Community

Anacostia Leaders Express Excitement Over Secret Garden Acquisition

The acquisition of the Secret Garden property in a Ward 8 neighborhood from one of the District’s largest real estate developers has community leaders excited about the possibilities of the property and its possible use.

On Feb. 1, anti-violence activist and entrepreneur Ron Moten announced a deal with longtime District developer Douglas Jemal in which the Secret Garden, a plot of land in Anacostia that Jemal owns, will be transferred to him as a site for the planned Go-Go Museum.

Moten celebrated the deal at the Secret Garden — located behind We Act Radio, Check It Enterprises and a shuttered barbershop on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE — with neighborhood residents, Jemal and D.C. Council members Trayon White (D-Ward 8), Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Robert White (D-At large) attending.

The 3,900- square foot space known as the Secret Garden has been used since 2007 a variety of activities, from a community garden to peace rallies and fish fries.

“We have a venue that is our own now,” Moten said. “We have a place where we can grow food, drink and eat whatever and whenever we want. We also want to have a café. The Secret Garden is an example of what can happen when the community and the government work together and investment takes place.”

The Secret Garden deal occurs amid an economic boom in Anacostia. The Menkiti Group, a real estate service company, is developing the MLK Gateway Project at Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road SE.

The project is slated to establish 20,000-square feet of office space above 14,600-square feet of community-facing retail area and nearly 130,000-square feet of mixed-use building space. Further south on the avenue lies a Busboys & Poets restaurant and bar and Maple View Flats, a retail and residential apartment building.

In November 2019, the D.C. Council voted to give Moten a grant to acquire the buildings in front of the Secret Garden. Acquisition ran into a snag when it was discovered that Jemal’s real estate development company owned the Secret Garden.

After negotiating with Jemal personally, Moten convinced the developer to transfer the property to him for business purposes.

Moten said the Go-Go Museum, a place noting the history of the District’s distinctive musical style, could be open by June. In addition, he said actor Anwan Glover has talked about opening a lounge nearby.

Kristina Noell, the executive director of the Anacostia Business Improvement District, said the Secret Garden deal benefits the neighborhood and the ward.

“I am happy to see developers approach the community in a respectful way,” she said. “I am happy he gave the property to the Go-Go Museum. This is a beloved spot. I would like to see more partnerships like this.”

Robin McKinney, the advisory neighborhood commissioner for District 8A06, agreed with Noell.

“The gift to the community is a blessing,” she said. “Douglas Jemal could have said no and kept the property. This is major for Anacostia because it serves as the gateway to Ward 8, and it will help boost the nightlife here. This will also help bring development to Anacostia.”

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