D.C. City Councilmember Jack Evans said it would be impossible to put an end to the disputes between Foggy Bottom residents and the University, and that some people will always be upset with GW regardless of its actions, in an interview with The Hatchet this week.
Evans, whose ward consists of downtown, Capitol Hill, Dupont and Foggy Bottom, said the problem he’s seen firsthand during his 15 years on the council shows no signs of going away.
“For the 15 years I’ve been here there’s been the struggle between the University purchasing properties and the community being adverse to that,” Evans said. “I have not solved the town-gown problem because it’s not solvable … whatever packed place you have in an urban environment with a university located there, you are always going to have these tensions between the two.”
However, Evans said that GW’s new Campus Plan proposal, an agreement between the University and the community that outlines GW’s development goals over the next 20 years and will be presented to the city this spring, has “potential” to decrease such tensions. The plan, released last week, focuses on increasing building density near the center of the campus away from the residential periphery and developing Square 54 across from the Foggy Bottom Metro for commercial, retail and residential purposes.
“It depends on how the University proceeds,” Evans said. “If they stay within the confines of what they are talking about then it probably could (improve relations). But there’s always some people who just hate the University, and they are not going to be satisfied no matter what you do.”
Evans had kind words for University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, whom he said “has done an excellent job” promoting GW and developing the campus over the past decade.
“What we’ve seen in Foggy Bottom, like we’ve seen in most parts of the city, is just enormous growth,” said Evans, who became vice chair of the 13-person council in 2001. “Some people would argue that that’s bad because it has impinged upon a residential neighborhood and some people would argue that it’s good for the city as it has certainly increased our tax base.”
While Evans’ ward may seem like a bustling area right now, it hasn’t always been that way. He said he remembers the way the District used to be when he became the Ward 2 representative 15 years ago. At the time the District, including Foggy Bottom, was in “a downward spiral” due to a nationwide economic recession. By 1995, Congress had to take over in order to help the city get its finances in order.
“What you had in the Foggy Bottom area was a neighborhood that in many ways was like the rest of the city,” Evans told The Hatchet. “Nothing was really happening.”
But despite his rough first few years on the council, Evans stuck it out. By 1998 – after he lost the Democratic nomination for mayor – he became chair of the council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue. Also that year, Anthony Williams began his reign as mayor and Linda Cropp became chair of the council – and that’s when things began to change, Evans said.
“We began to crawl back from literally the brink of bankruptcy to where we are today,” he said.
And that’s when Foggy Bottom started to become the place GW students know it as today.
“What you saw was a gradual change in Foggy Bottom where things that, frankly, I never thought would get built upon started to get built upon,” Evans said.
Development fever hit the neighborhood, and projects like the shops at 2000 Penn, the Ritz Carlton on 22nd Street, GW’s Health and Wellness Center and the new GW Hospital sprang up in the community.
In the past 15 years, Evans said that his major accomplishments in Foggy Bottom can be seen in the minutia of everyday life, including the improvement of city services for residents such as better police protection and making sure the trash is picked up.
“I think overall we have improved the quality of life of people living there,” he said.
And Evans said that he hopes to continue doing just that for at least the next few years. Evans announced early last year he would run for mayor, but then said in September he would instead run for chairman of the council. Evans said this week that he’s decided to just stay put.
“I’m not running for anything,” he said, adding that his term as Ward 2 council member does not expire for three more years. “I am just serving my term as the Ward 2 council member, and I won’t be running for mayor or the chair’s job.”
Evans said that he dropped out of both races because of family commitments. Evans became a single father in late 2003 when his wife, Noel Soderberg Evans, died of cancer, leaving him to raise their 7-year-old triplets.
“It’s just the wrong time for me to be out every night campaigning instead of being home and it just comes down to that,” he said. “Sometimes you have to make those choices and it’s a good choice. Years from now I will be glad I did it.”
He said that instead he is backing his longtime colleague Cropp, the council’s chair, as D.C.’s next mayor. Cropp and Evans have worked together over the past year to help bring the Washington Nationals to the District.
“We are at a time when the city needs an experienced hand at the helm and she can provide that,” he said. “I’ve worked with her closely over the last 15 years so I know her well and she’d be good.”
And three years down the line Evans said Ward 2 voters can expect to see his name on the ballot for his fifth re-election. He said he intends to remain a part of D.C. government “as long as I keep getting elected.”