Technicality Holds up $2,500,000 for Neighborhood Park

Carter G. Woodson Park

Funding technicalities have held up $2,500,000 in funds dedicated for a Shaw park. D.C. government agencies have put the park on “hold” for over one year all because they can’t find a way to approve funds to an artist for a commemorative sculpture.

The triangle park above is located adjacent the home of noted historian Carter G. Woodson, recently purchased by the National Park Service to convert into a museum. City officials planned to convert it into commemorative park with money set aside for neighborhood enhancement during the construction of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and matching federal funds. Planning was moving forward and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which administered the Convention Center neighborhood funds, announced two years ago an artist had been selected to create a sculpture of Dr. Woodson.

Carter G. Woodson Park Location

Legal technicalities have put the project on permanent hold. In an email to me last fall, D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans described what happened next:

in January 2007, the MOU (memorandum of agreement) between DDOT, Federal Highways and the National Trust was distributed to the parties for execution. The final stop was the [D.C.] Office of Procurement, however after reviewing the document, OCP has determined that DDOT is not authorized to enter into an MOU with an outside entity. This came as a surprise to DDOT since the agency has several contracts, including the Heritage Trail contract with Cultural Tourism DC and to make a long story short, OCP has indicated that DDOT needs to either go through a competitive process or follow the procedures to justify a “sole source contract”. In the meantime, I understand DDOT is trying to find the appropriate documentation in the Federal legislation that authorizes DDOT to enter into MOU’s such as this.

Evans pledged to help move the project forward: “The city agencies need to work together to find a timely solution to this problem. If the project falls through, the City’s investment of thousands of dollars already invested in this work will go for naught. I will do all in my power to see that this does not happen.” Sadly, I have heard nothing since this correspondence.

The local ANC Commissioner Alex Padro told me last fall he was “getting ready to go public with the facts” about how the Fenty administration is allowing the project to “go down the drain,” although if he tried to win press attention I did not see it. Mayor Fenty’s office was unhelpful as well, writing in response to my correspondence, “We agree that this is an important project for the neighborhood and for Dr. Woodson’s legacy. Right now, the project is on hold. We are in communication with the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities to see if they will be willing to take on management of this project. …”

Carter G. Woodson Park Panorama

The Case for the Park

Despite its diminutive site, the Carter G. Woodson Park presents a unique opportunity to celebrate neighborhood history and provide an amenity to neighborhood residents. A celebrated scholar, journalist, and publisher Carter G. Woodson is credited with virtually single-handily founding the field of African American history. His efforts to fight racial discrimination, improve public education, and introduce African American history to America and the world deserves to be studied and celebrated.

The park site also presents interesting opportunities for neighborhood improvement. Located at a prominent intersection at Rhode Island Avenue and Q Street NW, it could be an important gateway to the neighborhood. If developed, the park could be used by the women in residence at the YWCA, school children at Shaw Junior High and Seaton Elementary, and thousands of residents of apartments, row homes, and subsidized housing in the neighborhood. People waiting for the G8 bus also have no benches or shelter from the weather, something which a new design could accommodate. (Below, left) Furthermore, three longtime vacant properties border the park. New city investment could help spark redevelopment of these longtime eyesores.

Carter G. Woodson ParkCarter G. Woodson Park

Since my polite inquiries and the assistance of the neighborhood’s elected officials has not resolved the problem, I encourage all District residents to contact the officials below. Tell them to find a solution to the legal technicalities, approve funds for design and construction of the Carter G. Woodson Park. I have no doubt a legal solution can be found to pay for the art for this much-needed park.


Emeka C. Moneme
Director, D.C. Department of Transportation

David P. Gragan, CPPO
Chief Procurement Officer, D.C. Office of Contracting and Procurement

Reba Pittman-Walker
CEO and General Manager, Washington Convention Center Authority

Author: Rob Goodspeed


  1. Pay for??!! How about finding a local artists, inspired by Carter G. Woodson… willing to donate their time and talents. Or students… How about Howard University art students? It seems like there are so many simple solutions to this problem… build the park, fix the park… then find an artist. I don’t get the delay…

  2. In complete agreement with Drew…don’t get the delay…don’t get why it cost $2.5 million to fix a park the size of a postage stamp, don’t get why Jack Evans pledges to do “everything in his power” and then works on bringing the Redskins back to DC instead of working on the very real, tangible issues in his own ward…

  3. Well, said. I’ve become very tired of walking through our dilapidated parks that for YEARS have received no more than lip service and empty promises from our city officials. To name a few, the park and NJ/O that sat without lights for 5 years and has been awaiting a planned renovation for the last 3, the park at 6th and O that has sat broken for decades through shootings and a killing only in an election year to get a pledge from our Council Member to find funds for it (but he’s now facing pressure to sell it to the United House of Prayer rather than fix it), and, of course, the still unfilled promise of the Carter G. Woodson park. Our city can figure our how to build a baseball stadium in 3 years. Our council member has come up with “a plan” to get the Redskins back to RFK. But they can’t seem to fix our neighborhood parks. It’s simply a matter of will and priorities.

