The city seeks Congress’s ap­proval to spend lo­cal tax dol­lars to ren­o­vate Franklin Square park.

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY RACHEL CHASON rachel.chason@wash­post.com

Del. Eleanor Holmes Nor­ton (D-D.C.) has a bill for Congress that she said mem­bers on both sides of the aisle can get be­hind: im­prov­ing the his­toric Franklin Square park in down­town D.C.

Ren­o­va­tions to the park, which is con­trolled by the Na­tional Park Ser­vice, won’t cost the fed­eral gov­ern­ment a dol­lar. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s of­fice has al­ready set aside $13.9 mil­lion in lo­cal funds to build new fa­cil­i­ties — in­clud­ing a cafe, pub­lic re­strooms and a play­ground — and D.C.’s Down­town Busi­ness Im­prove­ment District has re­served $750,000 an­nu­ally to op­er­ate and main­tain the ren­o­vated park.

But be­fore the city can in­vest in the fed­er­ally owned park, it needs ap­proval from Congress to en­ter into a co­op­er­a­tive man­age­ment agree­ment with the Park Ser­vice.

“I ought to be able to get this done,” said Nor­ton. “How of­ten does a lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tion throw money at the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to ren­o­vate a fed­eral prop­erty?”

As the Na­tional Park Ser­vice’s bud­get has shrunk, the District has de­cided to step in and “is will­ing to do what the Park Ser­vice can­not,” Nor­ton said. States and coun­ties can legally en­ter co­op­er­a­tive man­age­ment agree­ments with the Na­tional Park Ser­vice on their own, but as is of­ten the case, the District is in a unique po­si­tion that re­quires it to seek ap­proval from Congress be­fore do­ing so, Nor­ton said.

Bev­erly Perry, se­nior ad­viser to Bowser, said the mayor’s of­fice is work­ing with Nor­ton’s staff and that Bowser fully sup­ports the del­e­gate’s bill.

In March, Bowser sent a let­ter to Pres­i­dent Trump re­quest­ing that the District be given con­trol of fed­er­ally owned prop­er­ties — the Robert F. Kennedy Memo­rial Sta­dium site, Franklin Square down­town and the city’s three golf cour­ses — so it can make ma­jor up­grades to the sites.

Since then, the mayor’s staff has spo­ken fre­quently with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­clud­ing a meet­ing in May with In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke, whose depart­ment in­cludes the Na­tional Park Ser­vice.

Zinke sounded op­ti­mistic about work­ing with the city and the Park Ser­vice to “en­hance the parks in the city,” Perry said.

“I would say that there is to­tal agree­ment be­tween Bowser’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and the ca­reer peo­ple in the Park Ser­vice that this is the way to move for­ward,” she said.

Nor­ton in­tro­duced the District of Columbia Na­tional Park Ser­vice Im­prove­ment Act on Tues­day. Franklin Square, the nearly fiveacre park that fills a whole city block be­tween 13th and 14th streets off K Street, stands out be­cause it is so poorly main- tained, she said. “Frankly, it is an em­bar­rass­ment to the city,” Nor­ton said.

Plans for the ren­o­va­tions — which would be con­ducted through a part­ner­ship be­tween the Na­tional Park Ser­vice, the city and the Down­town BID — in­clude re­con­struct­ing the bro­ken side­walks, build­ing a new foun­tain and pro­grams in the park in­clud­ing yoga and movi­escreen­ings, said Ellen Jones, the Down­town BID’s di­rec­tor of in­fra­struc­ture.

“There’s life in the park now, but we want the ac­tiv­ity that’s there on a sunny Fri­day af­ter­noon to be present more of­ten than not,” Jones said. “Franklin Park should be a vi­brant ur­ban ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Nick Poliskey, who stretched in the park’s west end fol­low­ing a com­pany ex­er­cise boot camp Wednesday af­ter­noon, said he would “ab­so­lutely” spend more time in Franklin Park if it were ren­o­vated. Poliskey, 36, who lives in Ash­burn and works at the nearby Pen­sion Ben­e­fit Guar­anty Corp., said he didn’t re­al­ize the fed­eral gov­ern­ment con­trolled the park.

He and his col­league James Oswald, 34, both said the park has im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly since they started work­ing on K Street, in 2003 and 2005, re­spec­tively.

“That was a home­less shel­ter,” said Oswald, point­ing to­ward the his­toric Franklin School build­ing. “The park was usu­ally full of garbage. One of our co-work­ers got at­tacked with a knife.”

But in re­cent years, he said, the park has started to feel safer — and at least a lit­tle cleaner de­spite a sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tion of home­less peo­ple. In Jan­uary, Bowser chose a team led by Ann Friedman, a phi­lan­thropist and for­mer read­ing in­struc­tor, to turn the now-va­cant Franklin School build­ing along the park’s east border into a $50 mil­lion mu­seum called Planet Word, which will be ded­i­cated to lan­guage and plans to open in 2019.

The food trucks that ar­rive on 13th street dur­ing lunchtime have also been a wel­come ad­di­tion in re­cent years, Oswald said.

“We have taco food trucks, so at least that’s some­thing,” he said.

Even as the food trucks have drawn work­ing pro­fes­sion­als to the park, home­less­ness re­mains an is­sue, said Sholeh Kia, the gen­eral man­ager of the Hamil­ton Crowne Plaza Ho­tel.

“It’s an un­for­tu­nate sit­u­a­tion. We want to take care of them, but they ap­proach the ho­tel and in­ter­rupt the guests,” said Kia.

The Hamil­ton Crowne Plaza pays taxes to be a part of the down­town BID and sup­port the ren­o­va­tion of the park, said Kia, who added that she hopes up­grades to the park will come with a de­cline in the num­ber of its home­less res­i­dents.

BILL O'LEARY/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s of­fice has set aside $13.9 mil­lion in lo­cal funds to ren­o­vate Franklin Square, above, where peo­ple en­joy a warm day in 2016. D.C. needs con­gres­sional ap­proval to pro­ceed.

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