Southwest BID ramps up, cleans up

Via Washington Business Journal, Michael Neibauer

The nascent Southwest Business Improvement District will soon emerge from the basement of the Arena Stage with a $3 million budget and a strategy to clean the streets, guide visitors, and manage growth in the booming community.

“We have had advance teams on the street cleaning the underpasses here in Southwest which have been long neglected," said Steve Moore, the BID’s executive director. “But the feet on the street is about three weeks away.”

Staffing the 15-member clean team will be Ready, Willing & Working, a nonprofit that hires homeless and formerly drug addicted or incarcerated men to provide cleanup, landscaping and maintenance services to D.C. business improvement districts. Clean team members will be paid $15 an hour.

“The thinking is, with these guys in particular, for someone who’s saying I want to start over again, here’s a chance for them to have a little money in their pocket, have a job where they’re taking care of something,” said Moore, formerly the head of the Washington D.C. Economic Partnership. “Our expectations are very high.”

Early next year, the BID will hire a team of ambassadors, what Moore deemed an “elite group of people,” to represent Southwest, provide directions and have eyes on the street. The ambassadors will be paid $18 an hour.

The Southwest BID covers a huge area, generally bounded by South Capitol Street to the east, 12th Street to the west, Independence Avenue to the north and the waterfront to the south. It contains three main pieces — the office-dominated L’Enfant Plaza and Federal Center SW, The Wharf and waterfront, and mixed-use/residential communities south and east of Fourth Street. Within the boundaries, Moore said he’s looking at 29 development projects, from the Spy Museum and Museum of the Bible to a new public library and The Wharf from Hoffman-Madison Waterfront.

The BID was created last summer by the D.C. Council, but it really didn’t get to work until early this year. Working temporarily out of the Arena Stage, the organization first had to set up a billing system — it is funded by taxes paid by commercial property owners — finalize a contract with the General Services Administration (the federal government doesn’t pay property taxes), and start hiring. There are now 10 business improvement districts in D.C.

"Once we launch, we’re going to take on achievable goals and complete them to good, if not great satisfaction," said Geoffrey Griffis, chairman of the BID board and a principal with CityPartners, the co-developer of a new Hyatt Place Hotel coming soon to 400 E St. SW. "The Southwest BID has a huge amount of energy, expertise and interest from its members and we are going to apply that very strategically all across the ward and build this BID into what I think will be one of the best BIDs in the region."

Board members, Griffis said, include representatives from Forest City Washington, The JBG Cos., Vornado Realty Trust, Clark Enterprises, Boston Properties, MetLife, and Donohoe — basically all the major development players in Southwest.

The BID will be the third largest in D.C, in terms of funding, behind Downtown and Golden Triangle. Eventually, the organization will be heavily involved in public space management, transportation, communication and planning, and homeless services. Griffis said one of his goals is to bring new lighting to the BID's major underpasses, to ensure a comfortable and safe experience for both drivers and pedestrians coming off the National Mall.