Barracks Row Fest Celebrates Revitalization

Posted October 1, 2003 at 2:53pm

When longtime Capitol Hill resident Paul Woodhull was looking for a place to launch his inaugural restaurant, keeping it in the neighborhood seemed a logical choice.

Woodhull — who along with business partner Michael Collins will unveil Cork Publick House later this month at 713 Eighth St. SE — pointed to revitalization efforts under way along the historic Barracks Row commercial corridor stretching along Eighth Street Southeast between Pennsylvania Avenue and the Navy Yard, and to Capitol Hill’s population growth as factors influencing his decision to open his “casual dining” Irish pub.

“The belief is this could be like another little, mini Georgetown,” enthused Woodhull, part-owner of the radio program “Face-Off,” which features Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

“We are spending a lot of money believing that this is going to be a very thriving commercial area,” he said, referring to Barracks Row.

And Woodhull has reason to be optimistic. Cork Publick House is just one of several new establishments — including Starbucks, Marty’s Restaurant, Capitol Hill Tandoor, Pawticulars and the women’s clothing store Plaid — opening along Barracks Row.

To mark the influx of new tenants and the approaching conclusion of the streetscape construction, Barracks Row Main Street will host a street festival — in conjunction with D.C. Open House — featuring performances by the Marine Corps and Navy Yard bands, ribbon-cuttings, street vendors, arts and crafts, and even a dog show.

The celebration kicks off at 11 a.m. Saturday at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast with the installation of the YuMe Tree mural on the CVS building, then proceeds — led by Hine Junior High School’s marching band — to Eighth Street Southeast for the festivities, which will last until 6 p.m. District Department of Transportation Director Dan Tangherlini, the Office of Economic Development’s Eric Price and Councilwoman Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) are scheduled to attend.

With the $7.5 million streetscape project set to conclude in early December, Bill McLeod, executive director of Barracks Row Main Street, which supports revitalization efforts along the corridor, anticipates the emergence of a budding restaurant district.

“I definitely see [Barracks Row] becoming a restaurant row and destination,” McLeod said, adding that several eateries had applied for or recently received permits to add outdoor seating to their establishments.

The new culinary diversity of the street (a French-Belgian bistro is also under discussion) should increase foot traffic for longtime restaurateurs, said Jorge Zamorano, owner of the Banana Cafe and co-owner of Starfish Cafe, two Eighth Street establishments.

“It’s competition,” Zamorano said. “But competition is always good. It keeps people on their toes.”

George Didden, chairman of the group’s economic revitalization committee, said the impending conclusion of the streetscape — which includes new brick sidewalks, gutters, curbs, Washington globe-style lighting, and more than 90 new elm trees, as well as a complete repaving and restriping of the street — hardly signals the end of Barracks Row Main Street’s efforts.

“The Main Street program is overarching this enormous redevelopment not designed to go away when the bricks and mortar are in place,” said Didden, who is also president and treasurer of the Capitol Hill Business Improvement District.

With that in mind, the group recently added a program assistant, Jayendu De, to its staff to assist with small-business development and job facilitation, and commissioned a retail and job analysis study for the area.

It is also spearheading the Eastern Market Metro Plaza planning group, which aims to regenerate what McLeod calls the “focal hub” of the neighborhood running from Seventh Street in the north to Eighth Street in the south, and east-west along Pennsylvania Avenue. Oehme, van Sweden Associates Inc. — a local landscape architectural firm — has already drawn up plans for the Metrorail plaza’s rehabilitation, which will be presented to the community in the coming months, McLeod said.

Early next year, Barracks Row Main Street also hopes to tackle the external appearance of the structures that line Eighth Street Southeast, said McLeod, who estimates that 80 percent of the buildings along the corridor are in need of a facelift.

“We have all these historic buildings [and] a lot of them have deferred maintenance. We’d like to encourage building owners to improve the facades by trying to set up a [matching] grant program,” he said, noting that the group had begun applying for grants to fund the undertaking.

Moreover, in an effort to address the ongoing parking scarcity experienced by many Barracks Row merchants, McLeod said the group is working with the Marine Barracks and DDOT, which are in the process of creating a new memorandum of understanding to open a Marine Barracks parking lot under the Southeast Freeway to public use, while converting a basketball court area on the same property to Marine parking.

The conversion would create about 60 additional public spaces, McLeod said.