In the 1850s, Richard Holmes, an enslaved man, walked off a plantation in the south, landing at the Wharf in Washington, D.C. More than a hundred years later, his great-granddaughter christened the opening of the transformed historic site.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, along with developers Monty Hoffman, founder and CEO of PN Hoffman, Amer Hammour, Mayor Muriel Bowser and others, opened Phase One of the $2.5 billion waterfront site on Thursday, Oct. 12 in Southwest.
“I appreciate that Monty has not only preserved the original name of this historic site, but he has preserved one of the District’s oldest neighborhoods, southwest Washington,” Norton said. “What PN Hoffman has done is not create just a new neighborhood — actually it’s a reinvigorated neighborhood — but he’s added something else, and that is a new destination here in the District of Columbia.”
“D.C. needed both a transformed neighborhood and a new destination because we are a tourist economy, and this is an incredibly valued destination because just a few blocks up is the mall where literally millions of visitors come every single year.”
With 3.2 million square feet, the waterfront neighborhood features new residences, offices, hotels, shops, restaurants, marina and public use spaces including 10 acres of parks, promenades, piers and docks.
Norton said that, for all of its glimmer and shine, the Wharf remains a hometown neighborhood in the city.
“For me, this site is something of a miracle because I saw it when it was only on paper, and it was called the Southwest Water Redevelopment Act,” she said. “This is transformative, not only for our neighborhood, but for our city. I want to thank Andy Litsky, the ANC chair who guided us through must be a thousand and one meetings. I’m so pleased Monty and Amer had these meetings so the community feels fully embraced by this extraordinary site.
“All of us who saw this site at any point in our lifetime, have to marvel at what Monty, PN Hoffman and Amor have done with this,” she said.
Hoffman asserted that after working more than a decade to make The Wharf a reality, the dream has come true.
“Here we are. Look at this, 42 months later,” Hoffman said about Phase One of the Wharf. “This whole development is really a team sport, so many people were involved from Council member Charles Allen in Ward 6, Deputy Mayor Brian Kenner and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has been a staunch supporter.
“The whole reason this community is named the Wharf is because of her,” Hoffman said of Norton. “Her mentioning it, so we overruled all of the marketing people, but it was former Mayor Anthony Williams’ vision long ago by creating the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative and opening up our waterways development, not only here but over at the Yards, that we all are enjoying this.”
The largest waterfront development in the nation, the Wharf is the first significant redevelopment in southwest D.C. in more than 50 years.
Beginning last week the destination launched what will be a six-month long celebration of events and public activities.
“A record five years after my bill was signed into law officially setting us on this journey, we are at the culmination of the first stage of a pivotal transformation of perhaps the city’s most valuable underutilized site,” Norton said. “I particularly look forward to the jobs and economic activity that will benefit D.C. residents.”
While the city officials and developers touted the positive economic impact the Wharf will have for residents, one group who stood steps away from the opening ceremony wasn’t buying it.
Clad in red shirts reading “The Wharf: DC Deserves Better Jobs,” dozens of workers silently protested what they call a massive taxpayer subsidy, claiming it creates low-wage jobs with minimal benefits.
“The developers are getting richer and the people are getting squeezed,” Steve Lanning, director of organizing for Laborers’ International Union Mid-Atlantic Region, said of the housing on the waterfront. “Even for young professionals, at $2,500 a month for a one bedroom, it’s too much. Even with 20 percent of the units going to affordable housing, it’s one bedrooms and not for families.”
A report by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute found that while the District set requirements for the developers to hire city residents for some of the jobs, there were no wage and benefit requirements for those jobs.
“Most of the construction workers were not represented by a union, and many of its non-union construction jobs pay less than $15 an hour, or less than $30,000 a year, often with minimal benefits,” said Ilana Boivie, author of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s analysis. “Unfortunately, neither the developer nor the District’s economic development leaders took meaningful steps to ensure that the Wharf resulted in good-quality jobs or other benefits for D.C. residents.
“When workers have union representation at economic development projects such as the Wharf, their wages are much higher,” she said. “The wage rates for nonunion workers — often at or just barely above D.C’s minimum wage — are not nearly enough to make ends meet in the District of Columbia.”
Lanning believes that the local government needs to step in before Phase II is complete in the tentative year of 2022.
“Income inequality is being exacerbated and the government needs to step in,” he said. “Phase II needs better jobs, better jobs with better pay and it’s not going to happen if employees can’t unionize.”