Wisconsin Avenue could be a lively part of Georgetown filled with a mixture of exciting restaurants from local restaurateurs, independent businesses and everyday chains, with proper planning, vision, coordination and financial incentive to the tune of $11 million from the District. That was the gist of the Citizens Association of Georgetown meeting in the old Georgetown Theater Tuesday.
Developer Herb Miller, retail broker John Asadoorian and Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans discussed the issues and potential of Wisconsin Avenue at the run down former theater.
Both Miller and Asadoorian told crowded room of interested neighbors that improvements will require cooperation and collaboration among property owners, retail brokers, local organizations and government.
"With cooperative owners, seeking to have the same vision you can head in the right direction," said Miller.
Asadoorian added that one of the hard "truths" he learned in his times as a broker in D.C., "what we always wanted wasn't necessarily congruent with what the retailers wanted."
"You can have a desire, but if there's not a market reality behind it, for the retailer, who is in business, it's not easy...you need owners who understand that" said Asadoorian.
Evans opined that Wisconsin Avenue needed a game-changer, something to enliven the middle of the block and draw in new businesses, like the new Nationals Ballpark and the Arena Stage did for their neighborhoods.
Miller said one of the ways the downtown area was able to upgrade the buildings and bring in a range of tenants was the Tax Incremental Financing paid for by Ward 2 residents. The downtown area was given a TIF of $30 million to change the face of Gallery Place and Penn Quarter.
"There's $11 million left Jack. That isn't used downtown, they don't need it downtown. My suggestion is you just change the language that it can be used anywhere in Ward 2. It's backed by Ward 2," suggested Miller.
Miller said some of the remaining $11 million could go to Georgetown as a way to entice owners to bring in the "right" tenants. Owners could possibly give desirable tenants a break on their rent in return for government money used to upgrade their stores. Miller said just a few properties would need this change to have the retail system as a whole naturally evolve.
Evans did not directly commit to Miller's idea, but spoke positively of the role of TIFs for downtown developments like the Spy Museum.
The panel also discussed the impact of the liquor license moratorium and parking issues on development along Wisconsin Avenue.
"We've got heavy lifting to do. We've got challenges here," said Asadoorian. The solution will require collaboration, getting buy-in from owners and support from the government to make it happen.
Evans agreed. "Between the leadership we have in this community, the council member who actually lives in this community, we should not leave this to chance. That should not be the answer," he said.
At the end of the meeting Miller and Asadoorian committed to giving their time and suggested that EastBanc's Marcie Connoly join them with Evans and Georgetown's community organizations to "get the money to do a plan" for the future of Wisconsin Avenue.