    More here:

  4. As a trained artist and working designer — I find the “find a student” artist way of thinking to be absolutely degrading to all creative people and the time, energy, training and skills that we have invested in our careers and work. I have no problem with pro bono and donated work and energy, but that should be at the discretion of the artists and designers. Don’t exploit students, who perhaps are not as aware of the value of the skills they are learning or who are desperate for any recognition at all in the hyper competitive community they have entered.

    $2.5M does not seem an exceptional amount of money to remodel a clearly neglected park. It cost several times that to “fix” a perfectly fine 2 block stretch of P street. Things done well and properly cost money. We can continue to fund that through the collective community (via taxes), redistributing wealth as intended. Or we can redistribute wealth through foundations and grants, either way. The cost isn’t going to go down.

  5. Whatever the problem is…finding an artist…finding the money…doing paperwork…it sounds like government bureaucracy just holding up the process instead of expediting it…

    Its simple …the people who live in the neighborhood would like the park fixed up…whats the problem DC govt??

  6. I meant no disrespect to professional artists by suggesting we perhaps look to some local universities for help in the statue at the site. As an artist myself, with a career in the art world, I too respect and champion the time, energy, talent and skill that goes into such a venture. But who is to say “student work” isn’t backed by the same amount of “time, energy, training and skills that [you] have invested in [y]our careers and work”. This would be a great opportunity for them, not an exploitation.

    I have worked closely with artists still in universities and placed their work in public spaces where they felt a connection. Why not look for “new” and emerging artists from the neighborhood where the statue will go? Their connection to the neighborhood and to Carter G. Woodson would surely be stronger than an artist selected by a design team from who knows where.

    The issues here are much larger than who makes the sculpture, it’s just a shame that selecting an artist is what DC has decided to get hung up on. Plant some grass, fix the fence, put up some benches and light the park… hell, I bet the neighbors, myself included, would volunteer to paint, plant, sweep, clean, etc. It doesn’t take 2.5 million to make a park safe and usable.

  7. Why not just seperate out the project out into two parts: the park and the statue. They they could proceed with the park now and install the statue once they cut through the red tape.

  8. It is interesting to find this blog post now at the beginning of black history month the start of which was created by Dr. Woodson. It seems like now is the time to make the case. I will be featuring the park and his home on my blog this week.

  9. It is centrally located for the neighborhood, a “gateway” as you state, and it would be a welcome addition, as well as honoring one of Washington’s own. I don’t understand the delays.

    P.S. Rock Creek Rambler started blogging again. I know. I almost fell off my blog chair.

  10. Thank you for the great article. I was the person administrating thte Washington Convention Center Historic Preservation Fund for the National Trust. I no longer work for the National Trust, but I have not lost interest in the project.

    A couple of corrections:

    1) The $2.5 million was for more than just the Woodson Park. It included public art at the Watha T. Daniel Library and in front of the Kennedy Rec Center, as well as streetscape design guidelines for the major commercial corridors.

    2) The budget for each art site not only included a substantial artwork, but also included all of the site improvements and upgrades. Because the art sites are located on (technically) Federal Highways, the National Trust was able to leverage the Washington Convention Center’s $100,000 contribution to streetscape improvements into a $2.5 million initiative through the use of transportation enhancement funds (Federal and local).

    3) The chosen art sites were based on a community-wide process that allowed the community to select and prioritize potential sites for streetscape improvements.

    4) Now that the library project is back on track, the community needs to press DDOT and the city to return this site to the list. Craig Kraft, a local artist, was awarded this site. The DC Public Library approved his work. And I am pretty sure Mr. Kraft would be delighted to have his project revived.

    5) The National Trust’s initial contract with DDOT was based on a competitive process during which DDOT asked for proposals that could utilize Federal Transportation $.

    I encourage the community to press the city to resolve their outstanding contracting issues and honor its promises to the community. While I worked on this project in a professional capacity, I live in Shaw and it is a community that I believe in and have supported in numerous ways over the last 15 years.

    You deserve these important streetscape improvements and it is part of the convention center’s mitigation of its impact on your historic neighborhoods. The money for these projects was budgeted for this fiscal year. So, it should be ready and waiting for you if you can succeed.

    I wish everyone luck. One day I would like to be able to walk down Rhode Island Avenue and sit at Dr. Woodson’s feet and imagine him imparting his knowledge.

  11. One more thing I should add…Ray Kaskey was awarded the Carter G. Woodson site. For anyone who has not seen it, he has designed a monumental statue of Woodson (something that the neighborhood could really be proud of). And City Arts, a local non-profit, was awarded the Kennedy Rec Center site, an art project that would involve local youth.

    So, all of the artists are ready to go for each selected site. If only the city can find a way to honor its commitment to pay for the art and the site improvements…

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