It’s Alive!

On Saturday, the Premier Community Development Corporation (PCDC) resurfaced and held a community meeting to discuss the redevelopment of Rhode Island Ave NE corridor. The meeting appeared to be about 30 members of the community, including elected officials (Thomas, Orange and ANC members) and PCDC members. PCDC attempted to have a panel with Councilmembers Thomas and Orange, and a planning department staff member, discuss the vision of RIA. The panel ended up mainly being an opportunity for Thomas and Orange to speak to their redevelopment efforts and accomplishments since being in office.

The goals of PCDC, as stated on its website:

-Develop and implement new program initiatives that will help shape the nature of commercial development in the PCDC target area and assist low and moderate income residents to remain in the area.
-Ensure that PCDC’s current community empowerment initiatives remain relevant and effective for community residents.
-Expand, increase, and diversify the sources of financial support for the current and future operations, programs, projects, and initiatives of PCDC.
-Increase public awareness of past accomplishments, current programs and services, and future initiatives of PCDC.

So who is PCDC and what have they been up to?

According to an Urban Land Institute (ULI) report, PCDC formed in 1999 as a community membership organization to improve housing, economic development and the quality of life in Ward 5. PCDC eventually became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation in 2001, with a full-time, paid Executive Director.

In 2008 the ULI awarded technical assistance panel reports to a number of organizations, including PCDC. The report, which can be downloaded HERE, was essentially an instruction manual developed by ULI on how to redevelop Woodridge. PCDC was supposed to use that report to actually redevelop Woodridge. At the time the ULI report was published (2008), PCDC was seeking grants to support its operating costs, and pursuing funding from the DC Main Streets program. The Main Street program gives an organization funding to revitalize a neighborhood business district. The ULI report states that Harry Thomas Jr. earmarked funding for the RIA’s revitalization to implement the goals of the Main Street program. However, PCDC ultimately failed to obtain the green light to be the operator of a Rhode Island Ave Main Street under the DC Main Streets program. All that Main Street money went away, and Woodridge is no better off in 2011 than it was in 2008. Now Rhode Island Ave does not have a Main Street Program and probably can’t get one because that program isn’t taking new applicants. It appears that in the three years since receiving technical assistance from the ULI, PCDC has not implemented any of the recommendations from the ULI Report.

Although I am happy to see this group resurrect itself (more community activists are always a good thing)…I am wondering what spurred such a quick meeting on RIA redevelopment, especially from a group that has been rather dormant lately (it’s most recent attempt to set up a farmer’s market in Edgewood was not approved by ANC5C).

I had a conversation with a member of PCDC during this’s past Saturday’s PCDC visioning meeting. The woman, who claimed to have lived in the area since the 70’s, was agitated that a new group of residents was organizing and she viewed them as a young, new resident group that didn’t have a diverse group of ideas from new and old residents of the community. I quickly corrected her, pointing out the outreach the group has been doing through its website and on all of the widely used Ward5 listserves (the same mechanism used by all the ANCs, Civic Associations, Ward 5 Dems, and CM Thomas to announce meetings and events). Friends of RIA has an open survey on its website seeking ideas and membership from residents of all stripes. The group also recently elected a long time Woodridge resident and former MPD officer as its Chairman. The Friends group is also in the works of planning a project to go door-to-door to reach residents who are not using the web.

This conversation was discouraging to me for many reasons but most of all because it indicates that a small group of older residents feel threatened by not being in control and perhaps also disinterested in collaboration. This woman felt threatened that newer residents had ideas about bringing positive change to the area that may not coincide with her own ideas. She stated that bad things have already been said about FORIA, alluding that newer residents were trying to circumvent older generations in the area. This notion couldn’t have been further from the truth, and she would have known this if she had bothered to talk to anyone from FORIA (after speaking with me, she seemed to calm down a bit and understand a little more).

Reports from my contacts about the recent Happy Hour at Lace this past week hosted by Friends of Rhode Island Avenue & Brookland, was that it was impressive; that the group brought together 65+ neighbors and the diversity of the crowd was reflective of the community. It is equally, if not more, impressive that the group already has well over 120 “Friends” and they are growing everyday by encouraging open and free membership to everyone. They have only been announced for a month!

As Harry Thomas pointed out at the PCDC meeting on Saturday, we all have the same goals of positive redevelopment for Rhode Island Ave NE. We need to work together, to not be afraid of change, and to welcome collaboration. Friends of Rhode Island Ave should be welcomed with open arms by a veteran group like PCDC that needs invigoration and new ideas to move the common good of our community forward. I am looking for VERY positive things to come for our area. I am not looking forward to small-town politics and in-fighting that will keep us all down. We need to unite as a community, develop common goals, and pursue them together.

Harry Thomas mentioned at the meeting that he is immediately forming a Rhode Island Avenue Task Force. This is the perfect opportunity for all interested parties to work together in the service of a common interest.

Again, I highly encourage everyone to join “Friends of Rhode Island Avenue” and ask your neighbors to join also! Strength in numbers….we can make a difference. Go to www.friendsofria.org

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6 thoughts on “It’s Alive!

