Bob Marbourg, traffic reporter for WTOP radio: “When we started out, we’d fly to Dale City to the south and as far north as Shady Grove. What used to be on the edge of development 30 to 35 years ago is not even in the middle. We are talking to people on a regular basis who are in Hagerstown and are taking I-81. We’re talking to long-haul drivers between Richmond and Fredericksburg. The congestion almost never ends.”
The 1998 election of Anthony Williams as DC mayor, replacing Marion Barry, and growing interest in city living helped spur the revitalization of DC neighborhoods that had been long neglected. But the changes didn’t come without growing pains.
Monty Hoffman, PN Hoffman: “When we first started out, it was so quiet, like a little Southern town. We could go in and buy property with hardly any competition.
“In the early stages, we were selling mostly to recycled city dwellers, people who already lived in the city and were upgrading to a condominium that was a little swankier.
“Then we realized, wait a minute, some of these buyers are new to the city. It was almost like a secret. We would have empty-nesters who had come in from Rockville. They had lived on a quiet cul-de-sac and were going to buy a condo in Adams Morgan.”
Developer Jim Abdo: “We went to the block between 14th and 15th—before the Whole Foods was there—to an area that was a lot of vacant, burned-out lots, crack houses, flophouses.
“I bought up half a block and created upscale housing. It sold as quickly as I built it.
“People took note that you could go beyond what was perceived to be a line in the sand, 16th Street. Once that happened, it opened the floodgates.”
Former DC mayor Anthony Williams: “Every year I went to the convention center in Las Vegas to woo developers and retailers and investors to come to this city. The first time we went, we had a couple Xeroxed pages stapled together. That was our marketing material. We didn’t have a booth. We begged people to talk to us. We’d meet with them in a lobby or hallway. But that’s when we had the initial discussions with Home Depot and Target.
“Now you go to Las Vegas and the District has one of the nicest booths in the place and people are lining up to come in.”
Jacqueline Dupree, Capitol Hill resident and neighborhood blogger (JDLand.com): “I had heard there were plans for the Anacostia riverfront [near the Navy Yard]. One day in 2000, I made my husband drive me around so I could take pictures.
“You had blocks and blocks of boarded-up buildings where nobody lived. Out of the 21 acres that the ballpark was built on, it displaced five residences, only one of which was owner-occupied. I would go down there on the weekends and I would be the only person. Then for a year or so it was just me and construction workers.
“My demolished-building photo gallery has 156 pictures now. It’s an entirely different neighborhood.”
Developer Jim Abdo: “I went down to N and 13th streets in 2001 or 2002. This building—1220 N Street—had been vacant and off the power grid for so long that when I bought it I called Pepco and they said, ‘I’m sorry, there is no building there.’ I said, ‘Trust me, I just paid $1 million for it.’ Click, click, click. ‘Nope, there’s no building.’
“It was all cinder-blocked over and spray-painted. It was a 30-some-unit apartment building that had been vacant for 25 years. Finally they sent someone from Pepco to meet me there. They brought it back online and gave us temporary power.
“The units I designed were featured on HGTV. We created these really dramatic 20-foot-tall penthouses. Every unit in the upper levels had private elevators. It sold out immediately.”
Steve Moore, president and CEO of the DC Economic Partnership and former deputy executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement District: “I remember being at the Downtown BID around 2004. We realized we had opened a restaurant a month for 30 months straight. That’s the dream of anybody in downtowns or neighborhood revitalizations anywhere.”
Blogger Dan Silverman, a.k.a. the Prince of Petworth, who moved to his neighborhood in 2003: “I bought my house from a DC cop. He said, ‘I suggest you get a dog, and not for companionship.’ But I’ve never been to a place where people are so nice, where people look out for you.
“The really interesting thing for me was going to the Metro. That’s how you could see the change in the city. In 2002 at the Petworth station, I was a very unique rider. Then you go to Columbia Heights and you’d see a smattering of new faces. You go to U Street, you see even more. Now it is completely diverse, a total mixture.”
Tania Jackson, a developer, who grew up in DC’s Columbia Heights and still lives there: “When I was growing up, you pretty much knew everybody on the block. They used to jokingly call our block the Huxtable block. Everybody decorated for Christmas.
“Almost all of the families from my block cashed out. People were getting offered a ridiculous amount of money for their houses.
“I grew up in a city where everybody spoke to each other. You would say hello to people on your block, even if you don’t know them. The newcomers don’t.
“I would go to neighborhood meetings and I would hear these different groups of people who would be talking past each other. You’d hear newcomers saying, ‘This is bad, this is bad, this is bad . . .’ and the people who had lived here for a really long time and had been vigilant about neighborhood cleanups and plans to revitalize the neighborhood—instead of hearing newcomers saying, ‘I appreciate all that you’ve been doing,’ they heard: ‘You let this neighborhood go to hell.’ That’s been painful to watch.”