Businesses, Residents Discuss Economic Revitalization

Tenleytown Business DsitrictTenleytown’s Wisconsin Avenue commercial corridor is poised to receive some new life. The District of Columbia’s fiscal year 2016 budget allocates $200,000 for the economic revitalization of the “Tenleytown Retail Priority Area.” The funds will be administered through a new Main Streets non-profit organization, following a competitive grant process currently underway. The Main Streets program is intended to help declining commercial districts retain, grow, and attract businesses while retaining the historic nature of their community. (For those new to Main Streets, we’ve developed this handy primer.)

The Tenleytown/Friendship Heights Advisory Neighborhood Commission hosted a community meeting on August 13 for residents and local business owners to learn more about the Main Streets program, the grant process, and what it may mean for the neighborhood. Lauren Adkins of the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development, which is the District agency that oversees the grant competition and provides technical assistance to the city’s Main Streets programs, was also on hand to discuss the Main Streets model and answer questions.

The meeting drew an unusually large crowd for Tenleytown, with easily 50 locals in attendance, including business owners and community association representatives, as well as interested residents.

Generally, the Main Streets program received a positive response from those in attendance. David Weisenberg, owner of the recently opened Burger Tap & Shake, expressed support for the new initiative, which he hoped would beautify the commercial area, eliminate pass through traffic, and increase the number of people who wanted to patronize local businesses.

Some, however, expressed concern that the program might be linked to groups they viewed as advocating for aggressive development or financially tied to real estate and commercial developers. ANC commissioner Jon Bender responded by stressing that the planned Main Street initiative “is in no way connected either to smart growth strategies or to limiting development.”

Bender, along with fellow ANC commissioner Anne Wallace, has founded a new non-profit that plans to submit a proposal for Main Streets funding. Andrew Aurbach, a lifelong Ward 3 resident who holds a degree in urban planning and is a member of the Historic Preservation Review Board, joins Wallace and Bender in spearheading the formation of Tenleytown Main Street. Bender, in particular, has led an effort in recent years to form a merchants association in Tenleytown.

The ANC commissioners’ leadership of the nascent organization sparked questions about the ANC’s role in the economic revitalization organization and potential conflicts of interest. Both Wallace and Bender were quick to stress that Tenleytown Main Street was intended to be an umbrella organization with broad representation from the community. “This isn’t to be like an ANC run organization,” said Bender.

Adkins added that in evaluating a Main Streets organization, DSLBD expects the board to include business owners, property owners, developers, residents, people who shop in the district, and other local leaders who believe in the power of revitalization. Further, she told the audience that the Main Streets model emphasizes a large volunteer committee structure underneath the board of directors with participation by scores of residents and business owners.

Shaw Main Streets board member Andrea Gourdine, who is also the Douglas Development project manager for Tenley View, echoed the importance of diversity. The ten-member board on which she serves includes businesses owners, developers, and residents, which she said has been vital to ensuring a range of community interests and perspectives are represented in the organization’s work.

“It’s reassuring to hear about the diversity of this proposed board,” commented Juliet Six, president of the Tenleytown Neighbors Association.

Tenleytown Main Street, the organization founded by Aurbach, Bender, and Wallace, is not guaranteed to receive the Main Streets funding for the neighborhood. TMS must submit a proposal for consideration, and other non-profit organizations are eligible to compete for the $200,000 grant for Tenleytown. To date, no other organization has announced that it is pursing the funding. Applications are due October 2, 2015. DSLBD anticipates that funds will be awarded by mid-November, with work expected to begin in January 2016.

Those interested in learning more about the grant can view the request for applications by clicking this linkTenleytown, D.C. also has prepared a short guide to the program and current grant competition, which is available here.