Wednesday night the Georgetown Business Association held a forum on economic development in Georgetown. It’s a topic that is much on the minds of business owners and residents alike.
The panel included representatives from across the Georgetown business spectrum and also Councilmembers Jack Evans and Vincent Orange. When asked what the city can do for Georgetown, Evans highlighted three things: keeping crime low, transportation, and taxes. Typically when Evans talks about taxes, he talks about keeping income taxes low in order to attract and keep high income residents, but on this occasion he focused on the effect of higher taxes on small businesses. He stated that 25-30% of the new top income tax rate for DC will hit small businesses (for what it’s worth GM’s never heard that stat before, and it doesn’t sound quite right to him).
Vincent Orange emphasized a DC law that requires DC agencies to spend 50% of their procurement budget on small businesses. He stated that right now 31 agencies are out of compliance. Orange also highlighted the DC Streetscape Relief Fund, which offers interest free loans to businesses affected by disruptive street construction, like that seen on H St. NE. Good initiatives both of them, but they’re not really going to help out Georgetown small retail shops much (although Karen Ohri of Georgetown Flooring pointed out that a lot of their business is for institutional clients, so stores like hers could benefit from the procurement law).
Charles McGrath of MRP Realty, who recently bought Washington Harbour, emphasized the office space aspect of Georgetown. He stated that right now, Georgetown has a 11% office vacancy rate. McGrath argued that much of this office space is dated and needs capital investment to attract new tenants. This is essentially the mindset the MRP Realty is following with the Washington Harbour. The property is showing its age and many of the architectural elements are very 1980s, which is not an era known for particularly attractive architecture. McGrath hopes to transform the Washington Harbour office space into “Class A” office space. (Frankly all GM cares about is getting that ice skating rink built…)
The Q & A demonstrated that there is a lot of frustration among Georgetown businesses with the current state of affairs. They repeatedly complained about the shoddy stores on Wisconsin Ave. between O and P St. Also, they complained that the public has a perception that it’s too difficult to get to Georgetown. The business owners stated that given the large number of garages, parking is not really a problem (this is why the BID is behind performance parking) and there are plenty of bus lines through Georgetown.
Despite the frustrations, the overall take was positive. CAG hopes to advance this discussion when it hosts its next membership meeting on November 29th. The topic is “Ideas, Prospect, and Vision for Wisconsin Ave.” Speaking at the meeting will be Jack Evans, John Assadorian of Assadorian retail brokerage, and Herb Miller of Western Development. It’s going to be held at the old Georgetown Theater at Wisconsin and Dumbarton. The idea behind this bizarre location is to show how the theater is emblematic of the decline of Wisconsin Ave., and hopefully also how it represents the potential for the corridor’s rebirth.