For us, it's all about market. If the market's not there, then we have to incent more. If the market is there, then we incent less. We try to make all the points about what the market opportunity is, and then let the deal stand on its own. Fort Totten right now is not a hard sell. St. Elizabeth's [a development on the campus of the old St. Elizabeth's hospital in the southeast Anacostia neighborhood] is still a difficult sell.
The first wave of Homeland Security from the Coast Guard just moved in across the street from St. Elizabeth's location with 2,600 people. And we've built a food and retail pavilion that they could use. The difficulty is, though, how do you take that demand off that campus and get it to come to your campus? We're doing that with programming.
We're going to have this big fall festival this month — there will be giveaways, there'll be games, hay rides, pumpkins, free coffee for adults. That kind of thing. Remember, the building has been closed for 30, 40 years or so, and there has been no construction on the site in over 100 years. I believe it's the finest piece of architecture in the city right now. And it's in Ward 8. It's in a "difficult" neighborhood. It's in a high unemployment area. You have to make this community feel how special they are. So at this beautifully designed pavilion, we're going to have an ice rink this winter. Every Saturday, there will be free exercise boot camps for people to get in shape. It's really to draw people there first.
There's room in your budget for things like this?
Yeah, we budgeted for all of this. That's how you do it!
That's not normally what people think of when they hear economic development.
Right. It's more organic than the normal economic development. A lot of people, like you said, think of downtown and the City Center as economic development. But part of this is trying to figure out what is the organic thing that you can grow there. We have a metro station on site, we have all these employees right around there, we have this food pavilion. Then add to that the three innovation centers we're working on there, including one we're working to finalize with Microsoft. It would be their second innovation center in North America — the other is in Redmond, Washington.
Not so long ago, there was native Washington and then transient Washington made up of people who moved here and planned to leave. Now it feels like there's actually a pretty big community of people who think of the city as a place they've moved to stay.
I try to explain to people how I perceive economic development. Part of it is an intellectual exercise, but part of it is emotional. When you are really getting transformation, the people get involved from a community standpoint. That cultural part is what's taking place now. That's kind of the aftermath. It's when you become proud of the thing that you are. That kind of thing is what's happening in the District. That's when you've got the real magic. And that is what will make people want to be here, stay here, and grow here. That's the economic development I'm looking for. That's what it's building toward.
All of a sudden, your home becomes a special place. To me, that is the powerful part, when people are so happy that they're in this town. I want everybody who left to wish they'd stayed. Because if they didn't, it's getting harder for them to get back in.