Posts about Georgetown
Washington's growing fleet of water taxis are useful as transportation, but they're also a fun and unique way to see the city. I used an American River Taxi to travel to a Nationals game a few weeks ago, and photographed the trip for posterity.
ART ferries sailing to the ballpark pick up passengers at Washington Harbor, in Georgetown. Boats pull directly up to the boardwalk, and passengers simply walk straight on.
Inside, the boats have a double row of seats and a crew of 2 or 3. There are no bathrooms, and no vending.
Shortly after casting off from Washington Harbor there are great views of Georgetown and Foggy Bottom.
Thanks to calm water and shoreline trails, the river and its banks are multi-modal.
The Roosevelt Bridge is the first of many that the ferry passes under.
Between Roosevelt and Memorial bridges, the monuments of the National Mall are visible.
Memorial Bridge is the most ornate of Washington's Potomac bridges.
Monuments continue to be visible as the ferry passes West Potomac Park.
The 14th Street Bridge looks very plain.
Metrorail's Yellow Line bridge is even plainer.
Last and oldest of the 14th Street Bridge cluster, the Long Bridge looks ancient compared to any other on the river.
After crossing below Long Bridge, East Potomac Park becomes visible on the east bank, while Crystal City and National Airport dominate the west bank.
Looking back upstream, Rosslyn, the National Cathedral, and the Washington Monument are prominent.
At Hains Point the ferry turns to go up the Anacostia River.
Looking up the Anacostia, the Frederick Douglass Bridge rises, and the baseball stadium comes into view.
Yards Park becomes visible beneath Douglass Bridge.
The stadium looms large above the river.
Finally, the ferry docks at Diamond Teague Park, just downstream from Navy Yard.
For even more photos of the ride, view the complete Flickr set.
When DDOT's renovation of O and P Streets in Georgetown completed last month, students expected the main Metrobus serving Georgetown University to resume its route to campus. To their surprise, WMATA announced last week that the G2 route will not resume its normal route until December.
Under normal circumstances, the G2 follows O and P Streets through the neighborhood all the way to the main gates of Georgetown University, but for the past 18 months it has ended at Wisconsin Avenue.
ANC Commissioner and Georgetown student Jake Sticka said, "This is particularly unfortunate given that the new campus plan bans students from having cars. This is an unexpected hardship for students going to internships in town."
WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel says that because WMATA believed utility work would continue after the September street renovation, "service restoration was included in the next schedule pick, which is December." Metrobus operators select routes based on seniority in what is known as the pick system.
As it turns out, there is no utility work happening on the G2 route right now. In fact, DDOT won't allow digging on the affected streets for 3 years, unless there's an emergency, to protect the street work that was completed.
Nonetheless the G2 won't go to the university until December, because restoration wasn't in the schedule pick.
Stessel says "no one should be surprised, as this is what we said we would do all along." Some ANC commissioners, though, said they don't recall hearing of any delay.
Communication with residents was a source of frustration in the early months of the O & P renovation project. DDOT responded with a website and other improved communication to help residents change their routines to avoid construction hassles.
Without the G2 bus, students and university employees can get to Dupont Circle using the University-provided GUTS shuttle and the D2 and D6 Metrobuses. These routes pick up from the west and north ends of campus. That's a good walk from the classrooms on the east end of campus and from the off-campus housing where many students live.
Topher Mathews found out what Vornado plans for the now-closed Georgetown Park Mall. They hope to attract 2 restaurants for the side of the building overlooking the C&O Canal and have lined up a number of large chain stores for the rest: TJ Maxx, HomeGoods, Michaels and an expanded J. Crew. Is this news welcome or disappointing?
The chain retailers will each have entrances on the street rather than an interior mall-like layout, as was the case before. That makes sense because Georgetown already has a main street to walk along and see shops: M Street.
Malls were designed to replicate the main street experience; when there's already a main street, it's just a less-trafficked side street, and its 3 levels, winding paths and dark layout made it inconvenient and unappealing.
Mathews isn't so enthusiastic about which stores will fill the space. He says:
Essentially, when Vornado is done with it, the bulk of the mall will have been converted into a couple big box stores that have all the charm and destination-appeal of Rockville Pike.Design is the biggest problem with most big box stores
The biggest problem with Rockville Pike, though, is its urban form. Each shopping center has a giant parking lot between itself and the road, and there often aren't any connections at all between centers. That means it's very difficult to shop there any way other than driving to one center, parking, driving to another, and so on.
The fact of modern retail is that for most physical products, people want to go to a large store with a lot of selection. It'd be nice to have a small crafts store near my house, but the fact is that I don't go to such a store often enough to support having it, and the individual items don't cost that much (or if they do, it's cost-prohibitive for many people).
