The Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission approved a resolution Wednesday calling on city officials to open a section of H Street that the International Monetary Fund has closed for construction since 2013.
The legislation asks the District Department of Transportation to stop renewing IMF’s permit to close the 1900 block of H Street while the company renovates its headquarters. The measure pushes for the “expeditious re-opening of the roadway and south sidewalk” by December 2019 – a full six years after the road was shut down.
“The Commission received assurances by IMF officials in 2013 that the block would be returned to the public within ‘three years,’ but with the extended closure, the unacceptable possibility that the block will be permanently closed has become a significant concern among ANC 2A residents,” the resolution states.
Junior and commissioner James Harnett said he introduced the bill to address the “serious lapses” in communication among DDOT, the IMF and the ANC. Harnett said DDOT and IMF did not notify the ANC until about a week before they closed the road in 2013, and the IMF has not since updated commissioners about the renovations or provided a specific completion date.
“This resolution aims to not only call out the IMF for what I view as the gross hostage taking of public space but also the failure of DDOT to effectively communicate the status of those permits to us and retroactively seek our feedback on what seems like the permanent closure of a vital artery in our neighborhood,” he said.
He said Foggy Bottom residents are “deeply disappointed” in the way the city has handled the renovation project because the IMF took over public space without consulting with community members. Harnett added that the block is part of the IMF’s emergency evacuation route, so closing the street for construction limits the space workers can use evacuate.
IMF and DDOT planned to re-open the block in 2016, but IMF officials said the organization renewed its permit to ensure safety conditions, like asbestos, were addressed, according to the resolution. Harnett said he hopes his resolution will encourage IMF to follow through with its plans to re-open the street at the end of the year.
“Assuming we feel like the lines of communication are now open and people are cognizant of others’ responsibility to hold people accountable, I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to move to an amicable end to this use of public space with this project relatively soon,” Harnett said.
DDOT officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Commissioner Patrick Kennedy said the closure has resulted in some traffic inconveniences, but he is most concerned with IMF’s lack of communication with the ANC.
“I think there’s a concern over anything that involves a longtime occupancy of public space in this way, especially when there’s no accountability for it and the community is not informed,” he said.
Tom Pienaar, who works on client engagement, marketing and communications for IMF, said the construction company Grunley completed renovations to the building’s public spaces, like the cafeteria and the atrium, in 2016. He said upgrades to the building’s office spaces will be finished within a few months.
“We’re two to two and a half months away from completing the last few office floors, the occupied floors,” he said. “We are three months away from completing the mechanical system in the building.”
Pienaar said the company closed the 1900 block of H Street to make space for machines that lift construction materials to different parts of the building.
“Part of the need for the closure of H Street was the staging of all these materials, the hoist, the trailers so people can work, so there will be a period after we finish the penthouse and the roof where they will demobilize,” he said. “We are saying that by the end of the year, H Street will be ready to open.”