“These are the best of times for D.C.,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser at noon on Thursday, Oct. 12.
It is probable that most if not all of the hundreds of people at the Wharf, the District’s latest and most spectacular new destination, agreed with her as they viewed and no doubt marveled at the sleek new glass buildings, park walkways, refurbished boat slips and brand-new residences, shops, music venues and recreational sites for all ages.
Especially beckoning were the terraces and entrances of more than 25 new restaurants and eateries of all types that have opened along a completely reconstructed waterfront walkway and harbor.
“This is Washington, D.C.’s new commitment to their waterfront, that will be a vital center of the city, where everyone who lives and visits Washington, D.C., will be able to live, work, shop, recreate and enjoy museums and especially musical events by the river,” proclaimed the launch-event speakers: developers Monty Hoffman of PN Hoffman and Amer Hammour of Madison Marquette and Council member Charles Allen. They and others had devoted the past 10 years to planning, designing and now constructing the $2.5 billion project in D.C.’s smallest quadrant, Southwest D.C.
“This isn’t meant to be a uni-designed community,” explained District Wharf Project Director Shawn Seaman. “We’ve examined and taken the best ideas from around the world.”
Like the waterfront walkway, for instance. It has been designed in the spirit of Spain’s Ramblas — with wide cobblestone-like surfaces shared by pedestrians and official vehicles alike. Everywhere there is public outdoor seating. Giant swings for adults are interspersed along the long recreational pier, which leads to a free jitney that shuttles passengers on a short trip between the Wharf and the Potomac Parkway, with its hiking trails, bike paths and golf courses.
A large public fireplace surrounded by wooden lounge chairs and modernistic boxes filled with firewood are steps from numerous tables and chairs for takeout eating. Music is an essential part of the scene. In addition to the three major venues — the Anthem, Pearl Street Warehouse and Union Stage — most of the restaurants feature live groups.
Twenty percent of the new residences being built — from mini one-room apartments with fold-down beds to spacious three-bedroom condominiums — are being offered as affordable housing. “Already 20 percent are below the market rate and there is more to come,” the mayor promised.
District transportation has been adjusted for the new development, the speakers pointed out. New shuttle buses will run between the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station to the Wharf, an eight-minute walk, and the Waterfront Metro station was upgraded last year. The first water taxis from the Washington Harbour in Georgetown to the Wharf and back, leaving every half-hour, were launched Oct. 12. More are planned, depending on usage.
Many of the speakers seemed almost incredulous that the official grand opening was really happening. “This was the hardest legislation I ever had to pass in Congress,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents District interests in Congress. “In fact, it takes almost a miracle to pass one piece of legislation and this project required two — one for the land and one for the water part. The only thing harder to pass is statehood for the District,” she added.
But this was an event that went beyond politics. The exhilarating young and harmonious voices of the Children’s Chorus of Washington and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts joined together to sing spirited songs of achievement, as well as the national anthem, which they sang before a standing crowd, hands over their hearts. The Joint Armed Forces Color Guard did a presentation of colors and was thanked for its services. To kick off the ceremony, the Eastern High School Second Line Band paraded the speakers and dignitaries to the Wharf stage.
“Today and this weekend we are able to party through the night,” said Seaman with a grin. “Then on Monday, we start Phase II. If you are excited about Phase I, you will be astounded by what comes next.”