A small crafts store would not have very many different kinds of fabric, picture frames or Christmas ornaments. People don't want to travel from one small store to another in different neighborhoods to hunt for what they want; they'll either go to a superstore or shop online. I've tried the Paper Source in Georgetown several times for the types of items it has, and sometimes found great things there, but also sometimes made a trip without finding what I needed.
There's no Michaels in DC today. The nearest one is in Seven Corners, and the next closest in Rockville, on the Pike. Having one in Georgetown would let people fulfill their craft needs in a place where they could drive, take the Circulator or Metrobus, or bike or walk from many neighborhoods.
What's bad about many of the big box plans for Ward 5 is not that large stores are coming to Ward 5, but that they're building suburban format stores. That Home Depot could take up a tenth of the space if it had a garage and a multi-story building. The rest of the land could house people who can shop there and take the Metro to work. The Aldi doesn't contribute to the nearby walkable neighborhood, and the New York Avenue Walmart is the worst design of DC's 6 proposed stores.
Large discount stores may not be best for the tax base
On the other hand, some of these new stores may bring in less tax revenue per square foot than more upscale stores. At one point, DC was considering a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) deal to lure Bloomingdale's instead of TJ Maxx. It didn't seem to make sense at first: if Bloomingdale's would pay less rent, then how would a TIF pay for itself, but if it brings in more, why does Vornado need any kind of incentive?
Someone directly involved with TIFs, who wasn't authorized to speak on the record, explained that a store like Bloomingdale's actually would pay less rent, but generates more sales tax revenue. I wasn't able to see detailed numbers to know if that makes the TIF worthwhile, but it's certainly possible that one store could have a larger number of dollars in gross sales but lower profits.
Stores with cheaper goods not only make their profits by selling more, but also by having fewer staff and less elaborate merchandise displays. Those savings could help them afford higher rent but don't affect the sales taxes the city brings in (and cut down on potential jobs for residents).
That may or may not have made any kind of tax break worthwhile, but it does point out a paradox in retailing: what's best for a landlord may not be the same as what's best for the District budget. And as Mathews notes, what's best for a neighborhood may be different than either of those.
Is the quality of medical education in Washington worse than in other metropolitan areas? Looking at the rankings of our medical schools compared to other regions, it seems that we're behind.
According to a number of people in the medical profession, the general consensus in the field is that DC has fewer very experienced doctors in many specialties. Primary care physicians also generally seem harder to get to see, and fewer take insurance.
The US News rankings for the top medical, law, business, and engineering graduate schools for each of the top 11 metropolitan areas are below. When another school was close behind, the table includes those schools as well.
The Washington area is near the top of the pack for most of the graduate programs. In law, perhaps not surprisingly, we've got four top-50 schools. But in medicine, Washington's best are ranked farther down; we're more comparable to Miami, a city in a state which places very little emphasis on quality education.
The number two medical school in the nation is, of course, not far at all. Baltimore is even part of the same Combined Statistical Area as Washington. UVA's is number 25, but it's far enough away as not to be part of the Washington region.
Does this matter? The link between medical education and medical care
Who cares if our medical schools aren't the best in the nation, especially with Johns Hopkins around?
Doctors have the ability to live in many parts of the country, and residency already takes them to areas they might not otherwise have lived in. When choosing a long-term place to live, many want to either work where they can get the most interesting cases, or make the most money.
Specialists who have the most knowledge often want to work in the best academic or research hospitals. Patients needing the most unusual and expert care will go to those hospitals, making the work more interesting for doctors. Plus, a doctor's reputation comes partly from the quality of the school and hospital where he or she works. That draws many of the best doctors to want to work at the best schools and their hospitals.
Doctors primarily concerned with money are attracted to areas with a lower cost of living and higher Medicare reimbursement rates, which vary by state. For a doctor in a hospital, like a surgeon, Medicare rates govern payments for many procedures and therefore strongly influence physician pay. Meanwhile, the cost of living also varies greatly, but often not in lockstep. A higher cost of living in the Washington area might deter doctors from choosing to practice here.
Certainly people in Washington can go to Baltimore for the occasional, very serious medical issue. But in a metropolitan area of almost 6 million people, shouldn't we want to have great specialists too? And while there are plenty of great primary care doctors in Washington, there often don't seem to be enough. If our medical schools were even better, it might attract even more of the best and brightest in the medical profession, just as the region attracts much of the best and brightest in the legal field.
Help medical schools thrive
Georgetown has expressed a long-term interest in moving its medical school, Washington's best ranked. DC should work hard to keep it here, and discourage it from moving to a distant exurban part of the region. It should also take an interest in helping the other medical schools grow and thrive.
Sometimes it seems DC takes its universities for granted. While certain officials entice sports teams to move here no matter what the cost, the District government is placing severe limitations on its universities. These limitations aim to satisfy residents who don't want to see an increase in undergraduate or graduate students or more institutional use of buildings in their neighborhoods.
