01 Jun 2010

Eastern Market Metro Plaza Status Update–”The Park is Parked”

Three alternatives for E.M. Metro Plaza, courtesy of architect Amy Weinstein

For those of you who are wondering what’s up with the status of plans to redesign Eastern Market Metro Plaza aka “Capitol Hill Town Square,” (or going back several years back, the Gateway project, with actual arches or gates) all in order to create a L’Enfantian landscape –  well, I did too and I had a little bit of a hard time getting answers. But there now appears to be a reason. The project, to be funded with a $2.75 million earmark secured  between 2004 and 2007 by House Appropriations juggernaut and  nearby resident and Barracks Row shopper Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.,  is stalled, or at least in a fallow period. There has been no new Town Square activity for the past five months that I could trace.

I spoke with Barracks Row Main Street, neighbors, various  members of a task force from the merchant associations, Capitol Hill BID, the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, and various past and present Ward 6 area representatives, all led by Barracks Row Mainstreet board members Tip Tipton and David Perry, and made attempts to speak with city agencies involved in the talks to recreate the seven-acre  park area around the Eastern Market Metro and found out, that for now, the “Park is parked.” Thanks, Tip, for the frank assessment.

The earmarked money not spent for the design plans detailing the  three visions for the plaza is being held in CDs under the care of Barracks Row Mainstreet, to be spent on a required  Environmental Assessment (EA). This is where things have slowed, as informal chats with representatives of various agencies such as the DC Department of Transportation (DDoT) and the National Capitol Planning Commission (NCPC) have not yet yielded a sponsoring agency for the EA. An agency, or agencies, whether federal or local, must agree to do the EA for the project to move forward.

Staff-level talks will continue, the principals say, although calls and/or emails to various government agencies were not returned, and Barbara Riehle, of the Eastern Market Metro Community Association  (EMMCA) noted that the NCPC appeared to be the anticipated lead agency back in November, while a representative of DDoT told her the project was not on its radar. We need a government suitor, here!

“There is no ‘formal’ approval of the triptych.  It has been informally shown, with other proposals to OP [Deputy Mayors Office for Planning and Economic Development], NCPC, [U.S. Commission of] Fine Arts, and HP [D.C.’s Historic Preservation Office in the Office of Planning].  Their informal comments have been taken into account.  At this time there is no initiative to move this project forward; I would hope that sometime it can be moved in the same manner as all the other Great Streets initiatives throughout the city,” said Dick Wolf, task force member and  recent past president of the Restoration Society.

After much effort, I finally received this weekend the almost-50 page  task force final draft report issued in January. It has to date  – almost 6 months later – not  been publicly disseminated (even after multiple requests from EMMCA) although several people thought it had been posted on the website (it had not). David Perry noted it would soon be posted to the Capitol Hill Town Square website www.capitolhilltownsquare.org  and may be up by the time of this posting. The  written report estimates total construction costs, in 2009 dollars, to be about $30 million for the Triptych design option. Improving the existing layout (i.e., not redirecting traffic) would cost the least – about $18 million- while the Central Park layout plan would be about $28 million.  The task force endorsed the “triptych” design, according to the report, and to David Perry, who noted the tally of  a straw poll as 13-2.

Riehle of EMMCA, who lives in the affected area on the 800 block of D Street SE, objects to the task force report as not being final, as it did not include minority views or input or a vote. She pointed to how the favored design of an oval or an ellipse would basically put a highway outside her front door through the redirection of Pennsylvania Avenue, SE.

“EMMCA was formed about two years ago when some of us first learned of plans. Barracks Row [Mainstreet] had established a ‘task force’ for this undertaking and had appointed  a ‘D Street Representative’ without any  discussion with D Street residents,” a representative from EMMCA asserts.

“All of the houses on D Street are really beautiful.  It would be a shame to run a highway past them,” Riehle said.

“EMMCA would never have signed off on this report as written.  I am marking it up tonight and will deliver a copy of the marked up version to Tip’s office tomorrow by noon,” said Riehle.

Task Force members stress that there is no officially sanctioned plan yet and all three designs will be submitted to the agency or agencies doing the EA.

“I would like to get the process started. It would probably take a year or more to get the final [EA] report. …. It might end up being a shared responsibility with one agency taking the lead and the other agency taking partial responsibility–the [city] Office of Planning [and Economic Development], DDOT, probably others..there are several… and the historical preservation people would want to be involved,” Tipton mused.  “To be candid,” he added, “we hope we don’t have to pay all of it (the remainder of the $2.75 million earmark, for the EA.] “We hope the DC government will pay part of it.”

