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The Shaw Coalition

Neighborhood News

August 1997

Distributed by the Shaw Coalition. For more information, contact (202) 789-7864

Hundreds of additional buses and trucks expected in Northwest

Councilmembers, advocacy groups express increasing dismay with Mt. Vernon convention center plan

Proposed Mt. Vernon Square Convention Center Shaw Coalition Position Statement

Press quotes

Who has raised concerns about the Mt. Vernon Square convention center proposal?

Committee of 100 rejects mitigation agreement, calls for study of Union Station site

D.C.'s oldest planning advocacy group is urging the National Capital Planning Commission to reject the plan for a convention center at Mt. Vernon Square until a thorough economic study comparing proposed sites is completed.

In a letter to NCPC Chair Harvey B. Gantt, the Committee of 100 on the Federal City said several months of negotiations with the Washington Convention Center Authority and government agencies led to the conclusion that "it is impossible to shoehorn the largest building in Washington into a small-scale, historic residential Black neighborhood without destroying its integrity and doing great violence to our City's fundamental planning principles..." Trucks in residential neighborhoods, a two-block long pedestrian tunnel in place of a street, and "not one new parking space" for the expected 42,000 convention goers would devastate the Shaw neighborhood, the letter said. The NCPC is expected to vote on the project in September or October.

Committee Chair Tersh Boasberg also pointed out that the proposed Mt. Vernon Square site allows no room for future expansion of the structure. The proposed center would be the nation's 6th largest at completion, just like D.C.'s current convention center, which tourism officials say was obsolete a few years after it opened in l983.

Boasberg said the proposed alternative site at Union Station "seemingly would make good economic, planning and transportation sense," but it has never been seriously studied. At stake, said Boasberg, are hundreds of millions of dollars that could be saved in construction costs, along with tax revenues that could come from residential development of the centrally-located Mt. Vernon site. "Surely the hard-pressed taxpayers of Washington deserve to have an independent comparative economic study of the costs of the two sites," the letter said.

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Hundreds of additional buses and trucks expected in Northwest

The Transportation Management Plan (TMP) for the proposed convention center at Mt. Vernon Square predicts that hundreds of buses per day would travel Northwest streets if the project were built at that location. The TMP projects that an average of 900 buses trips per day would be needed to get thousands of conventioneers between large hotels like the Shorham and Washington Hilton in Dupont Circle/Woodley Park and the proposed center in the Shaw neighborhood. The TMP predicts that charter and shuttle buses would be the favored mode of transportation for conventioneers due to limited options for the 42,000 average large-size crowds expected.

Some residents expressed worry that the buses would cause added fumes, vibration, noise and pollution on residential streets in northwest neighborhoods including Dupont Circle, Woodley Park, and Georgetown. In Shaw, residents are concerned that buses will idle on neighborhood streets. The Washington Convention Center Authority has said buses will be prevented from idling on neighborhood streets, but some residents noted that buses frequently idle near residential neighborhoods due to lack of enforcement by the District.

The TMP also predicted that a small convention drawing 25,000 people would attract 16,000 people traveling by automobile. There is no additional parking planned for the proposed center.

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Councilmernbers, advocacy groups express increasing dismay with Mt. Vernon convention center plan

Councilrnembers Sharon Ambrose (Ward 6) and Kathleen Patterson (Ward 3) voted against further funds for the convention center proposal for Mt. Vernon Square in August, joining advocacy groups like the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, the American Institute of Architects, the D.C. Preservation League and many citizens who have raised questions about the project.

Ambrose said concerns about destruction of the residential neighborhood of Shaw, the likely prospect of increased taxes to pay for the center, and a scathing report by the D.C. auditor revealing financial irregularities at the Washington Convention Center Authority are cause for a re-examination of the city's options. "I'm not going to cast a vote to move this forward until we get some answers," Ambrose told the Washington Business Journal in its July 18-24 issue.

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Proposed Mt. Vernon Square Convention Center Shaw Coalition Position Statement

1) Many of us support an expanded convention center for D.C., but not in Shaw.

2) What's at stake: (a) A historic residential neighborhood that is one of the most important sites of African-American cultural development in America. (b) A beautiful area in the heart of D.C. well-positioned to be one of the prime residential areas in the city. (c) A downtown renaissance (arena, opera) that could be thwarted by traffic and parking mayhem associated with the Mt. Vernon proposal.

