Many of Ward 8's political and community leaders have embraced the construction of a multi-faceted facility on the east campus of the St. Elizabeths complex in Southeast.
Charles Wilson, an advisory neighborhood commissioner for single-member district 8A03, said that the St. Elizabeths East Gateway Pavilion would be a boon to Ward 8.
"I think it is an awesome opportunity and I hope that it is something that Ward 8 entrepreneurs can take advantage of," said Wilson, 36.
The pavilion is a temporary facility that is the first part of the re-building of the St. Elizabeths east complex into a technological hub with areas for business, housing, retail and eateries. The structure will stand for up to five years and it will have lower and upper levels which will be built in coherence with the grass, trees and soil on St. Elizabeths' grounds.
The lower level will have space for farmers and food vendors to sell their food and products while the upper level, which will be an open space with no roof, will be used for meetings and special events such as graduations and concerts.
Michelle Chin, the pavilion's project manager who works for the District's Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, said that construction will cost $4.5 million and is scheduled to be completed in May 2013. She said that it will have 35 percent Certified Business Enterprise participation and will include Ward 8 vendors.
D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) is a supporter of the pavilion as a part of the larger development of the St. Elizabeths east complex. His predecessor, former D.C. Council member Sandy Allen, thinks that the pavilion will be good for the ward.
"A lot of study has been done on this," said Allen, 69. "I think the residents of Ward 8 should give it a chance. There will be a lot of conveniences for residents of the ward."
Some community leaders have their concerns. James Bunn, the chairman of the Congress Heights Main Streets project, spoke out vehemently against the building of the pavilion during a meeting on Nov. 13 at the St. Elizabeths Auditorium. Bunn said that the pavilion "would not be in the character of Ward 8" and chastised the design team leaders for not getting enough input from Ward 8 residents from the onset.
Wilson, who attended the sometimes contentious meeting on Nov. 13, said that he understood Bunn's concerns but has decided to give the thumbs up on the pavilion, saying that "it will be an attraction."
Bishop Matthew Hudson, the senior pastor of the Matthews Memorial Baptist Church in Southeast, believes that the pavilion will be a credit to Ward 8.
"We need a facility in this ward where we can hold functions, [have] eateries and markets in our community," said Hudson, 50. "We need this in light of the Coast Guard's headquarters coming to our ward in several months. This facility will help us get the amenities that this ward needs."
Hudson said that the pavilion could serve as an economic conduit for Ward 8.
"We are not generating enough tax dollars in this community," he said. "We need more disposable income and this pavilion will strengthen the economic base in the ward. People will be spending money in Ward 8 and with Ward 8 businesses."
Mary Cuthbert, a 29-year advisory neighborhood commissioner representing 8C03, said that pavilion supporters should temper their enthusiasm a bit.
"The pavilion is not a done deal," Cuthbert said. She noted that the D.C. [Office] of Zoning has not approved any development plans for the St. Elizabeths east complex.
"All of the ANCs in the ward voted to support the St. Elizabeths project but not in its totality," she said. "The pavilion is just an idea at this stage. Nothing is a done deal until zoning approves it."
Nevertheless, Hudson said he wants the pavilion and already has plans for its use.
"You better believe that I will consider holding services on the upper level," he said with a smile.