“We have had some meetings with a couple of consultants–to get EA mobilized,” said Tipton. However, he said, “ I am a very busy person and there are periods of nothing happening. Since we’re not going to construction until the EA is bid, I don’t think the recession has had much to do with it, frankly,” he said, countering another task force member’s suggestion that a downturn in the economy had put a damper on the project.  “It is a matter of not getting to it.”

As for funding the remaining $30 million if the triptych goes forward, well, that is for another day, another earmark or funding source.

This contrasts with the great activity of the previous year , including public meetings and gatherings to discuss submitted design plans drawn up by top area  architect Amy Weinstein and landscape architects  Oehme, van Sweden & Associates, the latter of whom community members approached back in 2003. Talk of the project once included plans for two gates marking the beginning and end of Barracks Row. This didn’t come to fruition because the Plaza turned out to be federal land, according to Tipton, meaning it couldn’t really support commercial activity like a Farmer’s Market and other vendors, as envisioned by Barracks Row.

“I got that [land] transferred to the DC government–for administration and control. It is still owned by the National Park Service…”  But, since administration and control has now been transferred to the DC Government, “we can have vendors on it. It took about two years to get that law passed,” Tipton said. By 2008, planning for the plaza “was reinitiated by Barracks Row [Mainstreet],” according to the task force’s website.

There are possible plans for a kiosk/information hub  and several  Catholic University student design proposals that may or may not result in an interim measure for the Plaza area, operating under the auspices of a DDoT advisory committee, and/or to be funded by DD0T, but more on that later. I am not finding a meeting of minds there and it needs to be explored further.  “There is no contract or guarantee that any of them will be chosen. The project process is winding down,” said one person aware of the activity.

“CUA had a competition  and came up with three ideas and was planning to circulate them,” said Chuck Burger of the Community Impact Advisory Committee on the impact parking fund. ” … DDoT offered that if we wanted to go for something more substantive they would provide matching funds, but we are not at that stage yet. We are collecting all that information.”

Tags: , , , , ,

What's trending

22 responses to “Eastern Market Metro Plaza Status Update–”The Park is Parked””

  1. Terrific report! Elizabeth Festa is such a terrific reporter. I’ll post the link on my own web site.

  2. Hill Resident says:

    So what happens to the [taxpayer] money if the EA doesn’t end up happening? And is that money currently sitting in the bank making money for Barrack’s Row? I’m not familiar with how CDs work. It looks like the town square website has not been updated with the report mentioned in the article. Same thing with the Barrack’s Row site. I would be very interested to see what that report says (and I’m sure other readers would be interested as well).

  3. Hill Resident says:

    I am also curious about this $2.75 million congressional earmark–which looks to be self-dealing. And what is the deal with the gates/gatewats? Was the money supposed to be for gates, but then Barrack’s row decided to use it for this project? Don’t the taxpayers have the right to demand some answers to these questions?

  4. Kathleen says:

    Thanks for the detailed report, Elizabeth.
    EMMCA, which had a seat on the task force, was not even given a final copy of the report, let alone allowed to express its views in a minority report.
    I wonder at what point it will occur to Barracks Row that it is not a good idea to make war on the residential neighborhood that surrounds and supports your businesses…
    This project is a joke–and a bad one–and it should be abandoned at the earliest. I am also curious about the genesis of this earmark. Who asked for this, exactly? I know it didn’t come from the neighborhood…

  5. Hill Resident says:

    Looks like it was the Barracks Row president that had something to do with getting this earmark, according to an article I just found (link below):

    “The funding comes from an earmark referenced in H.R. 108-734 that was added by Representative Jerry Lewis (R-CA). When he spoke before the House of Representatives in July of 2007 concerning the earmark, he said “The return on the federal investment is difficult to measure, but it’s truly immeasurable in my mind’s eye.”

    The most logical reason it is immeasurable in his mind’s eye? He and his wife Arlene Willis (who is also his chief of staff) own a $1 million house just 4 blocks away from this central hub that received the earmark.

    Since the revitalization project in the 1990’s, property values have soared in the area. The more money that goes into making it a ritzy place to live, shop, eat, and drink, the higher the value of the homes in the area, creating a direct conflict of interest for Rep. Lewis. It also interesting to note that this earmark hasn’t been the only money Rep. Lewis has put towards Barrack’s Row. Since 2004, Rep. Lewis has earmarked $2.75 million of your tax dollars for this swanky district.

