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D.C. Debates Fate of Shuttered Marriott Wardman Park Hotel

Some Residents Want City to Buy Historic Landmark

District leaders and residents are engaged in a lively debate over a possible purchase — by the city — of the historic Marriott Wardman Park Hotel located in Ward 3 or allow a private developer to buy it.

Marriott Wardman owners filed for bankruptcy on Jan. 11. The sprawling 1,152-room facility — a stage that provided a platform for national and local Black organizations in D.C. for decades — will be auctioned July 20.

A group of residents wants the District to purchase the property in an effort to address the District’s housing needs.

“The Wardman Hotel Strategy Team [WHST], the group that is asking the District government to buy the former Wardman Park Hotel for mixed-income affordable housing, urged D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to include at least $140 million for the purchase as requested by D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, who represents Ward 5, in his Feb. 15 letter to her,” Margaret Dwyer, convenor of the WHST, said in a July 2 news release.

“Converting the Wardman into affordable housing is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that the city should not let slip away. Hotel-to-housing construction will lower costs and quickly bring online a range of mixed income affordable units, including workforce, affordable and permanent supportive housing, as McDuffie said.”

The WHST’s request, supported by the group Ward 3 Housing Justice, comes as the District’s housing prices continue to lead the nation, making affordable housing units difficult to obtain.

In Apartmentlist.com’s June 7 listing, the median cost of a one-bedroom apartment in the District is $2,269 and a two-bedroom is valued at $3,357 in contrast to Apartmentguide.com’s nationwide rates of $1,711 for a one-bedroom and $1,972 for a two-bedroom.

The median price of a single-family home in the District costs $809,580, according to Curbed DC while nationally a single-family house costs 296,652, the National Association of Home Builders website reported. Additionally, the Marriott Wardman has a history of African Americans working and staying there and hosting events for decades.

A BLACK HISTORY ARENA

Famed African American literary giant Langston Hughes worked at the hotel as a busboy in the 1920s. Many decades later, the hotel would name a presidential suite in Langston’s honor. Black real estate developer R. Donahue Peebles wrote in his autobiography that his grandfather worked as a doorman at the hotel in the 1930s.

Hughes’s close friend, civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall, and his colleagues stayed at the hotel when he prepared and tried the Brown vs. Board of Education case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954. The hotel welcomed Marshall and his party when other major District hotels practiced racial segregation. In 1967, Marshall stayed at the hotel during his Senate confirmation process to be an associate justice on the Supreme Court.

The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the National Association of Black Journalists, the White House Initiative on Black Colleges and Universities and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, among others held their events at the Marriott Wardman.

YES TO AFFORDABLE HOUSING SITE

In addition to the WHST, the Ward 3 Democrats, endorsed by Ward 3 Housing Justice, passed a resolution supporting the Marriott Wardman as an affordable housing site.

“By a vote of support, the Ward 3 Democratic Committee, the official arm of the Democratic Party in Ward 3, Washington, D.C., voted to urge the city to buy the former Wardman Park Hotel in Woodley Park to convert it into mixed-income affordable housing to meet the District’s affordable housing crisis,” a news release from WHST said on June 29.

Parisa Norouzi, executive director of Empower DC, an organization that advocates on behalf of low-income Washingtonians, agrees with WHST’s call for a city purchase of the more than 200,000-square feet of exhibit and event space.

“If the District is serious about securing affordable housing in Ward 3, which has been a big talking point for the mayor, then the city absolutely would not miss the opportunity to transform the Wardman for this purpose,” Norouzi said.

“The Wardman is an excellent site for affordable housing as the location provides access to public transportation, a sought-after school district, job opportunities and recreation—many features that would contribute to quality of life for residents. Ward 3 has historically not been an option for lower-income families because of the lack of affordable housing,” he added.

“We need income-restricted housing for residents at 30% of the area median income in Ward 3—and that will only be possible with bold interventions like conversion of the Wardman Park. The city must not miss this opportunity.”

CITY OFFICIAL WANTS TO STEER CLEAR OF BIDDING WAR

John Falcicchio, the District’s deputy mayor for planning and economic development, told the Informer the District won’t bid for the Marriott Wardman.

“We are not going to get into a bidding war,” he said. “We are going to see who gets the property at the auction and we will work with them on building affordable housing there.”

Jason Fink, the advisory neighborhood commissioner for district 3C02 in Ward 3, agrees with Falcicchio.

“We should allow the process to play out,” Fink said. “It would be great to have more affordable housing in Rock Creek Park West. I think it is a good idea to have underserved residents to live in Woodley Park and in Ward 3. It would add more racial and economic diversity.”

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