East Side News

March 2019

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The MVT community met to discuss the options for building out Prather’s Alley. Photo: MVT CID

West Wing Wrapped
The West Wing Cafe, a go-to lunch spot for the workers of NoMa, has shut its doors. As February began, patrons noticed that shelves began to go bare and weren’t restocked. Then, one day, a sign appeared that the sandwich haven was officially closed for business.

There was no notice to the many hungry office workers who depended on the small cafe for their Boar’s Head sandwiches and Arizona Iced Tea. While the owners could not be reached for comment to confirm the cause of the closing, it was likely that the federal government shutdown hit local businesses, especially lunch establishments that fed the federal workforce, very hard. The neighborhoods that house federal buildings were hit the hardest, including NoMa.

West Wing Cafe is a family-owned chain of delis that has expanded throughout the District. The NoMa location, which opened in 2012, became a central location for the lunchtime crowd in need of a quick bite. Its closing has left a big hole in the daytime food community.

Bringing Beauty to the Alley
In Mount Vernon Triangle, even the alleys are designed with care. The latest development topic of conversation is Prather’s Alley, which runs between K and I streets in the block between Fourth and Fifth streets NW. The alley is used as, well, an alley, for the loading and unloading of materials to the restaurants and shops that skirt the small strip of drivable space. However, stakeholders and residents think it could be something greater.

The Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District (MVT CID) has partnered with E/L Studio and urbanSEED (an architectural and urban planning firm) to bring innovation and usefulness to the space. The bettering of alleys has long been a long-term goal of both E/L Studio, a design and architecture firm, and urbanSEED, a design consultancy and urban planning firm, which focus on the best use of city spaces and strong community participation. The CID partnered with E/L Studio and urbanSEED to study the desire for development in Prather’s Alley, conducting a community and stakeholder survey at the end of 2018. The study found that 82 percent of respondents travelled the alley at least once a week, typically as a pedestrian shortcut. The study also found that 63 percent of respondents agreed that the area needed improvement, specifically in lighting, traffic calming and green space.

The MVT CID, E/L Studio and urbanSEED presented multiple ideas at a well-attended community design workshop in January. The public expressed concern about vehicular traffic flows while pedestrians are using the alley as a footpath. Most importantly, residents said that the alley doesn’t feel particularly safe.

Two major themes emerged from the meeting. First, residents want the space to be versatile and multi-use, and second, the look and feel of the alley is also important, with many neighbors stating the alley would be a great venue for artwork or mural designs. The most popular ideas included better lighting, traffic calming, seating, a protective covering, including a performance space, and adding green space.

After listening to the feedback, E/L Studio and urbanSEED created three proposals that they will present to the adjacent property owners who have the biggest stake in the outcome of the project. In early March, the firms and the CID will present the proposals as well as the pricing estimates to the property owners. Then they will do an online poll for community feedback.

The proposal that is chosen will be presented to the property owners for final consensus. Once a plan is chosen and finalized, the firms and the CID will work with the owners to secure funding and will present the plan to the advisory neighborhood commission (ANC) for approval. Once the plan is approved by the owners, the ANC and the community, the CID will submit a grant application to the DC Commission on Humanities to help with funding.

There’s a long way to go in this process, but the CID is ensuring that the community is informed and heard every step of the way. “We’re excited for the opportunity to rethink the possibilities for our alleyways in a way that continues their core transportation and public-works function while enabling their viability as a neighborhood destination and amenity,” said Kenyattah Robinson, president and CEO of the CID. “We’re equally proud of our community-based approach for determining these possibilities. This is a principle that guides all of our work and decisions at the CID, as it is our core belief that creating equitable and inclusive spaces that everyone can enjoy requires the entire community participate in a publicly transparent process of deciding not only what those spaces could and should be, but also for whom.”

 

Taylor Barden Golden is a real estate agent with the Stokes Group at McEnearney Associates Inc. A former Hill staffer, Taylor lives in Brentwood with her husband, two dogs and a cat. She’s always on the lookout for new places to explore and ways to spend time outside. Get in touch: taylor@midcitydcnews.com; @rtaylorb.