    When representatives and senators submit an earmark request, they must make it known and clear that neither they nor their spouse have any financial interest in the earmark. When questioned about the unethical nature of this particular earmark, Rep. Lewis’ response was arrogant at best when he said it was ‘stupid’ to think the earmark had anything to do with the location of his house and it was ‘ridiculous’ to think he wanted the earmark for any other reason than to help visitors and residents. Of course, he ‘forgot’ that two of the residents of the area are his wife and himself.

    On top of this already clear violation of ethics rules, the President of the Barracks Row Board of Directors, E. Linwood “Tip” Tipton, is a lobbyist and friend of Rep. Lewis who has been a direct contributor to his campaigns and an indirect contributor through the “Ice Cream, Milk, & Cheese Political Action Committee.”

    Here’s the link to the full article:


  6. Tim Krepp Tim Krepp says:

    So Barracks Row is “swanky” now?

    Honestly, I couldn’t give too much of a crap about this issue, one way or the other, but getting worked up over a $2.75 million earmark is pretty small potatoes.

    As far as conflict of interests go, this one is pretty weak. He gets Congress dump some spare change into the area, all the property values go up, and he pockets a few extra bucks when he sells his “$1 million house”? Honestly, how much would his house appreciate because of this project? What if he helped out the local school. That would help property values as well, wouldn’t it?

    For being a Hill Resident, I’m not sure we want to discourage all Federal approps that might help us out based on the Congressperson having a house here. Let’s focus on the merits of this project, and whether or not it makes sense to go forward on it.

  7. Elizabeth Festa says:

    The earmarks are old news. The task force report, discussing the three options, though, is new to most people (it has been only shared among task force members since January.) I am sure many people affected nearby and further afoot would love discuss or debate this project and the options put out for rerouting–or not–Pennsylvania Avenue–on its merits while others get a choice agency to do an assessment of the options, as well. So….. there is no swank when the money is still in the bank. ..

  8. Larry says:

    When it’s not clear what the merits are, then the genesis of the project–i.e., the earmark–was and is an item of interest.
    You don’t find many Republicans willing to invest in DC, so this Congressman is to be much congratulated. Still it begs the question: what is his relationship with this lobbyist currently running Barracks Row? That seems like the real conflict of interest story here. Is there a relationship between the campaign contributions of Tipton to Lewis and an earmark that has come out of the blue to benefit his organization? Also, one poster raises an important question. Is this money “sitting in a bank” in an interest bearing account?
    Elizabeth, I am an active member of the community. I don’t think people are aware of this earmark issue at all. It is just not accurate to dismiss it as “old news.”

  9. Hill Resident says:

    Elizabeth, great article!

    Frankly, I like the Tryptich design. I don’t know if anything in any city if can get done if unanimous consent is required. I do understand the sentiment about having “a highway” nearer your house, but frankly, Pa. Ave is already pretty close to D street.

    Rather than say “no” to making this slightly run down area — the Pa. Ave. median strip always muddy, the park by 9th and D Sts. shabby, so much of the area between 7th and 9th little used and not a co-ordinated whole — we should explore traffic calming, using trees to shield noise, but also get something for the neighborhood as a whole. In this case, a great design that will create, finally, a park-like feel and a visual destination where right now there is Pennsylvania Ave. and poorly used shoddy urban space that could be an excellent urban destination, like Dupont Circle but better.

    People on D St. aren’t creating an issue out of nothing — Pa. Ave. will in fact be closer to their homes, and therefore, everything else equal, there will be more traffic noise.

    So let’s find ways to minimize noise and calm traffic so that while traffic might be closer, it will be slower and quieter, but let’s not say “no” to a great design for the whole neighborhood. I’d love to slow down traffic on Pa. Ave., it will discourage commuters a bit, maybe this project will give us an opportunity to do that.

  10. Not that Hill Resident says:

    @5:29pm – Blog post does not exactly equal “article.”

    The property value increase angle is ridiculous. And as someone said, 2.75 mil isn’t worth noting. If it was 27.5 mil, then I would take note, in a good way, because it would mean that something might get done.

    And, for the conspiracy theorists, it is not unusual for a non-profit to receive money via an earmark. Now, if you are telling me that Tipton’s non-profit employs Tipton’s lobbying firm, then I may listen.

    For the super sleuths, I don’t think it would be that difficult to get a look at the non-profit’s expenditures.

