Five months ago, Joe Sternlieb took office as CEO of the Georgetown Business Improvement District. After some months under his belt, Georgetowner features editor Nico Dodd checks in to see how Sternlieb has adjusted to his new job and what his plans for the future are.
“Our goal is to make sure that the businesses here do better. Better for the retailers on the streets and more customers in the stores spending more money. Better for the office buildings, meaning lower vacancy rate. Greater stability in the tenant base… So, it’s just thinking about making it work for everybody.
I’ve embarked on a long-range vision process called Georgetown 2028, which is a 15-year vision process that we’re engaging lots of people on our board of directors, key stakeholders and property owners, people in Georgetown, who aren’t on our board, and CAG, GBA, ANC folks, residential neighbors and city agencies. We’re just ready to kick it off. We’ve been doing focus groups for the past month. We’ve done six or seven focus groups, where we ask people a bunch of different questions. So, to think big about what’s happening here. Asking them what’s great and what works about Georgetown, what doesn’t work at all. What areas are really thriving in Georgetown? What areas really need help? We’re collecting all that information, and we’re going to come back to people with, sort of a heavy lift. We’re doing a task force with 25 to 40 people, that’s going to meet for 33 hours. We have 11 3-hour meetings planned to deal with transportation issues, because that’s the number-one problem everyone talks about.”
Transportation & Parking
“Transportation, huge problem. You talk to the merchants, and they say that their customers are always having a hard time finding parking and they’re always getting tickets. They come in to buy $100 worth of stuff, they get a $50 ticket and they’ll never come back. So, the city, they say, is too aggressive. The folks in the ANC say, ‘Look, you’ve got all of these people circling our blocks looking for parking and we want to be able to park in front of our houses.’ You’ve got the parking lot owners and operators, sometimes often not the same people, who are saying we don’t have enough business to stay open on the weekends. Well, part of it’s because you charge crazy amounts of money, right? They can go to Tysons Corner for nothing, or they can charge you $18 for all-day here. It’s an easy decision, right? So, we’re trying to work with all of these folks, and also with the city.
I’ve brought two people on. I’ve been here five months now. The first thing I did was I interviewed everyone on our board. Everyone said transportation. So, the first board meeting we were all at, I said, ‘O.K., this is what you all told me. And transportation’s the number one problem that we have, and this is where we spend our money.’ And I said, ‘We spend $20,000 on transportation.’ We write a check to the D.C. surface transit to market the circulator, and that’s all we spend on transportation. That’s 3 percent of our budget. No, what am I talking about? It’s less than 1 percent of our budget.”
Fashion Night In?
“We are trying to decide what to do about Fashion Night Out this year because Conde Naste cancelled it. So, we can’t use that name. They own the brand and the trademark. So we’ve been talking about what we can do to help the Georgetown fashion industry, and what would be clever and what would be Georgetown-centric and maybe not one night, but maybe over the course of a week or two.”
The Possibility of a New Boathouse
“Georgetown and GW both have the money to build boathouses and get out of Thompson’s and expand their ability. Peter May [Associate Regional Director, National Park Service, National Capital Region] says he’s ‘getting close’ to the Park Service making a decision. It should never take 20 years to decide anything. It’s too long to make a decision. It can take you 20 years to build a Metro system or 20 years to found a country or something, but to make a decisions seems, to me, too long.
“The Park Service should have gone to him [Jack’s Boathouse owner Paul Simkin] and said to him, ‘We can’t do this the way it is, and we need to figure out something else.’ If it’s done right, and you play ball, you’ll get to stay there. There’s no nuance in what they do. So, they evict him. It’s crazy.”
Attracting New Businesses to Georgetown
“The Georgeotwn BID has not traditionally done much B2B [Business to Business] marketing. A lot of consumer marketing and advertising that are aimed at the consumer to come to what’s here. What I’ve done is get everyone lined up to get people to reach out to the business community to tell them you need to be here.
What we’ve got is we’ve got a great product. And we’ve got to convince people that sometimes it’s worth paying a premium for a better product.”?