The Federal City Council has, over the course of more than five decades, taken on significant projects that help set a foundation for progress in the Nation’s Capital.
Economic Development and Financial Stability
In its early years, the Council devoted much of its attention to the redevelopment of Southwest Washington, one of the nation’s earliest and largest urban renewal areas. At the request of President Eisenhower, the Council coordinated redevelopment activities, helped plan major public improvements, and obtained financing for the area’s first new housing.
Working closely with the National Capital Planning Commission on improvements for downtown Washington, in 1968, the Council created a separate planning organization -- Downtown Progress -- to focus exclusively on downtown.
Housing has been another interest. The Council assisted in drafting the first housing code for the City, and later created a model program for new and rehabilitated housing in the corridors destroyed during the 1968 civil disturbances.
Setting the stage for the area’s economic development has commanded considerable time and attention. Working with the Greater Baltimore Committee, the Council established the regional marketing organization known as the Baltimore/Washington Common Market.
The Council also established the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, which was responsible for restoring the Station in the late 1980s and turning it into a tremendously successful, multi-modal transportation and retail complex. In 2002, Union Station’s retail facilities generated more than $115 million in sales, and on a sales-per-square-foot basis, the Station today compares favorably with the most successful shopping malls in the United States.
For more than two decades, the Council championed construction of an international trade center in the District. Success came in 1987 with enactment by the Congress of legislation authorizing a 3.1 million square foot building that was to be constructed on a 10-acre parking lot at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Formally dedicated in May 1998, the building, now known as the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and International Trade Center, is the second largest federal office building in the country. The Reagan Building, whose construction completed the Federal Triangle, houses the Customs Service, the Agency for International Development, and portions of the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as other government agencies and private firms involved in promoting and financing international trade.
Working with the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Council played a pivotal role in negotiating an agreement with Abe Pollin, the owner of the Washington Wizards and the Washington Capitals, to move his professional basketball and hockey teams from the suburbs to a new, state-of-the-art downtown arena. The arena, known now as the Verizon Center, was built on a city-owned parcel at 7th and G Street, NW, adjacent to the Gallery Place Metrorail Station. Incorporating the latest technology, the 20,000-seat arena hosts 82 professional basketball and hockey games annually as well as a wide range of other activities including Georgetown University basketball, concerts, ice shows, indoor tennis, and family shows. As the Council had hoped, construction of the Verizon Center has been the catalyst for redevelopment of the entire East End of downtown Washington.
Because of the importance of tourism and visitor spending to the City’s economy, the Council actively supported development of the former Washington Convention Center, as well as the new, 2.3 million square foot Walter E. Washington Convention Center immediately north of Mount Vernon Square.
Urged on by the Council, in the fall of 1997, a small group of business leaders from Washington and Baltimore began to discuss whether the two cities might combine forces to put together a regional bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. These discussions eventually led to the formation of the Chesapeake 2012 Coalition. Under the leadership of Executive Director Dan Knise and FCC member John Morton, the Coalition put together the key decision makers of Virginia, Maryland, and the District in a way that will pay long-term dividends for this region.
The Council has assisted both federal and local efforts to improve the administration and financial performance of the District government. In the early 1970s, the District of Columbia Municipal Research Bureau was created, and following a 1977 Council study, the Bureau merged with another research organization to form the Greater Washington Research Center. The latter subsequently has become a part of the Brookings Institute’s Center for Metropolitan Studies.
Working with the District government, the Council has played a major role in analyzing and documenting the City’s structural deficit. The Council continues to work with Congress and the Administration to explore ways by which that deficit might be addressed, especially with respect to the City’s capital facilities.
The Council provides ongoing support to The Economic Club of Washington, an organization that it helped found in 1986. Similar in purpose to the economic clubs in other major cities, the Club offers a forum in which prominent business and government leaders can share their views on the most important economic issues of the day and their impact on the region, the nation and the world. The Club generates and promotes a greater sense of community among business leaders, government officials and members of the diplomatic corps.
From its earliest days, the Council has supported a balanced transportation system for the National Capital region. It has long advocated maintaining and upgrading the region’s bridges and the arterial highway network. In 1966, the Council created Citizens for Better Regional Transportation, which financed the $300,000 public information effort that led to passage of the initial METRO compact bond referenda. The latter activity led to a close working relationship between the Council and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and over the past 30 years, the Council has assisted the Authority in a variety of ways.
The Council, along with the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, worked to build regional support for a dedicated source of revenue to meet the long-term funding needs of the Metropolitan Washington Area Transit Authority. This effort succeeded in securing a ten-year $3 billion funding from the region and federal government.
Working with the U.S. Department of Transportation the Council’s Airport Task Force helped devise and implement new policies for National Airport. With the creation of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, much needed physical improvement projects have been carried out at both National and Dulles airports.
Education and Public Safety
Not all of the Council’s projects are bricks and mortar. For example, the Council has spearheaded the business community’s support for public charter schools as well as systemic reform of the D.C. Public Schools. Through its Education Committee, the Council has worked with the D.C. Public Schools system to develop additional capacity for children with special needs. In late 2006, the Council commissioned a study to make the case for a change in the governance of the D.C. Public Schools that would shift responsibility for the school system to the mayor. Working closely with elected officials, the Council actively supported the change in school governance and worked to provide support and counsel to the new Chancellor of the school system.
The Council also has actively supported the growth of public charter schools in the District, helping launch the D.C. Public Charter School Resource Center, a business-supported organization that helped provide technical assistance to charter schools.
The Council’s CEO and a number of its members are deeply involved in a major effort to rethink and restructure the District’s public library system. Over the past six years, this work has produced over millions of dollars invested in new state-of-the-art library facilities and upgraded programs that have transformed the library system.
Improving the criminal justice system in the region has also been a concern of the Council. Over the years, the Council has been involved in special projects in the area of court reform, police-community relations and drug abuse treatment and prevention. In 1988, the Council, working with a number of other groups, created the Corporation Against Drug Abuse as an independent non-profit organization to focus the business community’s drug abuse prevention efforts.
At the request of Police Chief Charles Ramsey, the Federal City Council created the Washington DC Police Foundation to work with and support the Metropolitan Police Department’s efforts to improve neighborhood safety across the City. The Police Foundation has provided assistance in many forms, ranging from direct financial grants, to in-kind donated goods and services, to the development of specific legislative proposals.