Ward 8 Residents Weigh in on Pavilion

James Wright | 11/19/2012, 11:59 p.m.

Some Residents Want More Input on Project

Residents of Ward 8 expressed their feelings about a pavilion that's set to be built on the east campus of the St. Elizabeths complex during a forum that was both heated and confrontational.

About 50 residents attended a two-hour meeting to discuss the St. Elizabeths East Gateway Pavilion on Tuesday, Nov. 13 inside the St. Elizabeths Auditorium in Southeast. Dan Simons, a principal with Vucurewich Simons Advisory Group of Kensington, Md., and one of four team leaders of the project, spoke about the pavilion in terms of being an urban park.

"This pavilion will be by the community, for the community and to meet the needs of the community," Simons said. "It will be a good meeting place for community groups, churches and civic groups. This will be a good place to offer food gatherings, practice hobbies, take classes, participate in community and leisure activities and hold such large events such as graduations and even play chess or checkers and throw a frisbee."

However, James Bunn, the chairman of the Congress Heights Main Streets Organization, wasn't impressed.

"I am totally disappointed," said Bunn, 70. "You all need to go back and re-think some things. We have other issues in the community other than the right type of food to be offered."

The pavilion is a temporary facility that's part of the re-building of the St. Elizabeths east complex. It's unique in its design because it will have two levels. The lower level will be space for farmers and food vendors to sell their food and products and the upper level, which will be an open space with no roof, will be for meetings and special events such as graduations and concerts.

The design itself is distinctive in that it will be developed in coherence with the grass, trees and soil of the grounds. It will also use rainwater harvesting, an underground cistern capable of supplying irrigation and water for restrooms instead of relying on the District's water supply.

Michelle Chin, the pavilion's project director, said that it will cost $4.5 million and is scheduled to be completed in May 2013. She said that the pavilion will have 35 percent Certified Business Enterprise participation and will include Ward 8 vendors.

Bunn remained skeptical.

"This project is not Ward 8," he said. "Did you talk to the people who have been here struggling all of their lives because none of you live in this ward?"

Peter Cook, an architect whose firm is working on the pavilion responded to Bunn, saying that "we walked around the neighborhood, we did not drive."

Sheila Crider, an artist who lives in the ward and who helped with the pavilion's development, disagreed with Bunn.

"This is an icon for the new Congress Heights," said Crider, who has lived near St. Elizabeths all of her life. "People have to remember that this is a temporary structure and I will go to it because it is unique to the neighborhood."

However, the Rev. Bob Mathieu questioned the reason why city officials are building the pavilion.

"I wonder if the Coast Guard was not putting its headquarters on the west campus [St. Elizabeths], would this be here?" he said. "The people with this project want to come over here and do their thing and we would like to see our people empowered with this project and running things."

Shirley Price, a ward activist, offered a solution to the project's team leaders.

"Perhaps you should form an advisory group of ward residents so that people can feel a part of it," Price said. "Many people feel that the decisions have already been made and they do want to be a part of this. We want this to be for common everyday people."

Nikki Peele, a Ward 8 resident who is leaning toward supporting the pavilion, said that she needs more information.

"I will support anything that will make Ward 8 a destination," said Peele, 35. "We need something over here."