple of things about it. It's in the works. My partner, Eric Eden, is spearheading that project.
NNAMDIBecause that is his passion, is it not?
HUYes, food and wine is definitely his passion, probably not ladies shoes like (laugh) myself, which is OK. Yeah, we're really excited. We are working with a couple of partners. And at the moment, we're just trying to get that squared away before we make any announcements. But I can say it won't be in Georgetown, and it's gonna be really, really -- a great place, an adult place to dine. And we're really excited.
NNAMDIYou don't know what kind of cuisine you'll be featuring at this point.
HUCan't say yet. You'll have to have me back.
NNAMDIWhich you'll guarantee that it will rock. Ron Lewis, talk little bit about the restaurants in Georgetown from your point of view.
LEWISFrom our point view, there is a wide range of restaurants. We'd like more restaurants. We'd like new and interesting restaurants, and we're working hard with the business community to do everything we can to make that happen.
STERNLIEBWe have three restaurants opened...
STERNLIEB...just in the next -- well, today, Spike Mendelsohn is opening on M Street. We're very excited to welcome him to Georgetown. I think on the 12 of Aug., Richard Sandoval is opening a new restaurant right on M Street in the old Third Edition space, also very exciting.
STERNLIEBI'm sorry. I said M. Yeah, Wisconsin Avenue just above M. And Fabio -- I don't wanna get his last name wrong, so I'll just say Fabio, the owner of -- and Chef at Fiola, is gonna be opening down in Georgetown Harbor this fall. So we do have a lot of restaurant activity.
STERNLIEBThe complaint that we often hear from folks is that we're not getting the same type of restaurant development as you might find a place like 14th Street, which is, I think, surprising to everybody who's been involved with 14th Street over the years. I was the ANC commissioner for the SMD where the diplomat is back in the '80s. Nobody's more surprised than I am at how quickly 14th Street has finally turned around after the '68 riots. It took 50 years but very quickly. So we're excited about what's coming.
NNAMDIRetail stores generally pay higher rents than restaurants. How is that affecting the blend of businesses in Georgetown?
STERNLIEBIt's having an impact, there's no question. It's very difficult for a restaurant to pay $100 a square foot, which is what some of the M Street storefronts are now charging, the property owners. So what we're doing is we're really thinking hard through our planning process with the restaurants and building owners about what we can do to find less expensive space for the restaurants.
STERNLIEBAnd what we're finding is that a lot of ground floor spaces south of M Street, between K and M, are now being rented to office building -- office users, for conference space or for offices at a fraction of what the retail spaces are going for. And we're talking to them about what we can do to help facilitate conversion of some of those spaces from office use to restaurant use.
NNAMDIYou have a very specific question from Jay in Alexandria, "Please ask if and when Georgetown will get an indie bookstore to replace the Barnes & Noble on M Street."
STERNLIEBI don't think I know, Jay, if this is setup.
LEVYIt's a plant. It's a plant.
STERNLIEBIt must be a plant. Kojo, we're working really hard now with the community, taking advantage of the new crowd source funding laws that Congress passed recently to buy a building -- have the community buy a building, specifically to deal with the same issue that you were just mentioning about the cost of space for restaurants. It's also prohibitively expensive for an independent bookstore to rent in Georgetown today.
STERNLIEBBut we will all recognize that we need a large full-service bookstore, coffee shop, third place, a place that's not home or work where people can gather in the community. So we've identified at least one property, possibly a backup, and we're gonna be launching a campaign to buy that building -- have the community buy that building to lease it to an independent bookstore. Hopefully, we'll be announcing this sometime in early September.
NNAMDIJay, you could have blown me over with a feather. I thought for sure we'd have him stumped with your question, but they were ready for it. On now to Richard in Fairfax, Va. Richard, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Richard, are you there? Richard? Come in, Richard. OK. I'm gonna put Richard on hold. He seems to have stepped away from the phone. Here is Lisa. Lisa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LISAHi. Kojo Nnamdi?
NNAMDIYes, indeed. You're on the air, Lisa.
LISAOh, great. I just wanted to say you have a great show. I'm very excited to hear conversation about Georgetown. One thing that I noticed, my husband and I just moved back into the Glover Park area from being overseas. And our favorite part of Georgetown is actually Upper Georgetown just past the (word?) area. And it's the beautiful stores that are the more antique-based stores that are the small store owners.
LISAAnd my favorite one is Moss & Co., Catharine Roberts and Oliver Dunn. And I just -- one of the things that we loved about living overseas is the human quality that you build in relationship to the business owners instead of just having -- walking into a big mall and not having any relationship with the person who is selling the clothing or selling the products.
