William Alston-El, Rev. Oliver “OJ” Johnson, and others I’ve spoken with over the years tell me there were more businesses on the commercial corridors of Anacostia before the arrival of the Metro station than there are today.
In reviewing Vertical Files on Anacostia I re-discovered this article, that is now more than 24 years ago, from the Washington City Paper which features Prof. Dorn McGrath. (McGrath was kind enough to ride around Old Anacostia earlier this year and reflect on his decades of work in the neighborhood.)
Here is an excerpt from the City Paper article:
“For Anacostia, the Green Line is the latest in a long string of undelivered development promises. ‘Each election year we have a new name for the revitalization of Anacostia,’ says [Cardell] Shelton. ‘We had the Anacostia Renaissance in 1982, we had the Anacostia development plan. Always a new highlight, a new thrust. ‘Moses is coming to Anacostia.’ ‘Save Anacostia.’ They’ve never materialized. Moses hasn’t gotten here yet. People are still waiting on Anacostia.”
The Barry administration planners, faithful adherents of the ‘money follows Metro’ dictum, are billing the Metro stop as a ‘regional center for economic development.” John Moore, an administrator in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, prophesizes that commercial development will radiate outward from Anacostia to others parts of the economically strapped Ward 8. “That station will serve as a catalyst for development projects throughout the community,” says Moore. “Our people still believe that the Anacostia Metro site may be the best development opportunity in the city at this time. You notice I didn’t say ‘east of the river.’ I said ‘the city.'”
To lure big developers to Anacostia, Moore and the city have sketched plans for a 125-acre theme park on federally owned land surrounding the station. Dubbed the Anacostia Cultural Complex, the $200 million scheme is touted as the Mall East – complete with a man-made lagoon, an amphitheater, a half-dozen museums, a national aquarium, bike and pedestrian paths, a marina/restaurant/cinema complex, and a “high density” retail area (read: Shopping Center) along Howard Road SE. Moore predicts that the complex will have a magnet effect, drawing commercial developers to build nearby.
Dorn McGrath is waiting for the train, too, though he is not starting a business or drafting blueprints for a waterfront theme park. McGrath, a professor of urban planning at George Washington University, also wants development to spiral outward from the Metro stop. But his first priority is the spiral’s center, the historic commercial and residential area known as Old Anacostia.
“Nobody’s making any new land in the District of Columbia, and this is one of the areas that has room for development,” McGrath says. “But it’s a much more delicate design problem. You have this somewhat simplistic thinking about creating Tysons Corner or Roslyn over there, just because it’s at the intersection of the Metro, I-295, and Suitland Parkway.