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