11th Street Bridge

Preparing for Construction and its Economic Impacts

The amphitheater and waterfall on the proposed 11th Street Bridge Park. Image: OMA 

Nonprofits are working together to ready workers and residents around a proposed DC park that has been likened to New York’s Highline

Pre-construction for the 11th Street Bridge Park, an innovative and likely transformative development, could begin in August. Long before then, the nonprofit leading the charge on the project began working with community stakeholders to make sure residents are not pushed out by expected economic impacts from the new asset.

The 11th Street Bridge Park will be built on the pillars of the former 11th Street Bridge, which was recently rebuilt with new infrastructure. The park will span the Anacostia River and connect Ward 6 near the Navy Yard with Wards 7 and 8 in Fairlawn and historic Anacostia. Design team OMA+OLIN was selected in October 2014 for their vision for the park, which includes an education center, cafe, performance space, kayak launches, and picnic area. The goal is a vibrant public space that physically and psychologically connects the two sides of the river.

“Unfortunately the communities east of the river have been characterized, sometimes I think unfairly, as being those neighborhoods that have the most of what is bad and the least of what is good,” said Philip Pannell of the Anacostia Coordinating Council during a recent panel discussion about the 11th Street Bridge Park. “What makes this bridge project so exciting is that it quite literally bridges that major divide in the city.”

The park is expected to cost $45 million to build. The Bridge Park has secured about $15.5 million of that through fundraising, grants, philanthropy, and government funding.

As Scott Kratz, 11th Street Bridge Park director, continues his feverish fundraising and grant application efforts, he has been working simultaneously to ensure that the new park is also an inclusive development. Throughout much of 2015 Kratz and his team held community meetings to develop 19 detailed recommendations to address and prevent negative economic impacts on residents in the building and delivery of the park. “How do you invest in communities of need without displacing the same people you are trying to serve?” Kratz asked as he explained the goal for the Bridge Park’s Equitable Development Plan (EDP).

Part of Kratz’s goal is for the park to succeed as an urban-reuse facility created with public and private money, and also to offer a model of how to develop resources that are inclusive throughout the life of the project. His team has held or attended hundreds of meetings. “Scott would attend the opening of an envelope” said Pannell about Kratz’s enthusiasm for outreach efforts.

That enthusiasm has paid off. In May it was announced that LISC DC was dedicating $50 million to the Elevating Equity Initiative to “foster equity, inclusiveness, and an improved quality of life” for people living in the neighborhoods within a mile of the future park. The LISC program will focus on creating and retaining affordable housing as well as making investments to improve the health and education of residents living around the park site. The investment does not depend on the park’s coming to fruition; either way nearby residents will benefit.

Kratz’s team is also working with other nonprofits to fulfill elements of its EDP, like the proposed homebuyers’ club. The homebuyers’ program has received about $30,000 from the Bridge Park organization and is being run by Manna, Inc. The participants are residents who were raised in the neighborhoods surrounding the future park, currently live there, and would like to stay, ideally in a home they own. To make the meetings possible, the funds cover dinner and childcare for participants. The group has been meeting monthly throughout this year, and according to Kratz several members are close to being able to take action from their lessons.

Once the project enters its estimated 18 months of pre-construction – when designs will have their day at the city’s various oversight organizations – Kratz and community partners will be readying residents for the jobs expected to come from construction. Kratz said he is working with the District Department of Transportation to get estimates for how many jobs there might be, and for what kinds of work, so workforce development efforts can be targeted and effective. Construction should last approximately 18 months, meaning the park could become a reality by the latter half of 2019 at the earliest.

“If we can end up building a stronger community muscle that can continue to shape development in neighborhoods around the park, that can be an even bigger legacy than this big beautiful park we’re going to build,” said Kratz.

To learn more about the park project visit www.bridgepark.org.

The site plan shows the uses across the span of the new bridge park over the Anacostia River. Image: OMA

Reporter Shaun Courtney has called DC home since 2002 and lives in Kingman Park with her husband and son.