Capitol Hill’s Advocate in Chief Savors Role

Posted May 25, 2010 at 2:55pm

It’s possible that the most effective advocate for Capitol Hill works not in a stately marble building but in a humble trailer inside the Union Station garage.

Patty Brosmer, executive director of the Capitol Hill Business Improvement District, has an office in the trailer, as do two other BID employees. Her small dog, a Maltipoo named Saffy, makes its home in a bed next to her door. Yet the office barely contains her.

“It’s not a job; it’s an adventure,” Brosmer explained, laughing. “I’m able to do so many things. There’s a lot of freedom and creativity in it. I’ve got a great supportive board, great staff.”

Brosmer, 52, was born in the District and raised in the suburbs, but she said she loved Capitol Hill even before caring for it became her job. She remembers skipping class to watch proceedings in Congress as a teenager, and her son, a 25-year-old aspiring filmmaker, works at Union Pub.

In the mid-1990s, Brosmer was working for the Georgetown Business Association when she first heard of the BID movement, and she traveled to New York and Philadelphia to study the BIDs in those cities.

“Once I realized what an effect they have on the community, I was sold on it,” she said. With D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans (D), she helped push for a bill supporting local BIDs, and when it eventually passed, she helped launch the Georgetown BID, one of seven now active in the District.

She left the Georgetown BID to work in real estate but remained invested in the success of neighborhood groups. She consulted with the Capitol Hill BID over three years as it prepared to launch and intended to help the group find a director. Ultimately, though, Brosmer realized that she wanted back in. As a result, she was at the BID’s helm when it opened for business in 2003.

Both the BID and Brosmer have come a long way since then. The BID has become known for its outreach to the community. Four people serve as full-time safety ambassadors, offering directions and help around the neighborhood, and about 20 more serve as members of the BID’s clean team, workers who straighten up plants and signs and keep the streets tidy. The BIDs, funded by self-taxing local businesses, reflect business owners’ desire to show off the neighborhood as a place to visit.

“If the city can’t get us to the level we need to be at to be successful, then we’re going to do it ourselves,” Brosmer said. “The basic core services are cleaning, safety issues, hospitality and branding the area, marketing the area as a destination.”

One of the BID’s biggest accomplishments, according to Brosmer, is launching a program called Ready, Willing & Working more than two years ago. The nonprofit connects homeless and formerly imprisoned men with a shelter and jobs at the BID. Brosmer hopes to expand the program, which is based on a New York City program. The BID wants to lease the Gales School, which now stands empty on Massachusetts Avenue, and build up a rehabilitation program for men like those involved in Ready, Willing & Working to be contracted out to the New York group.

That proposal consumes a lot of Brosmer’s time, but it’s nowhere near all she does. On a typical day last week, she started her day at an executive board meeting at the trailer. With program manager Nina Liggett, she followed up on ideas from the meeting, including planning a party to celebrate the end of Capitol Hill Month and promoting the Circulator bus line. She works regularly with other BID leaders and Capitol Hill neighborhood groups. Julia Christian, executive director of CHAMPS, the Capitol Hill Association of Merchants and Professionals, said she enjoys collaborating with Brosmer.

“The thing that I admire most about her is that she’s so strong-willed and knows what she wants, but you always want to work with her. She’s got a very magnetic personality,” she said. “She’s so dedicated to what she does.”

Christian remembered Brosmer working particularly fiercely as a member of the “sign tigers,” a group of Capitol Hill business leaders who worked to make sure that signs around the neighborhood gave clear directions in the wake of the spring 2007 Eastern Market fire. Brosmer and the BID took it a step further, providing an information kiosk at the Eastern Market Metro plaza.

Brosmer’s portfolio expanded slightly when she was named managing director at Barracks Row Main Street earlier this year. Martin Smith, executive director of the BRMS, said she’s “sort of serving in a supervisory and an advisory capacity,” drawing on her years of experience working with nonprofit boards and on Capitol Hill.

In some ways, overseeing a crew of men who clean streets and provide directions, keeping an eye on things that inevitably go awry in an active neighborhood, and juggling board meetings and staff may seem like a never-ending burden, but Brosmer insisted her job is “a pleasure.”

“Sometimes it’s a lot of work, but even the worst things are enjoyable,” she said.