Once the Wharf

Pub­lic safety of­fi­cials ready to pro­tect throngs on land, wa­ter


opens, South­west Washington will be teem­ing with traf­fic, but city and pro­ject of­fi­cials say the area can han­dle it.

For years, a dig­i­tal calendar has counted down the days un­til the un­veil­ing of the mas­sive Wharf pro­ject on the South­west Wa­ter­front. With the clock near­ing zero for its opening Thursday, city of­fi­cials and the de­vel­oper will get their first look at how throngs on land and wa­ter will test pub­lic safety prepa­ra­tions.

Sea­soned by the city’s build­ing boom and rein­vig­o­rated com­mu­ni­ties, po­lice and fire of­fi­cials and city plan­ners said they are draw­ing on ex­pe­ri­ence as they pre­pare to pro­tect the new en­ter­tain­ment and res­i­den­tial strip along Maine Av­enue SW.

In con­cert with the city, de­vel­op­ers en­hanced safety fea­tures through im­proved sight lines and light­ing be­tween build­ings; made a heavy in­vest­ment in a

sur­veil­lance cam­era net­work; and placed se­cu­rity bol­lards and elim­i­nated curbs to cre­ate pedes­trian-only plazas and pro­vide con­trolled ac­cess for bi­cy­cle patrol of­fi­cers and emer­gency ve­hi­cles.

The wa­ter-fac­ing side also had an­tic­i­pated up­grades, with fire depart­ment of­fi­cials say­ing that more than $20 mil­lion has been ap­proved for im­prove­ments to the pub­lic safety pier to house po­lice and fire marine units. The process of re­plac­ing the city’s ag­ing fire­boat also is un­der­way.

“More peo­ple does not al­ways equate di­rectly into more calls for ser­vice,” Kevin Don­ahue, deputy mayor for pub­lic safety, said in an in­ter­view. “Ad­just­ing to even a devel­op­ment as large as this does not re­quire us to fun­da­men­tally change how we ap­proach re­sponses and how we staff this part of the city.”

For some long­time South­west res­i­dents, in­clud­ing those who live on house­boats, the of­fi­cial as­sur­ances aren’t enough to quiet a nag­ging sense that adding many more peo­ple to the area will stress ser­vices.

The stretch opening be­tween Sev­enth and 12th streets in the first phase will start the draw of visitors that could reach as many as 15 mil­lion an­nu­ally when the full pro­ject is com­plete, de­vel­oper Monty Hoffman said.

When both phases are done in about five years, an en­tire South­west neigh­bor­hood is ex­pected to emerge in a com­plex stretch­ing over more than 24 acres, and twice that ex­panse across the Washington Chan­nel.

Waves of visitors will flow to and from en­ter­tain­ment sites, in­clud­ing a 6,000-seat con­cert venue, about 2,400 restau­rant seats, and a host of smaller tav­erns and live-mu­sic spots. The site also will draw ho­tel guests, of­fice work­ers and res­i­dents of lux­ury con­do­mini­ums and apart­ments.

Andy Lit­sky, an 18-year elected of­fi­cial who chairs the Ad­vi­sory Neigh­bor­hood Com­mis­sion, is look­ing for as­sur­ances that emer­gency crews won’t be de­layed by any glut of new traf­fic and crowds in the area.

“My real con­cern is that we al­ways have room in and room out for EMS ve­hi­cles,” Lit­sky said.

A squeeze on emer­gency ser­vices for in­ci­dents on the wa­ter gnaws at South­west ma­rina res­i­dent Dar­ryl Mad­den, who two years ago, while away from his float­ing home, “got a call that my boat was cook­ing in the river.” He lost the house­boat, but firefighters re­sponded quickly enough to tow his ves­sel and pre­vent the fire from spread­ing.

The Wharf will have mul­ti­ple piers for kayak rentals, wa­ter taxi and ferry rides, and slips for large plea­sure boats from Vir­ginia and Mary­land.

D.C. po­lice said their har­bor unit has 22 of­fi­cers as­signed to 17 ves­sels and can han­dle pa­trolling, al­though of­fi­cials de­clined to pro­vide spe­cific num­bers for calls for ser­vice.

Fire of­fi­cials said a new ves­sel is sched­uled to go into ser­vice later this fall to re­spond to med­i­cal emer­gen­cies and smaller in­ci­dents, such as drunk peo­ple fall­ing in the wa­ter.

But the har­bor patrol crews “are the only re­sources for the en­tire wa­ter­front, in­clud­ing Ge­orge­town, Washington Chan­nel and the river. This is a lot of wa­ter,” even be­fore any spike in boat­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, Mad­den said.

Don­ahue and the com­mand staffs for the po­lice and fire de­part­ments have re­sisted ex­pand­ing re­sources or chang­ing their ap­proach to re­spond­ing to in­ci­dents in South­west.

But they are pre­pared, they say.