  11. Long Time Hill Resident says:

    Thanks for this informative article. Having surveyed the three options, the bottom one seems the most useful for the Hill, since it would give us basically two parks instead of none. Let’s do it.

  12. Kathleen says:

    I note with dismay that people are unwilling to leave their first names (or even make up one). Let me guess the first name of the person who doesn’t find the relationship between Tipton and Lewis as too cozy…is it “Tip”?

  13. Hill Resident says:

    Perhaps, as “Not That Hill Resident” alludes to, the hill is home could request a copy of the non-profit’s expenditures. Considering how often this organization appeals to the community for donations, I would be interested in seeing how their money is being spent. Just a thought.

  14. Barbara Riehle says:

    I’m happy to include my name. The issue for EMMCA — Eastern Market Metro Community Association — which includes about 100 residents living nearby the EM Metro, has always been rerouting traffic on PA Ave. Why do it? How does it help anything? Two years of serving on the Task Force and I still haven’t gotten answers to these basic questions.

    Traffic circles and squares are hard to cross, and hard to drive around. That’s why there are speed bumps around Lincoln Park.

    I would like to see the benches repaired in the residential park and others installed at the Metro Plaza. In May 2009, EMMCA sent Tip Tipton and his Task Force a number of suggestions for improvements. He never replied. (If you’re interested, I can forward a copy to you.)

    There are two nice parks. When the residential park belonged to the NPS, it was pretty well maintained. My kids learned to ride their bikes, roller blade, play hopscotch and fly kites in the residential park. Recently, someone installed a tree swing from one of the large shade trees.

    Since this great land transfer was orchestrated, according to Elizabeth’s article, by Tip Tipton, nothing has been right. The benches disappeared, the grass is rarely mowed. This is like a person who buys an old house, encourages its decline, and says,’it’s such a mess now, there’s nothing to do but knock it down and start over.

    As far as the money goes, I guess I’m just not rich enough to consider $2.7M a pittance.


  15. Sherry says:

    “This is like a person who buys an old house, encourages its decline, and says,’it’s such a mess now, there’s nothing to do but knock it down and start over”

    Great analogy, Barbara. I guess THAT — in a nutshell — is what bothers me so much about this entire situation. The whole community suffers because of a couple of people’s greed. It would be one thing if the community supported these plans for overhauling the plaza, but to date, I don’t know anyone who favors spending upward of $30 million to re-route Penn Ave, creating massive upheaval during construction when we could likely spend something like $1-200K to clean up the two parks and do some landscaping that looks good and will survive in this environment.

    To me, it’s a ridiculous waste of money that could be used for many more important things — IN our neighborhood. Whoever said that we should be glad that we get anything — well, I WOULD be glad, if we’d gotten anything. From the sound of things, it seems as though no one (even at the city level) is touching this project with a 10 foot pole.

    My question is – assuming that this project does indeed stay parked, what happens to that money? Do they have to give it back? Does anyone know if there’s a way to track appropriations etc. and is there a way to see the financials for barracks row since they are a non-profit that gets lots of city money?

  16. Trulee says:

    The issue is, “Why re-route Pennsylvania Avenue,” or as many young parents rephrased that question in several public meetings about these plans, “Who would want to take their kids to play in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue?”

    This Task Force claims it would cost $18 million to fix up the Metro Plaza and the triangle park across the way even if Pennsylvania Avenue were not re-routed (and closer to $30-$40 million for Triptych or the other proposal for re-routing the street). That’s ridiculous!

    (We are still waiting for the Task Force to post its final report and cost estimates, as promised, on their website….)

    Catholic University students put their heads together and came up with 5 plans for sprucing up the Metro Plaza for under $200,000.

    I think D-Dot even offered to host a community meeting to let people get a look at these more reasonably-priced CUA proposals, but the local ANC Chairman put the kibosh on that, saying, in effect, “Barrack’s Row/Town Square gets first dibs on making a proposal.”

    I’d rather get something going right now, starting with the CUA proposals, rather than wait for Tip’s park to get itself unparked sometime years from now when Tip’s not so busy.

    By the way, anyone can view a tax return or document from a charitable or nonprofit organization. Nonprofits must provide these documents if you request them. The nonprofit must make their tax documents available to the public for 3 years after they file. Go to the organization’s office and request the forms, or send a written request. Most will charge you a fee to cover the cost of copying the documents. If the documents are not forthcoming, file a Form 4506-A with the IRS.

