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The Forces Behind Anacostia's Resurgence

2/6/2013, 1:01 p.m.

Ward 7 resident Patrice Irby enjoyed a meal at the Big Chair Bar & Grill on Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue in Southeast one recent Wednesday afternoon. During her meal, she marveled at the many changes taking place in the neighborhood.

"This is my first time here," said Irby, 57, a federal government contract specialist and native Washingtonian who grew up in Southeast. "It's fun to see how D.C. has [been] revitalized. It's not the same."

Irby voiced what longtime residents have witnessed of late in Ward 8's Anacostia community: a flurry of economic activity, a budding arts district and an influx of new residents.

"We're seeing an unprecedented renaissance, which collectively plugs into [Mayor Vincent Gray's] vision," said Stanley Jackson, 60, newly appointed president of the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation (AEDC), a nonprofit that's promotes Anacostia real estate and business expansion. "Wehave the opportunity to look at this vision and optimize assets to help the government, the community and the bottom line. We must have a community that's proactive in engaging developers."

Jackson, who served as the deputy mayor for planning and economic development under former Mayor Anthony Williams, said his mission with AEDC is a culmination of his efforts under Williams between 2005 and 2007.

"We want to maximize this neighborhood to create a walkable community to live, work, eat; and where we can attract any of the 17 million people visiting Washington, D.C. Few come east of the river," said Jackson, a longtime resident of the Bellevue neighborhood in Ward 8.

In early January, Jackson introduced himself at a meeting of the civic organization, the Historic Anacostia Block Association (HABA), in front 75 people, said Charles Wilson, the association's president.

"He's excited and he wanted people to prepare themselves for the changes," said Wilson, 36, about Jackson's presentation, "and to ensure [that] we work together."

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Anacostia Historic District is a small geographical location built between 1854 and 1930. Wilson said, it's bounded west by Martin LutherKing, Jr. Avenue, north by Good Hope Road, east by Fendall Street and the rear of the Frederick Douglass home, and south by Bangor Street and Morris Road. It also includes a District landmark, The Big Chair, the Anacostia Metro and the Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum.

Anacostia residents are abuzz, said Nikki Peele, director of business development and marketing at the ARCH Development Corporation (ADC), a nonprofit focused on Anacostia's revitalization through arts culture and small business development.

"We're seeing the fruits of our labor, as of late," said Peele, 36, who added that although ADC used arts as a revitalization tool, it wasn't the only catalyst. "We match arts efforts that go well with something else." For instance, she said that the arts could be paired with a business improvement district. To date, residents who live in Historic Anacostia have witnessed the opening of two gallery spaces, and small business incubators - all ADC projects.

Peele has a theory about the sudden popularity of Anacostia.