The Southwest and Near Southeast waterfront communities continue to attract newcomers. Drawn by relatively affordable housing, accessible public transportation, a reopened commercial 4th Street, the vibrant Arena Stage and the Washington National’s Stadium the area is attracting an influx of young professionals and some empty nesters. More development is coming, primarily in the form of the Wharf development.

Community planning must be a focus.  It is not just about new buildings; mixing does not come naturally. The missing link is a community center – a place to bridge the populations – an indoor space to engage in arts, dance and mutual support. A place for learning and play has long been a top priority for residents who seek to share talents and to build community.

Recently the Community Benefits Coordinating Council’s (CBCC) Board, representing Southwest and near Southeast organizations, and chaired by Rev. Ruth Hamilton, voted to make establishing a community center its highest priority in community benefits discussions with the area’s real estate developers. Its Community Enrichment Committee, led by Eve Brooks, is engaging SWNA and ANC 6D in a long term effort to piece together funding and programming to create a new center.

What Programming Is Envisioned

The plans of the Community Enrichment Committee build on two needs-assessments that it completed in recent years. Envisioned is a range of activities for the new center, including:

  • youth development programming
  • opportunities for young parents to gather with infants and toddlers
  • opportunities for young professionals to meet and mingle
  • cross-generational programming
  • visual arts training (painting, photography, graphic  design)
  • performing arts programming (music, theater and dance)
  • crafts (pottery, sewing , quilting, knitting, flower arrangement)
  • physical fitness such as yoga and dance.

Sought too are learning opportunities including mentoring and tutoring, small business development assistance and job training. Self-help groups such as AA, single parent and parenting classes, survivor and cancer victims groups also make the list.

The Randall Site

The focus of the planning is the Randall area at I and South Capitol Streets. Its long neglected park and empty Randall Rec Center, a closed 7,000 square foot facility, needs renovation but holds promise. The empty site, adjacent to a public pool, playing fields, tennis and basketball courts, is the focus of a planned playground, targeted by Mayor Vincent Gray for improvements  in 2013.

In early summer 2012, Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells secured agreement from the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) and Department of General Services (DGS) which oversees City property, to place the Randall Rec Center out for bid to not-for-profits for the purpose of serving as a community center. By early fall, DPR put out a timeline, projecting issuance of a Request for Proposals (RFP) in December with Center reopening planned for Spring 2013. But the RFP is on hold with no explanation given.

KIPP DC Public Charter School, interested in building a high school at the present Randall Park would need City action in the form of an RFP on the park, playing fields and recreation center so that they could bid on a long-term lease for this site. KIPP plans would include incorporating a health clinic run by Georgetown Hospital. They also promise to rebuild the pool house, renovate the playing fields for school and community use and replace the old rec center with a new, glass-enclosed community center to be managed by a community-identified organization.  They propose having their project completed and ready for the 2014 school year.

The KIPP Charter Schools have earned the reputation as one of the most successful system of schools in the United States for low-income children and are rated in the top tier of charter schools by the DC Charter School Board. The high school would primarily serve children who have attended KIPP’s three middle schools.

The Randall Park is adjacent to the Old Randall School, the site of the planned Rubell Art Museum and apartments.  The project owners, Telesis Corp and the Rubell family  have voiced support for a “Community Cultural Center” at the Randall Rec Center. They have voiced concern about incompatibility of the KIPP plan with  their project.

The area may be subject to a small area plan to cover public properties in SW. Planning process, announced  recently by the  City Office of Planning.  The ANC’s recent resolution in support of the plan recommended that no City action be taken on Randall  pending the completion of the plan. If this recommendation holds it will hold up any broad RFP for the park– and thereby delay the KIPP plan.

The CBCC Board, while taking no stand on the project, passed a resolution in their meeting on February 16 stating that the CBCC’s  primary goal is development of a community center. CBCC therefore supports a Small Area Planning process as long as it does not preclude continuing negotiations with KIPP, Telesis and any other parties interested in the Randall site.

Copies of the KIPP plan are available for viewing at the ANC office and at the CBCC desk in Westminster Church (400 I Street SW). Call Rev. Ruth Hamilton at 641-8221 to arrange access to the church. Information on the Telesis plan can be secured through Gabraham@telesiscorp.com or calling 202-333-8447.

By Eve Brooks, board member of the Community Benefits Coordinating Council (CBCC)

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