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Union Square Under New Management

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Norton said she was “elated” by officials’ goals to work toward a permanent policy to allow film crews to shoot there.

If consensus cannot be reached on such a policy, however, D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development Director Crystal Palmer said the effect on the District, which gets paid when local film crews come to town, would be “substantial.”

“This is a major venue for the District when it goes to market,” said Palmer, who added that her organization met recently with Norton, members of the local film community and representatives from the Motion Picture Association of America. “We want the commercial end of the business, the Hollywood production base, because they are very, very lucrative.”


No Protesting?

Meanwhile, advocates are concerned about changes to the permitting process for groups looking to demonstrate at Union Square, traditionally a popular site for protesters.

The National Park Service has a first-come, first-served permit policy for groups looking to demonstrate on areas that it oversees, said attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice, which represents protest groups. 

She suggests the Capitol Police have a spotty track record of adhering to a consistent policy for issuing permits.

Verheyden-Hilliard said the transfer could create a situation in which attorneys have to start from “square one,” as it were, in forcing the Capitol Police’s hand in developing standards for allowing demonstrations.

“The Park Service has been subject to 40 years of really intense litigation ... to get to a place where its [assembly] policies passed constitutional muster,” Verheyden-Hilliard said.

Gainer said he “wholeheartedly disagreed” with Verheyden-Hilliard’s suggestion that Capitol Hill’s law enforcement community was “arbitrary” in handling protests. 

Norton added that if last week’s Occupy Congress protest was any indication, Capitol Police is plenty accommodating of demonstrators. “They came a lot closer to the Capitol than Union Square,” she said.


No Money?

The transfer of land away from the Park Service also puts a wrinkle in a plan to put millions of dollars into refurbishing an area in need of significant maintenance.

The Trust for the National Mall has been hosting a professional competition to propose redesigns of three areas, Union Square among them.

Caroline Cunningham, president of the Trust for the National Mall, said she is still hopeful that Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers will be able to implement the winning design proposal for Union Square.

“He is a member of our steering committee, and he is very eager to continue to work with us and see the designs that are being developed,” Cunningham said. “It’s our intent, once the competition is done, to turn over the winning design for the AOC to implement.”

After proposals were selected, the trust planned to raise money to turn each into reality. But that can’t happen for Union Square now — the money has to come out of the AOC’s budget.

And even if Ayers is onboard with the design, getting an appropriation for the needed funds could be a tough sell. Funding for his agency was cut in fiscal 2012 by more than 5 percent from fiscal 2011 levels, and he has cited a $1.5 billion backlog in existing maintenance projects across the Capitol campus.

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