“This is so much more than just a park.”
That’s what Edward Ryder, Chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B said after hearing what’s going on behind the scenes at the 11th Street Bridge Park Project.
11th Bridge Park Project Director Scott Kratz appeared at the ANC meeting Nov. 14 to give an update on progress.
The park is one project of Building Bridges Across the River (BBAR), a nonprofit based in ward 8.
“The founders, when they started the nonprofit, meant that metaphorically,” Kratz said. Now, we’re literally building a bridge across the river.”
BBAR also runs THEARC, where 14 nonprofits are co-located, as well as the THEARC Theater. BBAR also supports a network of 7 urban farms across DC as THEARC Farms. Finally, they operate the Skyland Workforce Center, which offers workforce development and training.
But the bridge is, Kratz said, the BBAR project to which residents are “most viscerally connected.”
Take a walk acros the park with this video, created by BBAR/11th Street Bridge Project
The 11th Street Bridge Park Project has its roots nearly thirteen years ago. That’s when the city determined it was time to replace the 11th Street Bridge built in the 1960s. Kratz said former Director of the District’s Office of Planning (OP) Harriet Tregoning convinced the city to keep one of the vehicular bridges, even then thinking about a park across the river.
She brought Kratz on board in 2011. He spent the next two years volunteering at community meetings before he became part of BBAR staff in 2014.
Kratz said BBAR spent 2 years going to the community to ask for their opinion and ideas, holding 200 community meetings; they’ve held more than 800 more since then. Gauging that there was some enthusiasm, they asked the community to shape the project elements, including environmental education, boating launched, urban agriculture, public art, performance space, playground and a café. There was an 8-month design competition, voted on by the community.
“I never thought I’d be building a bridge,” Kratz told commissioners. He had been a museum director for more than twenty years, most recently at the National Building Museum, before coming to the bridge park project full-time in 2013.
But Kratz isn’t just building a literal bridge. He is bridging distance between residents and the river —and between folks who would be next door neighbors except for an imaginary line between them drawn, he said, by 900 feet of water.
And the project is an investment not just in the property but in the people. When the High Line opened in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York in 2009, it was bookended by two public housing projects. Property values shot up along with condominium buildings where units sold for millions.
To avoid unintended consequences, BBAR has worked early with local residents at the center to build intentionally. They spent a year creating an equitable development plan. The first iteration came out in 2015; a third version will be released in December, containing 34 different strategies, Keats told commissioners.
BBAR established a Ward 8 Homebuyers club, helping 130 buyers establish generational wealth. When community feedback called for equitable development together with the park, BBAR created the Douglass Community Land Trust, which has 230 units of community owned affordable housing and a goal of 1,000 in the next five years.
150 people have already completed construction training through the Skyland Workforce Center. “So in the spring, if the general contractor comes to us and says, ‘well, I con’t find any local residents to hire,’ we can say, ‘well here’s a list of 150 local residents we’ve training and are working in construction. Try again, and try a little harder’.”
And they’ve been supporting small businesses, especially in Anacostia, investing $1.4 million to date. Booz Allen and BBAR are about to enter the second year of a partnership where the firm offered pro bono skills services around marketing, financing, and staff training.
ANC 6B Commissioner Jerry Sroufe commended BBAR “for not only having lots of community meetings, but giving evidence that they paid attention to what was said.”
Through the bridge, $86 million has been invested in equitable development strategies even before the park has opened; Kratz said the 11th street park project has become a model that other cities look to.
Goals By Design
The bridge will itself have its roots in history, but with new ideas built on top. The current piers and pilings, the most expensive portion of bridge design, will be retained. The original bridge deck was removed, as it was cheaper to rebuild than repair, Kratz said. “We’re going to build a new deck that’s on top,” Kratz said, “but one that no longer holds cars or tractor trailers but that can hold community-generated programming spaces.”
The goals of those spaces are to re-engage residents with the river; improve public health disparities; reconnect divided communities; and, serve as an anchor for equitable and inclusive growth, particularly for long-term residents of the District.
And it’s happening. The bridge is at 100 percent design. The new OLIN/ONA design selected by the community consists of two double-decked trusses that come together and provide site for all the programming requested by the community. Environmentally sustainable, it captures 100 percent of the stormwater and includes more than 175 trees and urban gardens with pollinator meadows and river access.
A central plaza and a hammock grove are part of the bridge design, as are a cafe and community meeting space. There are multiple programming spaces. Kratz said perhaps his favorite space on the park is the mussel beach play space —an 11,000 inter-generational play space by Studio Ludo.
On the east side, the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) will program an Environmental Education Center and a kayaking canoe launch targeting school kids in the day and low cost access evenings and weekends. There will also be an urban farm on the Anacostia park side.
All told, the Bridge Park spans about three football fields. That’s a bit more than 7 acres or 1100 feet. A run across across takes between 5 and 10 minutes, Kratz said.
The city will own and be responsible for bridge itself from pier, piling, piling to deck; everything from deck up is owned, programmed and maintained by BBAR. Kratz said the arrangement, being finalized as he presented, will likely be facilitated through a public space permit issued in perpetuity to BBAR for the space. That means that DC and BBAR will not be in a contract requiring monetary exchange.
Everything is in motion to begin construction in 2024. The goal of the capital campaign is $177 million; they’re at $171 million now, Kratz said, “and we’ve got a bunch of irons in the fire to close that last $6 million, so we can put shovels in the ground and open up this park in the next few years.”
Designs were fully approved in 2022; environmental permits are being finalized now. “I’ve learned so much about bridge design,” Kratz said. DDOT will solicit the design contractor, with goals to finalize contractor by end of this year and to break ground at end of March 2024. The target is to open the bridge park by the end of 2026.
An early economic impact report from HR&A Advisors anticipated the bridge will see 800,000 to 1.2 million visitors per year, with strong variance by season. Hours are expected to be dawn to 10 p.m., but given that there are pedestrian and bicycle lanes, there are no gates, Kratz said.
But you can experience the essence of the park long before it opens. BBAR pilots ideas for the bridge park via the Anacostia River Festival. Last spring, almost 10,000 residents came to experience in one day what the park will offer every day. Kratz invites all to get a preview of the park May 4, 2024 at next year’s festival.
It truly has become much more than a park, Kratz said.
It has become a bridge, both literal and metaphorical, transcending the limitations of either shore.
“There is a deep investment on both sides of the river,” Kratz said, “to ensure that the tens of thousands of reisdents who helped shape this proejct from the beginning can be the ones that benefit from it.”
Learn more at bridgepark.org