LISAAnd we just love that kind of diversity in the neighborhood and hope that Georgetown can kind of contain to reflect and protect that 'cause I think that's what makes it completely unique from other parts of the city.
NNAMDITwo questions spring from that. First to you, Marlene Hu, is that one of the reasons that you chose Georgetown for your first business because of the, I guess, walk-in kind of neighborhood nature of the business. There's a lot of walk-in traffic.
HUAbsolutely. The foot traffic is amazing in Georgetown. And we love the look and feel of the neighborhood too. It feels cozy. It feels inviting. And I think people really respond to that. And those are the kind of people we get in our shops, and we love it.
NNAMDIRon Lewis, how important is the retail mix in Georgetown? And you can talk about what the direction you see it heading in. It ranges from high-end Hu's Wear to the Gap.
LEWISThe mix is one of the most important parts, I think, of the retail areas in Georgetown. And we need it all. The rents are going up, and it's harder and harder for the small independent businesses to make it. But as Joe says, if we work hard on parts of Georgetown that are available, we can keep that up. It's very important to have a good mix. And one of Georgetown's charms is that every block is different.
LEWISSome of them have large buildings and large stores. A lot of them, especially in Upper Wisconsin Avenue, have very small, charming, original historic buildings with independent stores that you don't find anywhere else. So the people who come here and the residents who shop can enjoy both the national brands and the one-of-a-kind local stores. That's extremely important that we keep that up.
NNAMDILisa, thank you very much for your call. We got a tweet from Gwaraf, (sp?) who says, "Georgetown needs more accessibility via Metro," and a tweet from Peter, who said, "Georgetown blew it when the Citizens Association turned down a Metro station because they didn't want to attract the wrong element."
NNAMDIJoe, that's what the legend -- maybe the urban legend has it that Georgetown doesn't have a Metro station because its residents didn't want the riffraff pouring in on the subway. Whatever the actual reason, is there any chance Metro will eventually come to Georgetown?
STERNLIEBWithout question, they're coming. Our task is to get it to be sooner rather than later. Metro just put out the momentum plan in two phases. One was a 2030 plan, I believe, and the other was a 2040 plan. In the 2030 plan, they mentioned the fact that -- or they acknowledged the fact that the Blue Line and the Orange Line need to be separated. You need another tunnel to get into the city.
STERNLIEBAnd they say in 2040, that's one we're gonna go for it. But we've been having lengthy conversations with the Metro planners about this, and it's clear that just to solve the core capacity issues in downtown, to make sure that downtown remains accessible, they're gonna have to build another tunnel under the Potomac. And we're gonna lobby very hard for that tunnel to come straight into Georgetown, hopefully, in the next 15 to 20 years.
NNAMDIJoe Sternlieb, is chief executive officer of the Georgetown BID, that's the Georgetown Business Improvement District. He joins us in studio along with Marlene Hu, owner of Hu's Shoes and Hu's Wear in Georgetown. Richard Levy is a principal in The Levy Group, and Ron Lewis is chair of Advisory Commission 2E in Georgetown. Richard Levy, your feelings about the Metro?
LEVYI think that the Metro would be helpful. I think it -- their interim steps The Foggy Bottom Metro is not far from Georgetown for young folks who see their feet as part of the accessibility issue. And I think as an interim measure, renaming The Foggy Bottom stop Foggy Bottom/Georgetown would help tourists and others understand how close they are to Georgetown.
NNAMDIRon Lewis, how do residents feel about a Metro station coming to Georgetown? Is transportation a big concern?
LEWISYes. I think having a Metro station here is the best thing that could possibly happen to Georgetown. We need it. The urban legend is actually not accurate.
NNAMDIThat's why they're called urban legend.
LEWISExactly. Exactly. It was a combination of Metro, well not -- a not really wanting it in Georgetown because they wanted to run it up in Connecticut Avenue where there's more balance on one side than the other of the line than they would be here. And unfortunately, at that time, there were some local businesses who didn't want three years of disruption while the trench was dug. And there were some residents who didn't want it, but there were a lot of residents who did and now do.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Steve in Silver Spring, who says, "I am kind of flabbergasted at the lack of diverse perspectives in this conversation about Georgetown. It sounds like wealthy white people talking about how to preserve a wealthy white Georgetown." Well, there are at least two people at this table who are not white, but allow me to have Keisha...
NNAMDI...change the discussion.
HUI'm not white.
