Georgetown Current

Design Board Calls for Changes to Canal Dock

December 10, 2014

By Graham Vyse
Current Staff Writer

Preliminary plans for a new dock on the C&O Canal earned the enthusiastic support of the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission last week, but the Old Georgetown Board has declined to take action on the project until its design is tweaked.

According to U.S. Commission of Fine Arts secretary Thomas Luebke, the board “expressed great support” at its Dec. 4 meeting for the idea of a dock for canoes and kayaks on the 34th Street bank of the canal.

The board’s main concern with the current design, however, is that there isn’t much space between stairs leading from the road to the dock and the dock’s edge along the water. Luebke described that 2-foot area as “too tight” a space to accommodate people coming in and out of the canal.

The dock would be constructed by the Georgetown Business Improvement District and the National Park Service. Maggie Downing of the business group told The Current that she and her colleagues appreciated this feedback from board members.

“We look forward to tweaking the plans,” she said. “We’re thrilled that they shared our enthusiasm for the project.”

At the neighborhood commission’s Dec. 1 meeting, Downing said the dock would be located just east of the pedestrian crossing on 34th Street and directly behind 3333 Water St. It would be handicapped-accessible and available to residents who own boats or rent from nearby boathouses such as Fletcher’s.

“I think the concept is terrific,” commission chair Ron Lewis said just moments before he and his colleagues voted unanimously to support the project. Commissioner Bill Starrels also praised the business improvement district for holding a series of community meetings to get feedback on the project from neighbors.

The business group originally proposed building the dock as part of its “Georgetown 2028” plan, which aims to enhance the neighborhood’s commercial district over the next 14 years. Earlier this year, group CEO Joe Sternlieb told The Current that canoeing and kayaking are currently permitted in the Georgetown section of the canal, but the water isn’t easily accessible. He said he and his colleagues hope that Fletcher’s Boathouse and Thompson Boat Center would allow customers to carry rental equipment to the canal when boating in the Potomac River is not advisable.

“Sometimes, it can be a beautiful day and the canal is peaceful, [but] the Potomac is rushing out after a storm,” Sternlieb said.

This article appears in Dec. 10 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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P Street Shops Get Special Makeover For Holidays

December 3, 2014

By Dylan Reffe
Current Correspondent

The 3200 block of P Street is brimming with reindeer after a makeover tied to Small Business Saturday. 

This stretch of Georgetown is one of five city blocks nationwide to be redecorated as part of American Express’ “Main Street Makeover” program. Five shops on P Street underwent the holiday treatment.

“I love this block,” said Sheila Bridges, the New York City-based interior designer American Express partnered with on the project. Bridges chose a reindeer theme to bring out the charm of the historic block.

“Everyone likes and supports each other,” the designer said of the local shops here. “It’s like a small community.”

Broadly, the makeover projects are an effort to highlight the importance of small businesses during the holiday season. “Big stores have Black Friday, online shopping has Cyber Monday, so Small Business Saturday is the ceremonial kickoff of the holiday shopping season for small businesses,” said Scott Krugman, a spokesperson for American Express.

On P Street, Bridges worked on decorations for Anthony’s Tuxedos & Wedding Creations, Ella-Rue, P Street Gallerie, Just Paper & Tea, and Little Birdies.

“Sheila did a great job,” said Alexa Johnson, a co-owner of Ella Rue. “We had an idea, and she ran with it. I especially like what she did with the mannequins.”

But Bridges wasn’t working alone this week. Elizabeth Kane, a George Washington University student getting her Master of Fine Arts, got the opportunity to “intern” with the interior designer for the week.

“I learned so much,” said Kane. “It was a long week, but it was great!”

Bridges’ designs in each storefront carefully represent the atmosphere of each store. Just Paper & Tea had many paper cutouts lining the windows, alongside paper drawings of reindeer. Both Ella-Rue and Anthony’s had fancier designs and a few formal reindeer, while the window outside Little Birdies was full of colorful wreaths and more playful-looking reindeer, including Rudolph.

“Sheila was so fun to work with,” said Shanlee Johnson, the owner of Little Birdies, a children’s clothing store and the newest small business on the block.

Johnson is a true P Street success story. “I used to work at Ella-Rue across the street,” said the shop owner. “I always wanted to open my own boutique, but corporate retail is so tough.”

Little Birdies has now been open for 10 months, without signs of slowing down.

