by Scott Suhy
I attended the “The Future of Georgetown” meeting on 1/15/19 hosted by the Citizens of Georgetown (CAG) group and Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC 2E) but came away a bit disappointed with what the Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID) presented as the area’s future of retail.
The BID spent 30 minutes of the presentation on why it’s so hard to have a good retail ecosystem in Georgetown (i.e. Amazon, unrealistic landlords/rents, awkward spaces in old buildings) and how many retailers are going out of business. They also painted a picture on why it’s not as bad as it looks – even though I counted 19 vacancies when I walked down Wisconsin Ave to get to the meeting. But what really got to me was that, at the end of their presentation, they said that this is all part of a cycle and Georgetown’s business district will still be here when other locations fail—and that’s just not a good way to manage the area’s future (i.e. telling people to wait and have hope). I personally don’t think this is a cycle—retail as we have known it is dying, and if we don’t have a well thought out strategy for how to grow with these changes then the business district will die a slow death and Georgetown will no longer be the tourist destination or the exciting place to live that it is currently.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a wonderful community (in a remarkable city) with a beautiful waterfront and a great plan for the canal—but we need a better plan for our diminishing retail market than to wait for the cycle to rebound… We need to have a more thoughtful discussion about the Georgetown retail problem.
I don’t disagree with anything the BID laid out in regards to our challenges, but… when the free market doesn’t work, policymakers need to get involved.
What I hear from the community is that Georgetown visitors and locals want great restaurants, art & entertainment, shopping, and experiences—but most importantly they want Georgetown to stay relevant to the world as a brand destination and a great place to live…
Scott Suhy writes at scottsuhy.com. He lives with his wife and son in D.C.