Grant to fund upgrades at Van Ness plaza

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Though no decisions have been made, concepts for the 4250 Connecticut Ave. NW plaza include seating, landscaping and chess tables. (Zoe Morgan/The Current/September 2017)
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Van Ness is slated for a set of small revitalization projects in the coming months, including the renovation of a blighted plaza and the greater incorporation of public art into the neighborhood.

Van Ness Main Street, a local nonprofit, is coordinating the effort, which would be covered by grants.

The Main Street group has already received one funding boost: a $27,650 Community Challenge grant from AARP, which it will use to reinvent the plaza outside of 4250 Connecticut Ave. NW. The grant was awarded earlier this month, and the funds must be used by the end of October.

Details of the plaza changes have not yet been confirmed, according to Van Ness Main Street executive director Theresa Cameron, but the project will culminate in a Community Engagement Day on Oct. 28. The group is currently soliciting community feedback and has hired a project director, social placemaker Philippa Hughes.

The plaza runs along Connecticut Avenue from Windom Place south to the Van Ness Metro station. The project will tackle the northern part of the plaza, which stands largely empty and lacks seating or significant landscaping.

The potential changes to the plaza include the addition of seating, flowers, landscaping and chess tables, Cameron said, describing the goal as “a community living room space.”

The office building at 4250 Connecticut Ave. NW is owned by Bernstein Management Co. (Susann Shin/The Current)

The Main Street group’s changes to the plaza through this grant are intended to be temporary because Bernstein Management Co., the new owner of 4250 Connecticut, may decide to make additional changes to the plaza in the future, Cameron said. According to Bernstein senior vice president Fred Underwood, the company will likely change the plaza with community input, though no specific plans have been made.

Van Ness Main Street was the only D.C. winner of the AARP grant funding out of 11 District applicants, according to AARP’s D.C. office, and one of only 88 grantees nationwide from a pool of almost 1,200. “We were super honored, and also very shocked because we’re a newer organization,” said Cameron.

Separately, Van Ness Main Street also hopes to undertake a “Public Art and Wayfinding Project.” The project will involve placing public art in three locations throughout Van Ness: Connecticut Avenue’s corners with Albemarle Street, Windom Place and Van Ness Street NW. The Main Street group intends to seek grant funding after finalizing more details.

“We wanted to do something that was a little bit different, that would create a sense of place in Van Ness,” Cameron said. “And when cars go by and people, they’ll know that, ‘Oh, this marks Van Ness.’”

Eight applications have been narrowed down to three artist teams: Charles Bergen Studios; After Architecture partners Katie MacDonald and Kyle Schumann; and Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn, which will present their proposals later this year.

According to Cameron, each of the three groups may be selected to fill one location, or just one or two groups could be picked, with a single group placing art in multiple locations. Once the projects are chosen, Cameron expects to apply for grants totaling between $50,000 and $150,000 to fund the art.

“They’re quite different artists, but they all do really fun work,” Cameron said. “And so I think it’s going to be really exciting to see what they end up coming up with when they present to us.”