BID Proposes 5,000 Feet of Streatery Decking

A pilot project to install some 5,000 linear feet of deck panels — providing expanded space for Georgetown eateries and perhaps some retail stores about eight feet out from the curb along M Street and Wisconsin Avenue — is being proposed by the Georgetown Business Improvement District. It will come under review by the Old Georgetown Board, as well as the District Department of Transportation’s public space committee, this Thursday, Feb. 4.   

This “streatery” initiative has been a topic of discussion and resolutions by the Georgetown-Burleith advisory neighborhood commission, which will hold a virtual meeting tonight, Feb. 1.

“Expanding the sidewalks in Georgetown’s commercial area is a project that has been proposed for years,” Georgetown architect and 30-year resident Outerbridge Horsey told The Georgetowner on Feb. 1. “Businesses are suffering due to the impact of the pandemic restrictions. But traffic flow is also down and parking enforcement has been loosened. Now is the time to really look at sidewalk expansion and streateries and see how it works as a pilot project.” 

“Since the beginning of 2020, 59 storefront businesses have closed permanently, with more expected over the winter,” BID CEO Joe Sternlieb said in two public Zoom presentations about the project on Dec. 21. “While we are uncertain what shape the economic recovery will take in 2021, we know for sure that Georgetown will be competing for retailers and restaurants, and with e-commerce, in ways that we’ve never experienced.

“To bring back customers and attract new retailers, we have to create a better environment than the one that existed before COVID,” Sternlieb continued. “Over the last seven months, we have created more streateries than any neighborhood in the city. The response to sidewalk cafes on M Street and Wisconsin Avenue has been overwhelmingly positive, and we believe is the key to Georgetown’s recovery in 2021.”

“I believe they will be the savior of Georgetown commerce,” Clyde’s Restaurant Group President John McDonnell said at the Dec. 21 meeting. “We were originally skeptical about extending our dining onto the sidewalk of Wisconsin Avenue, but we have found that it has greatly enhanced our business and the liveliness of Georgetown at night.” 

“Wider sidewalks for pedestrians, dining and eventually outdoor retail sales will change the look, feel and success of Georgetown,” Sternlieb said. “We believe that the new outdoor dining options will encourage more restaurants to open and the increase in sidewalk activity will induce more retailers to sign leases here. Wider sidewalks will also be friendlier to those in wheelchairs and with disabilities, and to families with strollers, who have always found Georgetown challenging.”  

“Over the fall, the Georgetown Business Improvement District designed and prototyped sidewalk extension platforms under Mayor Bowser’s temporary streatery initiative at Clyde’s and Bodega restaurants that create a safer, more comfortable and more attractive pedestrian and dining experience on Georgetown’s streets,” said Jamie Scott, the BID’s planning and economic development director.

The BID proposal to install the platforms through the end of 2021, when the mayor’s streatery permits expire, would be funded in part by the city and part using the BID’s capital project funds. Over a dozen city agencies and Georgetown groups have been involved in the planning, according to the BID.  

But many concerns remain. In particular, the District’s gas and water agencies require full access to their underground facilities for maintenance and to respond to emergencies. That means that the platforms have to be easily mobile, with utility access points marked and easy to reach.  

There are also concerns about parking once regular and even increased commerce is restored. “Any approved plan has to assure that parking for customers and residents will be tolerable,” said Horsey. “That means working out arrangements with parking garage owners and city officials for possible subsidies. Parking issues will be different along the wider commercial M [Street], K Street with its many garages and the narrower business areas of Wisconsin Avenue from Prospect up to Q and R Street, and must be addressed in any plan, perhaps separately.”

The pilot project is expected to be ready to go by April, according to the BID, which noted: “Any proposal to make it permanent in 2022 will depend on feedback from all the stakeholders and require a new plan and a new permit.” 


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