DC won't collapse without better medical education or care, but as residents and leaders think about the future, we should consider helping DC and the Washington area be as competitive in medicine as it is in other fields.
Georgetown University and leaders in surrounding neighborhoods have reached agreement on a groundbreaking campus plan that envisions a more residential campus.
Leading universities such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton have adopted a similar residential college model, which integrates students' intellectual and residential life while creating fewer impacts on neighboring communities.
In the 1990 Campus Plan, the University committed "to create a residential college environment". I advocated a return to that vision last year, and am thrilled that Georgetown and its neighbors have reached accord on this vision.
Here are the specific elements of the agreement. Next, it will get comments from the public and go before the Zoning Commission for approval.
The campus plan will now last for a 7-year term, beginning January 1, 2011 and ending December 31, 2017, instead of a 10-year-term. During this time, community and university leaders will work on a 20-year-plan.
The ten-year campus planning process is broken, as GGW contributor Jacques Arsenault explained last year. It sets neighbors and Universities up to push as hard as they can once a decade because they know they won't get another chance at talks for 10 years.
Georgetown and its neighbors have recognized this and are defining their own process, to be approved by the Zoning Commission, which is more collaborative. It makes a lot of sense.
The University and neighbors will create joint committees to design programs to bring the University and neighborhood communities together, and address issues when they arise.
Only 3-4 decades ago, the University and the neighbors formed a single community with extensive interactions and relationships. Just watch the film The Exorcist to get an idea of what Georgetown was like in the early 70s - neighbors, priests, faculty and students interacted often.
There is significant desire among Georgetowners to return to this period of community and shared purpose. Most neighbors actually care deeply about the intellectual and character formation of Georgetown students, and most students and professors care deeply about the families outside the university gates. These committees reflect that shared feeling.
Students in "Magis Row" student townhouses on 36th Street NW will be housed on campus by Fall 2013 so that the "Magis Row" townhouses can transitioned to faculty and staff housing.
Central to the residential college model is faculty who live on or near campus, and thus interact with students in their residential life. The high cost of housing in DC makes it hard to do this, but Georgetown University is making a commitment to house professors and staff in what is currently student group housing.
New emphasis on a living and learning campus that centralizes student social life on campus.
Two GGW contributors, Jake Sticka and Kara Brandeisky, penned an excellent appeal to improve social life on campus as a solution to the campus plan dispute.
Georgetown leaders are committed to improving social spaces on campus in order to create a true residential college atmosphere in which living and learning are not physically separated.
Living off campus will be treated as a privilege, not a right, and granted based on one's disciplinary record.
In the 60s, priests walked the streets of Georgetown enforcing a curfew for students living off-campus. Most universities now isolate students into large dorm complexes or off-campus quarters.
Part of the residential college model is avoiding the wall that many universities erect between residential life and a student's intellectual and character formation. Georgetown University is taking more responsibility for the formation of students living off-campus with this measure.
450 additional beds will be created on campus.
As part of the commitment to the residential college model, University leaders will add 450 more beds to accommodate students moving on-campus. Along with measures to improve social spaces and liberalize alcohol policies on campus, the addition of 450 beds will help shift the locus of students' social life onto campus, where it is more integrated with the intellectual life of the University.
The University will propose significantly improved measures for relieving parking and traffic congestion in Georgetown. Their first proposal is to not allow off-campus undergraduates to bring cars into Georgetown.
Topher Mathews, Kara and I posted a plea last year to the University to find innovative, progressive ways to better manage transportation demand on the campus of the largest employer in the city.
Georgetown University has a serious commitment to environmental sustainability and is serious about joining the discourse over smart growth and planning.
There's more to the plan, and you can read about it on ANC2E's web site. Leaders on all sides of the Georgetown campus plan dialogue are to be congratulated for this accord and the spirit it embodies.
Both Mayor Vincent Gray and Council Chair Kwame Brown may want to use tax increment financing to lure a high-end tenant like Bloomingdale's to the Georgetown Park mall, the Current reported. That's a foolish policy.
In tax increment financing ("TIF"), the city issues bonds for a particular project and gives the money to a private developer. A portion of the taxes from the project go towards paying off the bonds. In theory, the city pays back the bonds out of the extra property and/or sales taxes from the now-improved property.
DC has used TIFs in the past. For instance, it set up a $74 million TIF to help the Gallery Place development along. It used a $46 million TIF for the Madarin Oriental hotel. And a $7 million TIF helped pay for the Spy Museum. Each of these projects was successful and they even paid off the bonds ahead of schedule.
But TIFs only work when there's an increment to be found. In other words, they work in areas that will likely see a big improvement in value, and thus tax revenue, from the public investment. If there's no increment, then the only way to pay off the bonds is to cut into the taxes that would arise from the property without the public financing. In that case all you've really done is give free public money to a private developer.