NNAMDIAllow me to have Keisha change the discussion here a little bit. Keisha, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KEISHAHi, Kojo. My question is actually for Joe. It's (unintelligible) the diversity thing. Hi, Joe. I spoke to you recently over email actually, but I just wanted to ask, I volunteer with (unintelligible). We're a nonprofit. We work with Mi Casa and LEDC a lot. We work on affordable housing. And I just read your blurb in the newspaper about your approach to affordable housing. It sounds like it could -- it's really innovative as far as like the financial solution and the social solution that it can provide. Do you think you're gonna try to bring that approach to Georgetown?
STERNLIEBI would love to see the city adopt -- just to give some background, I was on the mayor's taskforce on affordable housing that met over the last year and produced its report this spring. My comments in the city paper were completely unrelated to my activity with the Georgetown bid.
STERNLIEBBut the solution that I put forward, which was that the city should be buying covenants on existing affordable housing and existing multi-family housing rather than spending a lot of money to build new, I think, would apply in Georgetown as well as up Connecticut Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue, all over the city, and would have the actual effect of achieving the Office of Planning's and the mayor's goal of diversifying the city.
STERNLIEBSo I think it would be a good thing. It's not something that the bid will be working on, but it's an idea out there for anybody to grab and work on. I hope that you will.
NNAMDIKeisha, thank you very much for your call. Along the same line, here is Ray in Washington. Ray, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
RAYGood afternoon, Kojo. How are you today?
RAYGood afternoon to Ms. Hu, to Mr. Sternlieb, Mr. Levy and also if Mr. Lewis, if he's still online. Good afternoon to all.
NNAMDIHe is still there. Yes.
RAYOK. I have just listened to your last caller, and one of my questions was about affordable housing for veterans and military personnel that like to live in the Georgetown area who've had the pleasure living all over the world in some very nice neighborhoods and places over the world.
RAYPart two of that is, as a veteran, I would like to actually challenge Mr. Levy, if all possible, that I can make contact with him on some things that I think would help his real estate organization be more user-friendly for military veterans who have the certificate that is in somewhat of shambles right now with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae because I also have qualified for the housing certificate that I have earned as a military veteran.
NNAMDISo your primary concern, Ray, is how it would be possible for veterans, in particular, to find affordable housing in Georgetown. I'll have both Richard Levy and Joe Sternlieb respond. And Ron Lewis might want to have something to say about that also. Ron Lewis, I'll start with you.
LEWISWell, I do. We owe so much to military veterans that anything we can do to make the process smooth and affordable is something, I think, we all should be for.
NNAMDINext, you, Richard Levy.
LEVYThis is not my area of expertise, so I'm gonna kick the ball over to Joe.
STERNLIEBThanks, Richard. That's really kind of you. (laugh) I have to say that I don't have a specific Georgetown solution or know much about veterans' housing issues. Of the many issues that my staff prepared me to talk about today, this was just not one of them. But I'll go back to the earlier comment. I think that there are lots of things that the city can do to make parts of the city more affordable to folks who currently can't get in Georgetown. Frankly, it's a very expensive place to live. So I'm very sympathetic, and it may be something that we will get in the future.
NNAMDII was about to say, Ray, you know what you just did? You happen to make that a part of the conversation. So thank you very much for your call. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we continue this discussion about the future of Georgetown which you can join by calling 800-433-8850. What, in your view, would make Georgetown more appealing as a place to shop and to dine? 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing the future of Georgetown with Richard Levy. He's a principal in The Levy Group. Ron Lewis is chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E in Georgetown. Joe Sternlieb is chief executive officer of the Georgetown Business Improvement District. And Marlene Hu is the owner of Hu's Shoes and Hu's Wear in Georgetown. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIJoe, you've been encouraging people to think outside the box about ways to improve access to Georgetown. You've even mentioned the idea of a gondola, like the one in Portland, Ore., that could connect the neighborhood to Rosslyn across the river for example.
STERNLIEBThat's right. There's a group taken out to Portland to take a look at the streetcar project with the Department of Transportation, some Georgetown leaders, some of the other business -- supreme district leaders about four years ago. And we all pulled up on the streetcar to this emerging neighborhood on the waterfront, and the tour guide said, OK, we're gonna take the gondola now. And all of us sort of piled into this aerial gondola and went up to a new medical -- made a connection to a medical center at the top of the hill about 3,000 feet away.
STERNLIEBAnd everybody on that gondola ride looked into each other and said, wouldn't this be a great thing to bring to Georgetown? Well, you know, fast forward four years and I'm in this job, and some of the people who were on that trip are on the board of directors of the bid and brought this idea forward. In one way, it's sort of crazy. In another way, it really is thinking outside the box about how do you move a very large number of people with no friction from existing traffic quickly, inexpensively without producing a lot of pollution.