  17. Larry says:

    And just to give the circa 1:00 a.m. posters something to chew on as you battle insomnia (guilty conscience?), the definition of slushfund, courtesy of wikipedia:

    Slush fund is a colloquial term which has come to mean an auxiliary monetary account or a reserve fund.

  18. Sherry says:


    I absoluteley agree with everything you wrote in your comments, but one part sticks out:

    “I think D-Dot even offered to host a community meeting to let people get a look at these more reasonably-priced CUA proposals, but the local ANC Chairman put the kibosh on that, saying, in effect, “Barrack’s Row/Town Square gets first dibs on making a proposal.”

    I don’t know a whole lot about the CUA project, but think this was an effort made by a group of representatives from many if not all Hill organizations – including the ANC 6b. Do you know if the ANC 6B Chair actually said that – and if so, when it happened? It seems weird to me that any kind of position would be taken on this kind of project at the ANC level prior to some kind of community meetings to discuss the projects (or at least an ANC meeting where the community could voice opininons and concerns – and I thought the CUA group was planning to hold community meetings about these design options.

    Does anyone else find it weird that the more we discuss this topic, the more strange things seem to be arising? There would seem to be a lot more to this story than I first thought there was after my initial read.

    I think that it would be a great idea if the hill is home could get access to the financials. if there’s nothing to hide, then one would assume they’d readily hand the information over just to clear the air.

  19. Elizabeth Festa says:

    The 990s for nonprofits are available thought Guidestar.org–you can see the previous years in PDF format after registering. I took a look at them for the past several years . What further information would you and others like THIH to explore or to address? There is a lot of information on the Internet abut the earmarks, and even opposition to them, in Congress on governmental agency and records websites. There is indeed a rich history here, but it would seem some sort of meeting is called for to enlighten the community on the various projects going forward, and how everything will unfold, if indeed there is a unified plan. THIH looks forward to suggestions from all community members involved.

  20. Sherry says:

    I, for one, would be interested in learning about how this earmark was achieved in the first place–who made the ask–and what exactly it was purposed for. It’s interesting to hear that there was opposition …

    I would also like to see how much funding this group is getting from the city and how they are spending it. It seems to me that they are heavily funded through grants from the city, which makes me wonder why they continue to appeal to the community for donations. There are so many organizations on the hill that need those donations – like the Capitol hill group ministry and the community foundation and other groups. If they’re not getting any funding then I can undertstand. But if they are getting a lot of their operations underwritten, then I think they should “share the wealth” so that the organizations that are doing important things on a neighborhood-wide basis have less competition for donations.

    Am I right in assuming that ultimately the money that any organization gets from the city originates from the taxpayer? Or is that wrong?

  21. Kathleen says:

    It was clear from the remarks that ANC 6B chair Dave Garrison made at the CUA meetings that he considered the metro redesign the be not only the priority project, but an inevitable one.
    That struck me as odd at the time, and I can see that Sherry feels the same way too. Is he perhaps one of “hill residents” listed above? If so, I think his constituents have a right to know of his seemingly inexplicable and decidedly strong feelings on the matter. He should post under his own name.
    Elizabeth–I think the article above is exhaustive and really well done about where the process is now (thanks again). I still think the community needs to know more about where this project came from, through whom, and what the status of the money is. Perhaps there is something in that history that entitles our ANC 6b chair to represent this project as a done deal. If not, then this story, as Sherry suggests, just gets stranger and stranger.
    CUA has three projects that they are ready to circulate; the drawings went out to the membership of EMMCA this past week. I don’t know what other community forums the leaders of this project have planned, but I hope to hear about them soon. Like some of the anonymous “hill residents” above, I too would like to have something done. Our difference is that I would prefer it to be something that the neighborhood actually wants.

  22. Sherry says:

    Just FYI, I did go take a look at the organization’s information on Guidestar but there is very little there. You can see their 990s for the past three years and that’s it. Even the contact information is completely out of date because I think Bill McLeod left that organization years ago.

    I do find it interesting that on their 2008 990, it shows they received $770,744 in grants (this does not include the earmark). Of that, $708,766 were listed as government grants.

    A couple of interesting figures:
    $351,440 spent on “other fees for services – non-employees)
    and $20,649 on Office expenses. That’s a lot of office supplies!

    They also appear to have generated $85,177 in investment income, which I assume is related to the earmark?

Social Media Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com
Add to Flipboard Magazine.