“This street is so close-knit in terms of business,” Johnson said. “We send customers back and forth whenever possible. Ella-Rue has been instrumental in the success of this store.”

The P Street block was just one of several local stops this weekend for officials promoting Small Business Saturday.

“We started this morning with a breakfast at Baked and Wired,” said Miguel Ayala, the press secretary for the U.S. Small Business Administration. “After P Street we are going to Adams Morgan, and then headed off to Alexandria with Sen. Mark Warner, and then finally to Anacostia with [D.C. Del.] Eleanor Holmes Norton.”

Not only was #SmallBusinessSaturday trending on Twitter, but even President Barack Obama was out giving his support in D.C., visiting Politics and Prose and leaving with multiple bags stuffed with books.

This article appears in the Dec. 3 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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GU Effort Aims to Help Homeless in Bitter Cold

November 26, 2014

By Kat Lucero
Current Staff Writer

When Mayor Vincent Gray activated the city’s first cold-emergency alert of the season last Tuesday, a new program in Georgetown dispatched student volunteers to comb the streets.

The “Hypothermia Outreach Team” scoured the area to find people without shelter and make sure they got supplies or a warm place to stay on the cold winter night. The team is made up of dozens of Georgetown University students in a joint initiative with the Georgetown Ministry Center.

“We want to make sure people are safe,” said Ray Shiu, who runs the program at the school as associate director of Georgetown University’s Center of Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service.

The city issues a cold-emergency alert when the actual or predicted temperature (including the wind chill) falls to 15 degrees, or to 20 degrees with precipitation. To protect homeless residents from hypothermia, city agencies put in place additional services and support, supplemented by ad hoc teams like the Georgetown group.

“During those times, the students are helpful. They’re nearby and they have more energy to go out at night,” said Gunther Stern, executive director of the ministry center.

Last Tuesday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., nine available university students spread throughout the neighborhood, according to the ministry center’s spokesperson, Stephanie Chan. They walked along M and P streets, under the Whitehurst Freeway and along Wisconsin Avenue up to the Safeway in upper Georgetown. Others ventured farther east to the Watergate complex in Foggy Bottom.

When the volunteers came across homeless residents, they handed out items like blankets, hand warmers, socks and other winter clothing and accessories — supplied by donations from both the ministry center and the university. They also called the District’s homeless shelter hotline to transport people to nearby warming locations.

Shiu said the volunteers last week were able to provide help to 16 homeless residents.

To become a volunteer, students must first complete a workshop to build up the knowledge they’ll need, like how to approach a homeless person and which city services are available during frigid weather. They’re also taught how to recognize symptoms of hypothermia, such as dizziness, sluggish behavior and weak pulse. The workshop is followed by a walk-through of Georgetown areas where homeless individuals are known to sleep.

The program just finished prepping over 160 volunteers, according to Shiu. When weather on a certain night is expected to be bitterly cold, Chan said, organizers notify volunteers to see who’s available.

Nearby, George Washington University has also been working to raise awareness of homelessness and to assist homeless people. Among its efforts, according to dean of students Peter Konwerski, is the university’s longtime participation in a yearly nationwide campaign just before Thanksgiving called “Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.”

Starting Nov. 16, the university held a variety of initiatives such as a food drive, a policy discussion and a contest challenging students to budget $30 for food in one week — the average amount that one person receives under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

And when the cold weather hits, like last week, Konwerski said the university sends alerts to students, providing information on how they can help people without shelter get to a warm site.

In Georgetown, the ministry center — which offers a variety of services, including a “clubhouse drop-in center” and a winter shelter — recognized the need for the hypothermia outreach team after the frigid conditions of last winter’s “polar vortex.” A pilot program launched last January with 25 student volunteers on the streets. “We saw that some of our guests on the streets had almost died,” Chan said of the homeless residents.

The ministry center tapped Georgetown University through its newest board member, Shiu, who said there’s a burgeoning schoolwide interest in poverty issues on a policy level.

The university has had a relationship with the ministry center for years, but according to Stern, it was not as active as it is now.

Student participation has “evolved over the past few years,” he said, contrasting it to earlier days when delinquent Hoyas were required to do community service.

Now more students are participating in several initiatives with the ministry center, such as organizing the annual 5K race fundraiser, which raised over $12,000 this year, and volunteering at the winter shelter, which houses 10 homeless individuals from November through March.

This article appears in the Nov. 26 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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