STERNLIEBAnd the idea is starting to gel a little bit. We're gonna be doing a feasibility study with some of our partners in the city over the next year to see whether it can be done in a way that's sensitive to the historic character of Georgetown, whether it's financially feasible. And it may not just be to Rosslyn connecting Georgetown and the university to Rosslyn, but we're also connecting Foggy Bottom Metro to Lower Georgetown.
NNAMDIWhat do you think about that idea, Ron Lewis?
LEWISI smile every time I think about it. I love that idea. Now I realize there's a lot of work to be done, and so feasibility study is the right way to approach it. But I hope very much that we can work it out so that we can join some other progressive cities in having it. It's efficient. It's fast. It's fun.
NNAMDIHere's Ralph in Upper Marlboro, Md. Ralph, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RALPHYes. Thank you. I'm glad that you're having this discussion on Georgetown. Quite frankly, I haven't been to Georgetown in quite some time. I used to be a regular in Georgetown. In fact, I used to have membership in Club Desiree years ago, which used to be at the Four Seasons.
NNAMDII remember that.
RALPHI used to, you know, go to the bars, the clubs, patronize the stores. But I noticed that there was a change in the type of retailers that started going to Georgetown. And with that change came a change in the -- in the patron. You know, they started catering to the hip hop crowd, selling gold on a rope (laugh) and, you know, t-shirts with vulgar messages and, you know, marijuana paraphernalia and pipes and bongs. It was just the change. It wasn't the upscale, classy, ritzy place that I used to enjoy.
RALPHFrom the nice restaurant, they went to sandwiches, you know? So it just became a different type of place. And with that, I stopped going. I mean, I used to -- there used to be a place I used to go every Saturday and spend several hundred dollars. I used to go to this record store, Orpheus.
NNAMDIMm-hmm. I remember that too.
RALPHI used to go there every Saturday religiously and spend maybe $300...
NNAMDIWell, Ralph, what are you picking up from the conversation that we're having now?
RALPHWell, I'm hearing that Georgetown wants to come back. I'm hearing there's some energy to make it come back. And I'm gonna go this Saturday. (laugh) I'm gonna go...
NNAMDIWhat you are hearing...
RALPHI'm gonna go with my money, and hopefully I can find, you know, something exciting. And, you know, if I like what I see, then I'd be a regular again.
NNAMDIWell, Ralph, what you're also hearing from our panelists here is that it never left, the Georgetown that you knew, even though you may have been a little concerned about some of the things that you were seeing there. But in terms of looking at the future and how Georgetown has been changing from the time you talked about, allow me to have Richard Levy talk about the shift in the restaurant retail mix in Georgetown.
LEVYWell, I wanna go back to a point that was just made by Ralph...
LEVY...and that is that in the late '80s, early '90s, your description is apt to where Georgetown was at. That is why we created -- that's why we work very hard. It took us 10 years to get enabling legislation with the city council to create a business improvement district. And Joe Sternlieb was the one who helped us figure it out in a previous incarnation when he was the staff member of the Economic Development Committee at the D.C. City Council. That was a momentous moment, the creation of that, enabling legislation.
LEVYAnd that is what has helped lead the transformation of a number of areas in Washington including downtown. But -- yes. One of the things -- going back to the -- an earlier discussion about how, you know, it's hard for restaurants to find space in Georgetown, it's too expensive, et cetera, in the late '80s, early '90s, it was the reverse. Restaurants were the dominant force. They were the ones that were able to pay the money.
LEVYThe retailers nationally and even the better local retailers were not looking at Georgetown at that time. The focus was on the suburbs. The energy has come back to the city, and the energy has come back to Georgetown. So, Ralph, come check it out.
NNAMDIThe heart of Georgetown is along M Street and -- Ralph, thank you for your call, by the way -- and up Wisconsin Avenue. What are the possibilities for the area below M Street? We got an email from someone who said, "Will the Whitehurst Freeway ever be removed? And is there any consideration of making the streets narrower and the sidewalks wider? Georgetown should be a place for pedestrians not traffic gridlock." Can you address both of those concerns, Joe Sternlieb?
STERNLIEBI can. We're spending a lot of time on both those issues. I would say I wouldn't hold my breath for the Whitehurst Freeway to come down. Jack Evans promises that it will be the first act he...
NNAMDIHe brings about if he becomes mayor of the city.
STERNLIEBIf he becomes -- exactly. If he becomes mayor, that's the first thing that will go. But what we're doing is we're thinking about how you take what is a really interesting piece of urban infrastructure and make it an inviting place. And so we're talking about lighting it. We're talking about decorating it.
