Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Flap Over Billboards Just a Prelude

Some residents in DC's Penn Quarter/Gallery Place neighborhood are at odds with a plan that would allow more video screen billboards to be erected on and around 7th and H Streets NW. There are already video billboards in the area at 7th and F, 7th and G and three television-like boards directly above the Metro entrance at 7th and H. The current proposal would more than double the number of locations with video kiosks on street level, new video billboards in the Gallery Place Walk area (7th and G) and vertically mounted video billboards on the façade of 777 7th St, a residential building.

This seems to be an issue that will persist even after the current episode is settled. Looming large is the future development at old convention center site, renamed City Center DC. There are grand plans for the prime real estate now occupied by a vast parking lot. Bound by New York Ave, 11th Street, H Street and 9th Street, the new development will include entertainment, retail and open public space; all above, below and adjacent to each other. The East End/Downtown area has been a shopping destination for years. Now the entertainment sector is rising with Museums (public and private), nightclubs and sports venues. Add to that a vibrant and growing residential base and well, there you go. Unfortunately the residents are sometimes pit against the casual visitor in the fight for amenities.

The billboards are not meant to appeal to the residents of Penn Quarter only. The advertiser's audience is also made up of the office worker, bus rider, hotel guest, convention attendee or museum goer. There will always be the built-in animosity between commercial and residential interest. And that clash only has the potential to worsen over time. Can some of that be avoided? Yes, probably. I urge the city, developers and potential residents to set firm guidelines now before City Center begins to take physical form. Otherwise this will be just one in a series of roadblocks for a Downtown otherwise still on the a joyride of commerical and residential comeback. Let's make the ride smoother for all invested parties, especially the residents who are the most permanent fixtures in any vibrant city.