3) Mt. Vernon Square is the wrong location -- causing opposition from community

  • Thousands of buses, taxis, cars and trucks would enter this residential area. Air pollution would increase. Children's ability to play safely on neighborhood streets would decrease.
  • The neighborhood would be divided by a massive wall three blocks long, two blocks wide.
  • No additional parking is planned for the center, which would have a capacity of 42,000 people. 1000 spaces currently on the site would be eliminated.
  • Low-income residents would be displaced as property values rise along the 7th Street corridor.
  • Some 300-400 truck trips per day would overwhelm the residential Blagden Alley Historic District with noise, vibration and pollution.
  • M Street would become a two-block tunnel -- frightening any nighttime pedestrians.

4) Eleanor Holmes Norton has terrible reservations

  • destruction of historic Shaw neighborhood
  • downtown congestion nightmare caused by convention center traffic could cripple new downtown

5) Mt. Vernon Square location is too small, no room for expansion

  • Center will be 6th-largest when it opens, just like last failed version that was obsolete three years after it opened in 1983, when they started planning the next one.
  • How long will another 6th largest convention center be viable?

6) Funding gap caused in part by cost escalation due to choice of Mt. Vernon Square site

  • Going underground has added over $200 million in cost
  • Problems in design approval due to Carnegie Library and L'Enfant plan more cost escalation

The Mt. Vernon Site is facing continued roadblocks, growing opposition, possible litigation, costly delays. Convention center will not be built at Mt. Vernon Square.

7) Problems can be solved by choosing alternate location. Union Station Convention Center would be cheaper, faster, bigger, better -- more economic growth for D.C.

  • Unlimited expansion capability on site
  • All exhibition space can go on one floor (preferable to 3- story Mt. Vernon configuration)
  • Plenty of parking
  • Avoids downtown traffic congestion problem
  • Construction costs $100-200 million less
  • Shorter construction period -- cost savings because no excavation necessary
  • Follows D.C./NCPC `'Monumental Core," plan by extending development to North Capitol Street
  • Valuable Mt. Vernon site can be developed as housing -- greater revenues for D.C.
  • Maintains historic Shaw's residential character

8) Much of the pre-development analysis for Union Station has already been done.

  • The EIS analyzed the Union Station site.
  • Preliminary drawings have been done.
  • Only three property owners besides D.C.
  • D.C. owns much of the land

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Press Quotes

Washington Business Journal
You know a city can't afford a new convention center when it borrows $5 million a year from its own tourism promotion budget to pay for it. That's how thin the financing plan is :for the $650 million convention center planned just north of Mt. Vernon Square. . . . Cost overruns, delays, design changes and blown estimates have wrecked the original financing plan, where a new $400 million center would be financed by a surtax on hotels and restaurants. The tax has raised $70 million so far, not enough to convince the bond markets that this is doable. . ."
The Washington Post
"According to a new report by D.C. Auditor Anthony Cooper, the Washington Convention Center Authority's chairman and other officials have been have :a grand old time with city tax revenues, even as the center's projected revenues are falling short of covering projected spending. . . . Who said life in the D.C.government is hard these days?
The Washington Informer
"Abuse of Power"
"Do what is right and is in the best interest of the citizens of Washington, D.C., who are really the ones footing the bill far is massive construction project."
Rudolph Pyatt, The Washington Post
"What will it take to convince District officials that a site just north of Mt. Vernon Square is the wrong location for a new convention center?"

Who has raised concerns about the Mt. Vernon Square convention center proposal?

Leroy Thorpe, ANC 2C
Greg Ferrell, ANC 6A
Joseph Hairston, ANC 4A
Phil Mendelsohn, ANC 3C
Dorothy Miller, ANC 2E
Richard Westbrook, ANC 2D
Jim Shulman, ANC 6A
Gary Imhoff, ANC 1 B
Councilmember Sharon Ambrose
Councilmember Kathy Patterson
Federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

Citywide Advocacy Groups
Committee of 100 on the Federal City
American Institute of Architects
Sierra Club
D.C. Preservation League
Residential Action Coalition

Shaw civic groups
L St. Cooperative Assoc.
Washington Apartments Tenants Assoc.
Square 368 Association
East Central Civic Assoc.
Central NW Civic Assoc.

First Rising Mt. Zion Baptist Church
Immaculate Conception Church
Rev. Gibson

Editorial Boards
Washington Business Journal
Washington Times
The Washington Informer

Key decision makers on this project:
Rep. Tom Davis
National Capital Planning Commission
Control Board
D.C. Council

What you can do: Share this newsletter, contact the Shaw Coalition (202) 789-7864

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