STERNLIEBWe're talking about all sorts of things that we can do to make it a more inviting place in the near term. For the area south of -- and between M and K Street, where the Whitehurst is, we're really thinking about how we use those northwest spines -- there are lot of bridges across the canal there -- to bring people up and down from the waterfront.
STERNLIEBThere's only one waterfront like this in the city. There's only one C&O Canal in the city. And we're really interested in doing a better job of interpreting them from historic perspective and also activating them with many more things on those streets, retail activity, benches, places to, you know, activating the nooks and crannies that exist in that area. So the answer is yes. We have a lot of focus right now in our planning on that area, and that's where we gonna sort of roll of.
NNAMDIHow about sidewalks?
STERNLIEBSidewalks are an interesting problem because we're at one o'clock on a Monday right now and the sidewalks are perfectly adequate to handle the amount of traffic -- pedestrian traffic we have. But come Saturday around noon, we'll have 4,000 people an hour, pedestrians walking through the intersection of Wisconsin and M, and only 800 cars an hour going through that intersection. So five times more people walking than driving, but we have three times more space allocated to the car than we do to the pedestrian in that intersection.
STERNLIEBSo what we're looking at is trying to figure out a way on the weekends to take that parking lane, move the parking to the garage spaces, south of M Street or sort of on the outskirts, maybe over at the university or over on the west end, and widen the sidewalks or portions of those sidewalks to give people a little more breathing room to walk around. It's good for business, and it's prioritizing (unintelligible)
NNAMDII was about to ask Marlene Hu. Marlene, what would wider sidewalks mean for your businesses?
HUHopefully more people will be able to see our windows better, which means more people will come in, which means more business, which means more smiles for me. I'm excited. I think it's a great idea.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Kelsey, who says, "What's the best part about Georgetown? The cupcakes. Georgetown cupcakes in Baked & Wired are delicious. Worth the trek just for the cakes." We move on to Karen in Georgetown. Karen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KARENYes. Hello. I'm calling from Georgetown. I've lived here on and off since 1952. Right now, I'm trying to sell my house. I've been trying to sell it for a year. And once again, the Georgetown board has vetoed the plans of the architect of the person who wanted to buy the house. But the reason I'm really calling, what really worries me about this, is that just last week, two men came by three days before the veto came through. And they both point -- they laughed and pointed at my for sale sign, which is not mine but it's a realty company...
KAREN...and they said veto, veto and laughed and laughed. And then someone -- my daughter happened to look at them, and I was going in the house. They hadn't been able to tell that this is where she lived. And they just went scouring off. So I also have always...
NNAMDIWhat are you suggesting here, that the fix is in someway?
KARENWell, I don't know what's going on.
NNAMDIWell, let me ask Ron Lewis. Ron Lewis, what do you think is going on?
LEWISI don't have any idea. I've never heard anything like this. Now, the question of the Georgetown Board Design Review is very familiar. And while it can be frustrating, it's what holds the look and feel of Georgetown together. All these design decisions are incremental. And as Richard Levy said I think absolutely rightly early in the show, if we didn't have it, it would be a very short time before Georgetown lost its character and charm. So short term, it's worth putting up with it. Long term, it makes the area what it is.
NNAMDIKaren, I'm afraid we don't have any more time to discuss that specific problem, but good luck to you. What's the timeline for the Georgetown 2028 vision and project, which much of what we've been discussing today has come out? When will the public have a chance to weigh in?
STERNLIEBWell, Kojo, the public's been weighing in quite a bit right from the beginning. We set up a MindMixer site at georgetowndc.com. That's where the link is. We've had about 1,000 people come to our website, many of whom have registered and left comments. We've also had about 200 individuals participating in our community meetings, our focus groups, our task force and working groups. We've got through now over the last four months most of the idea generation.
STERNLIEBAnd now what we're doing is we're massaging that with a task force and working groups of about 60 people to come up with the set of recommendations that will be bringing back the community in September. We have -- I don't think we have the date yet for that, but we have a September community meeting plan where we plan -- have well over 100 people, residents, business owners to comment on what we've gathered so far. We're hopeful that in September and October will get all the feedback and November we'll release a plan.
NNAMDIJoe Sternlieb, he is chief executive officer of the Georgetown Business Improvement District. Richard Levy is a principal in The Levy Group. And Marlene Hu is owner of Hu's Shoes and Hu's Wear in Georgetown. Ron Lewis is chair of Advisory Commission 2E in Georgetown. Thank you all for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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