13 May 2010

Ambitious Plans (maybe, sort of) for Former Library Site

Perhaps you’ve overlooked it or you’ve seen it and wondered about the octagonal glass structure that looks like the “storefront takeout” version of a library.  To me, it always seemed more like a flower growing in a sidewalk crack – a tenacious outpost bringing books and programs to residents who would not otherwise have convenient access to a public library.  The R.L. Christian Library on H St, NE at 13th was actually opened as a temporary kiosk in 1982.  Like many things in government, though, temporary turned into almost 30 years — the site was closed on July 30th of last year.

Now the question becomes: how will this high-traffic street corner be redeveloped?  The District has some (very) short term plans, but a long-term use seems to be a long way off.

At 10,800 sq ft, this is a significant size parcel opening up on a street with lots of development momentum.  The kiosk is only 1,400 sq ft, so much of the space is open (though some apparently contaminated by a former dry cleaners – something any new owners will have to remediate).  Representatives from the District’s Office of Planning and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development addressed a community meeting last night at the Sherwood Recreation Center to present some short-term plans and longer-term concepts for utilizing the space.

As a first step, next Saturday, May 22nd, the city is planning an H Street Kiosk Clean-Up day.  Volunteers are invited to come to the kiosk at 1300 H St, NE from 10am – 2pm to pitch in on tasks like painting, cleaning the interior, sprucing up the landscaping and doing some basic repairs with tools and supplies that will be provided.

The Clean-Up is in preparation for the kiosk’s use during Digital Capital Week.  This 10-day festival, modeled on Internet Week NY and Fringe Festival,  spans June 11-20 and is focused on technology, innovation and all things digital arts.  Events take place all over the city, but the focus for the kiosk is to create a Pop-Up Lab as a location for workshops and networking.  Specific ideas proposed are a pro-bono consulting lounge, performing artists clinic and projects for kids.  Early reaction has been skeptical in some camps, though it seems last night’s meeting was the first time many people were hearing a comprehensive plan.

After June 20th, plans are less concrete.  The District has applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for a project they called “Interactive H Street”.  It would be a one year project to fund arts and cultural activities.  The entire corridor would be included, but plans for the kiosk may include serving as a temporary hub for community design activities like art installations, a touch screen map, a temporary incubator for entrepreneurs (giving priority to neighborhood residents, arts businesses and projects supporting the corridor), and as a launch point for digital portals like broadband Internet.

The process for permanent site development is only just beginning.  At the end of May, the District will announce it is seeking solicitations on the disposition of the land.  Over the next several months there will be more community meetings, requests for proposals, hearings, comments, responses, and so on.  Representatives from the District did share a conceptual drawing to demonstrate what type and size of building could be put on the site.  So it could still be many months before the community has an idea of what may become of the site.

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5 responses to “Ambitious Plans (maybe, sort of) for Former Library Site”

  1. Jimbo Slice says:

    All this money for arts education that doesn’t pay any bills. How about a math/science study hall paid for by a grant.

  2. Karen says:

    I’d love to see more retail on H street (not another restaurant!!!). This space could be an interesting space for a shop. But it’s probably not a great use of all that real estate.

  3. @HStreetDC says:

    The proposal by the city to give use of the vacant library building to an unknown group from outside the community first came to the attention of stakeholders on H Street within the past few weeks. The response to questions at last night’s community meeting was that it was a project awardee who would be “engaging the community about city-wide design-related issues.” The group has no ties to Capitol Hill or H Street, nor is their background in “design” or community building.
    No one from the city had made any contact with existing stakeholders regarding current ongoing efforts on the corridor, many of which have been stalled by the lack of access to public space such as the library.
    At last night’s meeting, one of the functions outlined was the leasing of desk/office space to “entrepreneurs” which would directly undercut existing businesses who have space available for that same use. These businesses have risked their own capital to promote the development of H Street.
    H Street already has some of the city’s best web specialists, graphic designers, art galleries, and forward-looking non-profits, yet the city never contacted any of them in formulating the grant application.
    What’s up here? Now that others have made H Street “hot,” can anybody get a piece of the action with the city’s help? Will they ignore the people who sweated?

    • Sharee Lawler Sharee Lawler says:

      @HStreetDC – I’m not usually in the “keep outsiders out” camp, but I do have to agree with many of your points. I got a definite Ivory Tower feeling from the District’s representatives at the meeting. I understand that urban redevelopment is an academic discipline, but it is not an academic exercise in application. And one success story (e.g. U Street) does not create a template for the next. That’s exactly the feeling I got, though. A “hey, we have this project on H, so let’s use the same approaches” – down to similar businesses in some cases. I’m sure the District’s team has spent time studying not only how H Street is similar but also how it is unique to other successful urban redevelopment projects in DC, they just didn’t do much to prove it, in my opinion. It will take more than just the current businesses and business owners to complete H Street’s redevelopment – there are lots of empty storefronts and offices – but overlooking who is already there and, in some cases, proposing to facilitate bringing in direct competition to those businesses that have, as you point out, made a significant investment and are now struggling with all the road construction caused me concern as well.

      What I also found troubling was the incompleteness of plans for the kiosk during District Capital Week. It starts June 11 – less than a month away – and the ideas proposed for the kiosk’s use were just that: ideas. I realize with an event this big that things will continue to come together up until the day before, but for a space that is supposed to be hosting parts of the event, I would have expected things to be more organized at this point. Either they really are behind in planning (and getting community input), or it was only presented as being in the idea stage when the reality is that the plans are closer to final. Either one is cause for concern; the first in terms of ensuring success, and the second in terms of credibility with the community.

  4. Robert Sonderman says:

    how do I find out information about how to get into this building. I grew up and still live in the neighborhood and am looking to revive this location as a barbecue spot. who do i need to get in contact with to even infer about that, if you even have an idea?

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