According to the Current article, the argument goes that if there's no TIF for the mall, then Vornado won't be able to land Bloomingdale's and will instead lease to a store like T.J. Maxx. So, the theory goes, the "increment" of having a Bloomingdale's instead of a T.J. Maxx is enough to justify a TIF for the mall.
The twist with this proposal is that a part of the incremental tax proceeds (i.e. the difference in sales taxes that Bloomingdales would pay over T.J. Maxx) would be directed to tax breaks to attract retailers to less established retail districts in DC. Chairman Brown called this a potential "win-win."
This is completely backwards.
If the District wants to get into the TIF game again, it should be directing the TIFs to those less established areas, not the mall. That's where there will be an actual incremental increase in value. That's where we'll get much more bang for our buck. If Vornado, which owns the mall, can't put together a package to attract Bloomingdale's with its own resources, then so be it. Maybe that means they and their partners paid to much when they bought the mall at auction last year. That's not our fault.
I don't want a T.J. Maxx to move in to the mall, but using public funds to help attract one tenant over another is unacceptable. And it's shameful that the Mayor and the Chairman are even thinking about such a ludicrous proposal.
Cross-posted at the Georgetown Metropolitan.
A group of U Street residents and business recently formed to fight a possible liquor license moratorium along the newly bustling corridor. The reaction has been swift and strong. Georgetown's experience with a similar one shows some benefits for a moratorium, but also bears out some of the concerns that moratorium opponents raise.
Photo by the author.
Eric Fidler weighed in yesterday with a list of reasons why a moratorium would be bad for the greater U Street neighborhood, including:
- It makes no distinction between "good" establishments and "bad" establishments
- A moratorium on liquor license is in effect a moratorium on new restaurants, period.
- It will reduce pressure to offer a good customer experience.
- It unfairly rewards current businesses over future businesses.
- It sets the cap at an arbitrary level.
- It doesn't address the supposed problems those advocating for a moratorium raise (loud crowds, vandalism, etc.).
- It's difficult to administer.
Georgetown has had a moratorium since 1989. Right now, only about 70 liquor licenses can be issued to Georgetown bars and restaurants. Liquor stores and hotels are not subject to the moratorium. Here are some of the results attributed to the long standing moratorium:
- Opening a new restaurant in Georgetown is more expensive than opening one elsewhere. On top of the higher rent, you need to purchase a liquor license on the secondary market from a license holder who no longer wants it. This has reportedly driven the cost of such licenses close to $100,000.
- Georgetown restaurants are pretty boring. No new exciting restaurant has opened since Hook did, and it's closed already.
- Drunken revelry is only a problem in certain spots around the neighborhood.
So some of Fidler's predictions have already come true in Georgetown. The moratorium cannot be waived for particularly "good" restaurants, the quality of the restaurants has not kept up with the dining renaissance seen in other neighborhoods, and the cap seems arbitrarily set.
Some of Fidler's predictions for U Street have not come true for Georgetown. Restaurants have opened in Georgetown without obtaining a liquor license. They are more likely to cater to a lunch crowd, but a restaurant is a restaurant. And it isn't really difficult to administer. The zone basically is everything south of Q Street.
Also, it's true that moratoriums don't address the negative externalities of existing drinking establishments. But they do address the negative externalities of bars that haven't yet opened. (And of course it also eliminates the positive externalities of those unopened bars and restaurants too!)
The cap may be arbitrary, but right now U Street has 107 licenses, over 50% more than Georgetown. Maybe it's arbitrary, but it doesn't seem likely that it's low.
All that said, U Street should not pursue a moratorium. New and interesting restaurants open there almost weekly. It would be like killing the goose that laid the golden egg to stop that now. It would make sense for U Street to trust the market but verify with strong voluntary agreements that address hours and outdoor patios, etc.
One criticism of moratoriums that Fidler did not mention, but should be pretty obvious from Georgetown's experience: they don't go away. Georgetown's has been renewed multiple times, and nobody seems to even make the case to let it expire. (To the ANC's credit, they did add seven new licenses to the cap last year, but that only brought us back to the level that existed in 1989).
Finally, many believe that moratoriums make existing licenses worth a lot more. And that appears to be mostly true. Last year, when the city "released" those seven new licenses into the Georgetown moratorium zone, they were quickly snapped up, in some cases by parties with only sketchy plans for actually opening. It was a land rush.
The thing is, half of those licenses have already been forfeited because the speculative plans simply fell through (or in one case the restaurant didn't want to comply with voluntary agreement restrictions). At least a couple now sit in ABRA unclaimed. Supposedly the lack of cheap liquor licenses is a huge obstacle to new restaurants opening in Georgetown, but the longer the free licenses sit there, the more that conventional wisdom seems wrong.
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