Don­ahue said the ad­vance work in­cludes hav­ing 911 cen­ter staff join po­lice and fire per­son­nel to en­sure that new ad­dresses and new streets are in the com­puter-as­sisted dis­patch sys­tem, and hold­ing ori­en­ta­tions for of­fi­cers and firefighters to walk, drive and boat into the site to learn the build­ings and sur­round­ings.

“The fa­mil­iar­iza­tion is a big deal for us,” D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Gre­gory Dean said.

New con­struc­tion is an as­set, he said, be­cause it is built us­ing the lat­est codes and stan­dards for sprin­kler sys­tems, has in­ner core stair­wells for es­cape routes, and has stand pipes through­out the com­plex to pro­vide eas­ier ac­cess to wa­ter.

Dean es­ti­mates that the depart­ment will ab­sorb any po­ten­tial rise in ser­vice calls just as it did in ar­eas such as NoMa or near the Navy Yard, and just as it han­dles the surge of 1.5 mil­lion work­ers into the city each day.

“We are in a gray area to a cer­tain de­gree . . . but we are try­ing to make sure we don’t knee-jerk some­thing. We have to look at it at a steady pace,” Dean said.

The preparation and fore­sight also may be aided by the hir­ing of a re­tired long­time as­sis­tant po­lice chief to run the Wharf ’s pri­vate se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions.

Hoffman lured Diane Groomes in a move that some city lead­ers said they ex­pect will make it eas­ier to re­solve prob­lems that may arise be­tween pub­lic and pri­vate in­ter­ests.

Groomes, who spent more than 10 years as head of patrol ser­vices for the D.C. po­lice, will lead a force of more than 30 se­cu­rity of­fi­cers and hire off-duty D.C. po­lice dur­ing high-vol­ume pe­ri­ods to patrol and di­rect traf­fic. The pri­vate se­cu­rity and off­duty po­lice also will mon­i­tor 177 cam­eras fixed on lob­bies, crowds, traf­fic and even avail­able park­ing spa­ces.

Pri­vate se­cu­rity should re­lieve the bur­den on D.C. of­fi­cers as­signed to the sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hood so they will not be si­phoned off at the ex­pense of ex­ist­ing pa­trols, First Po­lice Dis­trict Cmdr. Mor­gan C. Kane said.

Hoffman and Groomes also said that they an­tic­i­pate large crowds and that peo­ple on the streets could help tamp down street crime. Peo­ple may be walk­ing to the South­west at­trac­tions from the Yards or Na­tion­als Park be­tween 7 p.m. and 3 a.m., the de­vel­oper’s ex­pected high-vol­ume times, but, as Hoffman said: “Crowds are safety. With more peo­ple, I am a big be­liever there is more safety.”

A more de­vel­oped wa­ter­front pushes the Dis­trict to be more of “a city on the wa­ter,” said D.C. Coun­cil mem­ber Charles Allen (D), who chairs the coun­cil’s Ju­di­ciary and Pub­lic Safety Com­mit­tee and who rep­re­sents Ward 6, which in­cludes the Wharf.

He has long ad­vo­cated for a new fire­boat — so of­ten that his fer­vor has be­come a run­ning joke among his col­leagues, he says — and is push­ing that ini­tia­tive even more strongly now.

The Wharf pro­ject is the first phase of the South­west devel­op­ment boom that by 2022 is ex­pected to in­clude a soc­cer sta­dium and 6,000 res­i­den­tial units at Buz­zard Point, plus a sec­ond large-scale devel­op­ment just east of the Wharf.

Allen said the city soon will need a new fire­boat, and maybe even a new fire­house, and asked the fire depart­ment for a study in an at­tempt to be­gin a pub­lic safety de­bate.


TOP: Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), ac­com­pa­nied by South­west Wa­ter­front de­vel­oper Monty Hoffman, ar­rives at the Wharf for a ride in one of the new wa­ter taxis. The boats will con­nect the neigh­bor­hood with Ge­orge­town and Old Town Alexan­dria.


ABOVE: Fire­fighter Lt. Michael Puglisi tests a noz­zle on the ag­ing fire­boat John H. Glenn Jr., which is ex­pected to be re­placed. More than $20 mil­lion has been ap­proved for im­prove­ments to a pier to house po­lice and fire marine units.


Mas­sive con­struc­tion projects are un­der­way at the Wharf. Some long­time South­west res­i­dents fear that adding many more peo­ple to the area will stress ser­vices. When the full pro­ject is com­plete, visitors could reach as many as 15 mil­lion an­nu­ally.



ABOVE: The Wharf will have mul­ti­ple piers for kayak rentals, wa­ter taxi and ferry rides, and slips for large plea­sure boats from Vir­ginia and Mary­land. Fire of­fi­cials said a new ves­sel is sched­uled to go into ser­vice later this fall to re­spond to med­i­cal emer­gen­cies and smaller in­ci­dents, such as drunk peo­ple fall­ing in the wa­ter. RIGHT: John Don­nelly, Fire depart­ment Deputy Chief, rides on the fire­boat, an ag­ing ves­sel in the process of be­ing re­placed.

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