The Washington Post
Howard Is Teaching by Example
Washington Post, December 28, 1998, Final Edition - Financial,
By Rudolph A. Pyatt Jr., Washington Post Staff Writer
the book "Washington at
Home," LeDroit Park is
depicted as a neighborhood
that conveys a strong impression
of an earlier era in the District's
But with the decline of many of LeDroit Park's older residences
accelerating after World War II, the neighborhood fell victim
to population turnover, crime and other social ills by the 1970s,
according to the illustrated history of neighborhoods in the
In an effort to improve the situation, the LeDroit Park Civic
Association tried unsuccessfully several years ago to get Howard
University actively involved in the neighborhood.
Now Howard is responding to its neighbors, taking the lead in
implementing an ambitious but sorely needed community revitalization
Howard's LeDroit Park Initiative represents a major shift from
the university's previous land-banking policy. It is, at the
same time, a tangible example of a dramatic move to more active
involvement with the community under H. Patrick Swygert, who
was appointed president of the university three years ago.
The plan for this new initiative is, without question, the most
significant redevelopment proposal to be unveiled in the District
since the master plan for the revitalization of Pennsylvania
Avenue was approved 23 years ago. City officials should endorse
the Howard initiative as a prototype for revitalization of other
After buying and holding blighted property near the campus for
decades, Howard is converting its holdings to more productive
uses. With Fannie Mae as a strategic partner, the university
is rehabilitating 28 unoccupied houses and developing housing
on 17 vacant lots for sale to home buyers.
That, however, is only the initial phase of a comprehensive plan
to revitalize the historic LeDroit Park neighborhood and others
around the university.
"The LeDroit Park Initiative presents an opportunity to demonstrate in our
nation's capital that sustainable, comprehensive revitalization can be achieved
in an urban area with private and public investment capital," Howard University
Vice President Hassan Minor Jr. explained in a summary of the plan.
With support from the Fannie Mae Foundation, the university has
developed a detailed streetscape plan for improvements in public
infrastructure and several new land-use initiatives designed
to help LeDroit Park and surrounding neighborhoods.
Howard intends to have the fence removed from around the McMillan
Reservoir near the campus and convert the area into a park. The
plan further calls for development of a town center containing
shops, restaurants and other amenities.
Howard also wants to build a major office building south of the
campus over a Metro station and develop what university officials
envision as an extension of an arts district the city plans to
develop in the Seventh and Eighth streets corridor downtown.
Thus, Howard plans to build a jazz museum, renovate the Howard
Theater and encourage the Smithsonian Institution to build its
National African American Museum in the revitalized district
around the campus.
Earlier, Howard signaled its intention to spur revitalization
on Georgia Avenue, once a thriving commercial thoroughfare, just
west of the main campus. In an attempt to create what Minor described
as a "viable and stable community around the campus," the
university bought the former Wonder Bread Bakery and moved its
data center into the building, which also houses retail shops.
Later, the university purchased a liquor store near the campus
and converted it into a security office, staffed jointly by the
Howard and Metropolitan Police departments. At the same time,
the university renovated its hospital on Georgia Avenue, adding
a new emergency room and trauma center.
The idea for this forward-looking strategic plan is Swygert's.
But Minor, project director for the initiative, credits James
Johnson, Fannie Mae's outgoing chairman, for articulating the
broad philosophy underlying it.
Fannie Mae, a congressionally chartered stockholder company,
is the nation's largest provider of home mortgages. But Johnson "was
talking about a role [for Fannie Mae] beyond providing mortgages," Minor
said, recalling an address Johnson made several months ago to
business leaders and public officials. "He talked about
rebuilding America's communities."
Not only did Howard's revitalization plan "resonate" with
Johnson, but "he gave it his highest support," Minor
said last week.
Fannie Mae is providing low-fixed-rate mortgages for home buyers,
but the initiative is also being supported by other lenders,
including NationsBank, GMAC, Riggs, Crestar and Industrial banks.
Bell Atlantic-Washington, D.C. Inc. has agreed, meanwhile, to
wire LeDroit Park, providing state-of-the-art telecommunications
access to the university and the Internet.
The LeDroit Park Initiative is the essence of economic development.
Although spearheaded by Howard University, it is a public-private
partnership model that can and should be replicated in other