By Katie Pearce
Current Staff Writer
The Washington National Cathedral is in the lead right now, with more than 350,000 points, while the Mount Vernon estate and Sixth & I Historic Synagogue trail closely behind. Chugging along the end of the pack, with 4,800 points, is a little house and mill along the C&O Canal.
Those are the current rankings in the Partners in Preservation contest, in which local historic sites are competing — via social media — for a slice of $1 million. The D.C. area is the eighth in the country to be a part of the contest, run by the American Express Co. in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Throughout the region, 24 sites are now vying for funds to complete shovel-ready preservation projects. The popular winner, to be confirmed May 10, will receive up to $100,000. At the halfway point of campaigning now, all of the sites will host open house events this weekend.
The historic spots, which are all run by nonprofits or government agencies according to contest rules, build up points by gathering support through social media sites. A vote on the contest’s website, at preservedmv.com, is good for 50 points. And a site earns 10 points each time a supporter checks into its location on Foursquare, posts a picture of it on Instagram, or mentions it via hashtag on Twitter.
This is the first year the contest — which in the past has taken place in New York City, Seattle and Boston, among other areas — has emphasized social media to such a degree. And it could be an explanation for why the more well-known and media-savvy sites are gathering the most points in D.C., compared to contests past.
“We’re actually somewhat surprised with the results this year,” said Tim McClimon, vice president for corporate social responsibility for American Express. In previous contests, he said, “smaller sites that have been able to get people passionately behind them” have taken the lead — in Boston, for example, a rundown carousel edged out the New England Aquarium and the Old North Church.
In the D.C. area, the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue is standing out as a tough competitor against the national name brands of the National Cathedral and Mount Vernon. “They’re a small entity that’s doing a fantastic job in getting their constituents to vote,” said Robert Niewig, leader of the National Trust’s D.C. field office.
The GALA Hispanic Theatre in Columbia Heights, which is trying to win funds to restore its deteriorating central dome, is now in next-to-last place. “Putting it out there with social media is very hard to do with a small staff” and busy programming schedule, said Rebecca Medrano, GALA’s executive director. “It’s going to be hard for us to catch up.”
But she described the potential funding as “a one-time opportunity we really need to jump on.” As is, Medrano said, any funding the theater does raise goes straight into its “265 days a year in programming.”
Another obstacle for some of the smaller groups has been a lack of experience in social media. Contest organizers have helped with that: After selecting the finalists last fall, “we started training programs with them … to build their social media sites and start building their fan base and friends, so everyone would be on equal footing,” said McClimon of American Express.
For the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy — now in 19th place as it campaigns for funds to rehabilitate one of the dams in the Georgetown park — it’s a new kind of terrain.
Before the contest, “we had a Web page, we had a fairly static Facebook page,” said Ann Aldrich, the conservancy’s executive director. But she noted “most of the board of the conservancy are of an older generation — not digital mavens — so it’s been interesting.”
The Rock Creek Conservancy, which is competing for a project to restore the 16th Street grotto entrance to Meridian Hill Park, has also had to “pick up its game” online, according to executive director Beth Mullin.
She questioned whether the conservancy, now in 17th place in the contest, has been able to capitalize on the park’s popularity and its “media-savvy” neighbors in the U Street area. “I’m just not sure we’ve actually reached them yet,” she said.
Mullin said the conservancy will be present at Meridian Hill this Sunday with a table and tour guides during the park’s most popular ritual, its weekly drum circle celebration.
For a handful of this year’s sites, the contest also creates another type of challenge — internal competition. Seven of the sites, including the Marine Corps Memorial and the Carter G. Woodson Home, are all part of the National Park Service.
“Some of my co-workers are voting for other places and can’t really support this site,” said Joy Kinard, a Park Service district manager who is focused on the Woodson house. The $90,000 requested would go toward restoring the front and rear facades of the Shaw house, where the man known as “the father of black history” lived and worked in the early 20th century.
Kinard said she has reached deep into the network of Woodson supporters to earn points — contacting, for example, the fraternity he belonged to and alumni groups of the schools he attended.
Niewig of the National Trust noted that all of the sites will receive at least $5,000 for participating, and that the pool of money that remains beyond the winner’s award will be doled out to a handful of finalists at the discretion of an advisory committee.
This article appears in the May 1 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.
By Katie Pearce
Current Staff Writer
The National Park Service has come up with a variety of development options for the Potomac riverfront in Georgetown, one of which could create three new boathouse facilities along the shoreline.
Last week the agency released a study of potential uses for the “nonmotorized boathouse zone” that extends from the western end of Georgetown Waterfront Park to about a quarter-mile upriver from the Key Bridge. Although funding isn’t available, the study indicates a Park Service commitment to some expansion of boathouse offerings.
All three proposed development scenarios would revamp the outdated Washington Canoe Club building and create a new boathouse just east of Key Bridge that could host rowing programs for local schools.
Beyond that, the proposals vary according to density. The high-density option shows how the shoreline could look “if you wanted to pack everything into it you could,” said Tammy Stidham, who coordinated the study for the National Park Service’s regional office. The low-density scenario, meanwhile, “shows a bare minimum,” she said.
The stretch of waterfront in question now includes the newly minted Key Bridge Boathouse (the former Jack’s Boathouse), Washington Canoe Club, Potomac Boat Club, three town houses and several weedy lots. The “nonmotorized boathouse zone” encompasses private and public lands, including parts of the C&O Canal National Historical Park.
Development ideas have come and gone in the past — most recently, a proposal for a private boathouse for Georgetown University that lost steam in 2008.
