Like any major city, DC is always evolving. Buildings are being flipped, businesses being tweaked…the city is constantly moving in roughly a billion different directions. In all of the hubbub, it’s easy to forget that while it seems like the changes come at a million miles per hour, development takes time, and often a lot of it. One development that has been fighting for action for almost a decade now in Hill East is the old Eastern Branch Girls and Boys Club Building.
The site up for redevelopment was initially built in 1937 as a Girls & Boys Club (one of many that would eventually be developed in the greater Washington area). If you’re not familiar with Girls & Boys Clubs, they are spaces set aside to help positive youth development for children and adolescents that might otherwise be left to spend their time in a negative environment. They are “safe havens” that are open when schools are out and feature programs surrounding academic success, good character and citizenship, and healthy lifestyles.
The Eastern Branch of the District’s Girls & Boys Club (and the oldest branch in the area) closed in the summer of 2007 due to reported rising costs and declining enrollment. The closure was largely a result of times changing, and the need for where the Girls & Boys Clubs should be shifting. With that building’s closure, the organization intended to seek out new areas in the city where they might make a mark. Speaking to the Washington Post back in April of 2007, Will A. Gunn, the organizations Chief Executive Officer, summarized the decision:
“When we looked at areas of highest needs, we’re not in a lot of those neighborhoods. If we keep holding on to a 20th-century mindset in the 21st century, we’re not going to be able to serve the children well.”
The site is monstrous – clocking in at 11,000 square-feet at 261 17th St. SE, not far from the Stadium – Armory metro station. DC bought the space for $20 million back in 2010, and since then, plans to make it into something worthwhile have been inching forward at a disappointingly slow pace.
In 2014, Mayor Vincent Gray tried to move redevelopment along, asking for proposals that would allow the three-story building to be rehabilitated and not replaced entirely, with a focus on proposals that incorporated housing. The proposals received, along with a change in administration, meant a long stall for the project, and a clean slate for what might come next. The community made it clear that “they would like to see housing, senior housing, units that are up to two bedrooms. They want a connection to the community with meeting space, day care or adult day care, “ according to a Biz Journal article.
Now that almost a decade has transpired, and after asking for more proposals, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development has picked a new direction for the site. When presented with two choices the DMPED finally came to like the vision that included for-sale housing as opposed to rental units. While another proposal was heavily focused on family-sized units, all of the units in the chosen proposal are only one or two-bedroom units, with the two-bedroom units attended for elderly tenants and their caregivers. The Washington City Paper reports that ten of the units will be set aside to meet affordable housing requirements, made workable for those whose incomes are up to 50 or 80 percent of DC’s area median income.
With just shy of 2,000 square feet of common space, the new concept will certainly foster community (which was largely important to those involved and invested in the neighborhood). Shared spaces will include amenities for cooking, dining, lounging, watching television, and some leisure activities. The outside of the building will be preserved, with some modern-day improvements such as solar panels and a green roof.
The agreement still faces final phases before the D.C. Council can vote on it, but with neighbors feedback and a clear objective, one could assume that this proposal might finally seal the next fate of this long awaited project.