  1. Wow – this seems like a fantastic opportunity, as you said, to get all interested parties working together. I just did a quick search, and don’t see a specific website for the PCDC. Does anybody have their url, if they have one?

  2. This is sad. Very sad. This situation reminds me a little of what happened with the Brookland Main Street program. You can search the Yahoo Brookland Group for details. You can even find there some information posted by the PCDC on other activities they’ve hosted in Ward 5.

    Exactly what is this Rhode Island Avenue Task Force and who will comprise it? Was the purpose of this meeting to bring the two factions together (PCDC and FORIA), to have things they could work on together, or just to set the direction for what’s out there and what needs to be accomplished? I’m confused by this.

    With the Great Streets program, instead of going door-to-door, they sent every household a postcard on the meetings they had. RIA Great Streets had one of the largest attendance of any other Great Streets program. So, the initial interest was high. At another meeting, where again we were informed by postcard, we had a great turn out to hear the results of the online poll and to break out into groups on specifics for the RIA Great Streets program. (Note: all meetings were announced on Listservs and through email, as well.) Then there was a long gap, before anything else went forward including the hearing on the final plan which by then became the RIA Small Area Plan. I liked this approach. Is this the route the RIA Task Force will take? I think it would be best if this Task Force could be independent of both the PCDC and FORIA factions, so we residents won’t get caught up in these battles. We are the ones who always suffer. Although the Brookland Main Street was not renewed for another term (of 2 years?), residents and even their ANC pressed on and got a $250,000 Streetscape for 12th Street. Individuals were able to convince Casey Trees to come to 12th Street, restaurants like Silvestre’s, Ricky’s, and TAMO have been added. Ricky’s is waiting on liquor license approval. TAMO (a Smoothie place) has yet to open. Brookland even has a Farmers Market that still lives on.

    1. Dear Rhode Island Insider:
      Thanks for attending Premier CDC’s Rhode Island Avenue Visioning session on Saturday, November 5. However, for the sake of accuracy, I want to bring attention to a few glaring errors in your (date blog):
       It’s unfortunate that you and several others newcomers left before the PCDC Visioning II session was over, because you missed the recommendation of the residents and community leaders. This was the ultimate purpose of the session. The session was originally planned for October 8. It was rescheduled because of a scheduling conflict. The Visioning session was not done hurriedly and was an implementation and a continuation of our strategic plan.

       It’s purely a misrepresentation to say that PCDC resurfaced. PCDC meets monthly and has continued our work in the Ward 5 community by providing housing and financial literary workshops, leading the charge to enforce zoning which disallowed nude clubs, and recently endeavoring to establish the Edgewood Farmer’s Market, especially for senior citizens in the Edgewood food desert. We have also been advocating for our Eastern Avenue Gateway Sculpture Project along with pursuing other initiatives delineated in our strategic plan. Perhaps, the notion that we had to resurrect ourselves results from your inexperience or unfamiliarity with our community.

       While it’s true Premier CDC was initially considered for the Main Streets project, the program mandated that we set up and staff a separate 501c3 and had an unrealistic and a stringent requirement that PCDC raise $500,000 in private funding the second year in order to sustain the project. For these reasons, and in the middle of the worst US economic recession in years, PCDC chose to bow out as a Main Street applicant. Without funding, we were not able to fully pursue ULI’s recommendations.

       PCDC is interested in working with new and established entities that have a mutual commitment to our community and goals which dovetail with PCDC’s objectives. There’s no reason to create dissension where none exists. We have too much work to do to engage in petty in-fighting.

      Hazel Bland Thomas,
      Board Chairman, Premier CDC

      1. Thanks for the response, Hazel. Just for accuracy, I am quite involved in the community as is many other people who haven’t heard from PCDC lately. Doesn’t mean you haven’t done anything behind the scenes and from your comment, it appears you have been. I was simply stating a common refrain I heard from others (young and old from the community) about PCDC. So your notion of unfamiliarity or inexperience with the community is off-base and reminds me of my conversation I had with your member (that I spoke about in the blog post). And yes, I left before the meeting ended because I didn’t expect the meeting to start a hour late.

        But I agree, petty infighting will get us nowhere. I hope to see a common working relationship between PCDC and Friends of RIA in the future. I am sure that PCDC would value Friends of RIA’s input on redevelopment given the amount of surveys they have completed and the number of members they have. They could probably give a very clear picture of what residents want to see along RIA better than anyone else.

        I look forward to seeing what PCDC can do for the community and hopefully we will see your hand reached across to the Friends of RIA to work with them (have you become a Friend yet?…it’s free).

      2. Hazel, has there been a readout or summary of your conclusions of the meeting last week? I stayed as long as I could, but the meeting was supposed to end at 12 noon and that’s when I had to go.

  3. “…Was the purpose of this meeting to bring the two factions together (PCDC and FORIA), to have things they could work on together, or just to set the direction for what’s out there and what needs to be accomplished? I’m confused by this.”

    I don’t know if PCDC reps will read and respond, so I will keep it short so I don’t step on their toes. The purpose of PCDC, from my understanding, was to acknowledge and incorporate the community at large within their visioning process for how to develop RIA. FORIA members were attendees, but not organizers. FORIA welcomes collaboration by all means, but Saturday’s event was PCDC driven.

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