Blog: 2023 Year in Review

Written by: Scott Kratz, Senior Vice President, Building Bridges Across the River

It’s hard to believe that there are only two weeks left to 2023! From celebrating along the banks of the Anacostia River to reaching 100% design on the park, this year was packed as we made continued progress on realizing this community driven civic space. Read on as I share some of our highlights!

100% Park Design 

The Bridge Park involves transforming an aged out federal highway into a new park over a navigable waterway wedged between the National Park Service and an active Department of Defense installation. In other words, there are a lot of chefs in the kitchen. That said, we are thrilled to have the park completely designed and finalizing all of our permits needed to move forward. We have received final approval from the National Capital Planning Commission, U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, National Park Service (the lead federal agency for the National Environmental Policy Act review), and the D.C. State Historic Preservation Office. In October we submitted our final permits to the US Coast Guard which will be complete early next year. And the D.C. Department of Energy and the Environment is on track to provide a water certification permit at the end of January which will allow the Army Corps of Engineers to give us their final permit at the end of February. Whew – that’s a lot. This has certainly been a longer road than I anticipated but our partners at the District Department of Transportation should post a solicitation for the park’s general contractor in Q2 of next year with an expected ground breaking next summer. After 10 years working with local stakeholders every step of the way, we are excited to finally move towards shovels in the ground 😊. And we have secured $171MM out of our $177MM goal which includes both construction costs and an equal amount of funding invested in our equitable development strategies. 

Investing in the Community

Speaking of equitable development, 2023 saw a number of new pilot projects working to ensure that the tens of thousands of residents who designed this park can benefit from it. These include a new healthy housing initiative in partnership with the D.C. based non-profit Yachad to bring free home repairs for low income homeowners in Anacostia. This innovative initiative provides up to $15,000 grants to support home improvements such as a new roof, mold abatement, winterization and upgrades to age in place for multi-generational households east of the river. We are already working with eight homeowners and we just received additional funding to expand this effort. And in a related housing equity effort, we recently received additional funding from Geico to provide up to $2,500 cash grants to graduates of our Ward 8 Home Buyers Club – a partnership with the local non-profit Manna. To date, 25 Ward 8 residents have received these grants and thanks to Geico, we’ll offer an additional 25 grants next year!

Piloting Programming

In the past year, we kicked off two new programs supporting east of the river small businesses in partnership with the Anacostia Business Improvement District. In collaboration with the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, we provided over $50,000 in pro bono technical assistance to 10 Black owned small businesses located along a four-block stretch of Good Hope Road (now Marion Barry Jr. Ave!) Participating businesses included restaurants Open Crumb and Kitchen Savages, early childcare provider Baby Einstein, Murphy’s Autobody, retailer Nubian Hueman and Fresh Food Factory. Booz Allen staff helped create marketing plans, improved back-of-house financial systems and assisted with grant applications. Each participating small business also received $8,000 micro-grants to help implement these strategies. The program was such a success that in January we’ll launch a second year of this effort working with small businesses along Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE.

At this year’s Anacostia River Festival, we launched our mobile small business kiosk named The Bridge Spot by the voting public! Every month from May through December, the Bridge Spot featured a different Ward 8 entrepreneur that traveled across the city increasing sales and awareness to eight woman owned small businesses. The Bridge Spot was at the National BBQ Battle on Pennsylvania Ave, National Pride Festival, Eastern Market and at the downtown holiday market. Special thanks to Capital One and LISC DC for supporting the construction and operations of the Bridge Spot along with staff at Accenture who provided pro bono technical assistance to each of these participating small businesses. This impactful program will continue in 2024 and will eventually find a home on the Bridge Park!

This year also saw record attendance at our spring Anacostia River Festival with nearly 10,000 neighbors dancing to Go Go music, canoeing the Anacostia with our partners at the Anacostia Watershed Society and a classic car parade down Anacostia Drive. Save the date for May 4, 2024 when we’ll produce our 10th annual Anacostia River Festival! This fall saw a full return of our annual Taste of the Harvest Festival with over 700 residents enjoying garlic planting, local bands, full meal prepared by our partners at DC Central Kitchen, honoring food justice heroes from our Bridge Park Plots and the ever popular roasting s’mores under the stars.

A National Model for Inclusive Economic Growth

We spent the last 12 months working with local stakeholders, non-profit partners and government agencies to update our anti-displacement efforts which will include new health and wellness strategies. A HUGE thank you to Target for supporting this work and everyone who participated in advisory committees and town halls shaping these new strategies. This third version of the equitable development plan is currently at our graphic designer and will be formally launched at a Town Hall meeting the evening of February 8, 2024. And our work here in DC has captured the attention of similar projects across the country. We are now advising nearly a dozen similar signature civic spaces to engage local residents to create their own equitable development strategies.

This summer, we partnered with the High Line Network to hold a three-day convening in San Francisco exploring successful models around workforce development. This is part of our 5-city pilot program. Thanks to a generous $1.5MM grant, we are helping to fund continued construction training programs at Skyland Workforce Center for Ward 7 and 8 residents along with projects in Grand Rapids, Buffalo, Dallas and San Francisco. A senior evaluation team from the Urban Institute has been studying this collaboration with regular white papers including this one entitled “How New Investment in Repurposed Infrastructure Can Produce Good Jobs for Residents of Disinvested Communities.”

We are so grateful to YOU – the community we serve every single day. With patience and persistence, it’s so thrilling to be on the cusp of groundbreaking in 2024. Stay tuned for my next blog post on what we are looking forward to most in the new year. And save the date for the evening of Thursday, February 8 when we’ll host a public town hall meeting at Anacostia High School with presentations by our design team at OMA + OLIN, engineering team from WRA and we’ll release our third version of our equitable development plan. Until then, wishing you and your family a wonderful last two weeks of 2023.