The latest round of plans kicked off in December 2011, culminating in the new “feasibility study” released April 19. Stidham emphasized that “this isn’t a decision document” — any plans would require more federal review.
The new study uncovered “no true consensus on the number or type of facilities” that would be appropriate for the area. But there was agreement on some basic principles: Access to the Potomac should be enhanced through some form of boathouse development; the Washington Canoe Club building should stay in place; and more space is needed for storage, docks and visitor parking.
The study confirmed “an unabated demand for boathouses to serve rowers and paddlers,” which puts a strain on the Thompson Boat Center.
Within the study, both the high-density and medium-density development options suggest two new “large boathouses” both east and west of the Key Bridge — the larger measuring 13,800 square feet near the Georgetown Waterfront Park. Both proposals also suggest a new facility for small boats just west of the Washington Canoe Club, in line with the scale of that building.
The high-density proposal differs in suggesting two linked storage bay buildings for the site just east of the canoe club. This proposal also describes the two new boathouses by Key Bridge, as “multi-story buildings that could “accommodate two collegiate programs and most high school programs” among other activities. The project west of the Key Bridge would incorporate development of private lots.
The third, low-density option would leave most of the boathouse zone untouched, except for creating the new facility east of Key Bridge. In both the low- and medium-density options, this site would include a public boat launch plaza.
In the former proposal from Georgetown University, the school aspired to build a private boathouse for its rowing teams on land west of the canoe club. The plan was ultimately put on hold pending more detailed evaluations.
Stidham of the Park Service confirmed that both Georgetown and George Washington universities “have expressed interest for space within the zone in the past and during this process.” George Washington University owns two town houses within the boathouse zone and holds a land-exchange agreement with the Park Service, she said.
Stidham also said there has been interest in the idea of “another public boathouse such as Thompson’s,” or one that could serve exclusively high-school rowers.
Stidham said more detail would develop during the next step of the process — an environmental impact statement. But there’s no timeline for that stage, she said, because funds aren’t available.
The full feasibility study, and documents related to it, are available at parkplanning.nps/nmbz. A public meeting on the study will take place May 22 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the West End Library, 1101 24th St. NW.
This article appears in the April 24 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.
By Deirdre Bannon
Current Staff Writer
In a lead-up to Earth Day on April 22, Georgetown University last week celebrated its latest renewable energy project: Solar Street, a student-led initiative that helped install 75 solar panels on the rooftops of six university-owned historic town houses.
When combined with other efforts, the project makes Georgetown the largest user of green power among colleges and universities in the country, according to school officials.
Located on 37th Street just north of the university’s main entrance, the row houses serve as student residences. The new solar panels will provide about 27 percent of the electricity needs for the buildings, said Erik Smulson, Georgetown’s vice president of public affairs. Over time the carbon reductions achieved by this project will be equivalent to planting 330 trees, he said at last week’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“Students made all of this possible,” Smulson added.
The idea for the project began in 2011 when a student group called Georgetown Energy heard that funding for projects was available through the school’s student government association. The group mobilized to see how the funds could be used to save energy on campus, according to Dan Mathis, a Georgetown University senior who served as a leader on Solar Street.
After organizing several working groups with fellow students, faculty and administration to test the feasibility of a rooftop solar panel project and to survey potential houses, in spring 2011 Georgetown Energy won $250,000 to make Solar Street and other renewable energy projects a reality.
“This project really shows the impact students can make if they think big and aren’t afraid to take risks for something they’re passionate about,” Mathis said during the ceremony.
Additionally, according to Mathis and university sustainability coordinator Audrey Stewart, students wanted to show other Georgetowners a way to go solar. “One of the things we’re hoping for with Solar Street is that it might help inspire or enable more property owners to pursue renewable energy projects on their properties,” said Stewart.
To carry out the initiative, students partnered with SolarCity, a company based in Silicon Valley but with an office in the District. SolarCity won the contract through a competitive bidding process.
The panels were installed on the rooftops during the school’s break in December and January. The project is expected to save the university $3,000 annually in electricity costs.
The panels are not visible from the street, which was key in getting approval from the Old Georgetown Board, which must first approve changes to structures within the federally protected historic district.
What makes this project distinct is the business model SolarCity uses to bring solar energy to its clients. Instead of installing rooftop panels that clients would purchase, SolarCity provides panels that it owns, and clients pay for the electricity generated. According to Sam Boykin, a spokesperson for SolarCity, this can be an attractive option for homeowners, businesses and institutions because there is no upfront cost to purchase panels, and SolarCity maintains them.
At Georgetown, the university entered into a 20-year agreement to purchase power from SolarCity.
SolarCity began operating in D.C. in 2011, and so far the company has more than 220 clients in the area.
Leon Keshishian, the company’s vice president, is a Georgetown alumnus who has worked closely with students on Solar Street. “This project has had a big impact on me,” he said in an interview. “I put myself in the students’ shoes, remembering when I started in the industry. It’s been really fun working with them.”
Gary Guzy, deputy director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, spoke at last week’s event and shared the Obama administration’s support for the student project.
Georgetown University has a history of supporting renewable energy. In the 1970s, the Intercultural Center (a modernist structure that stands out from the university’s more typical Gothic or Georgian architecture) was designed to support 4,000 solar panels, the largest installation on a university campus at the time in the U.S.
Additionally, New South Hall, which is now in the design stages, will likely incorporate passive light and stormwater management systems. And just last week, the campus received word that its newest building, Regents Hall, was awarded a Gold rating under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards.
This article appears in the April 17 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.