Reimagining Adams Morgan: Q&A With Adams Morgan Coalition’s Brian Friedman

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The Adams Morgan Commercial Development Coalition (AMCDC) is a newly formed organization focused on rebuilding and reimagining the neighborhood of Adams Morgan, post-COVID-19, in Washington D.C.

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Brian Friedman, founding partner of Foxhall Partners, started the coalition along with some prominent names in the region. His experience in D.C. includes serving as the developer of the Line Hotel and AdMo Apartments and as a board member of the Adams Morgan, or AdMo, business improvement district. 

The board – which also includes execs like Foxhall’s Matt Wexler, the Reed-Cooke Neighborhood Association’s Nick Roland, and retail leasing expert Stephan Rodiger – intends to transform the neighborhood of Adams Morgan to make things easier for businesses post-COVID-19. 

The neighborhood, located in Northwest D.C. is centered on the happening nightlife scene around 18th Street. It includes a diverse mix of bars, music venues and international restaurants, while brick row houses are home to businesses such as independent bookstores, artisan cafes and vintage clothing shops, many painted with quirky murals.

Commercial Observer caught up with Friedman to discuss efforts to close 18th Street to vehicles, working with district leaders and plans to keep Adams Morgan thriving. 

Commercial Observer: What is the importance of the new coalition?

Brian Friedman: The Adams Morgan Commercial Development Coalition is focused on the re-imagination and the livability of the Adams Morgan commercial core as the town comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A main initiative for the AMCDC is the closure of 18th street for vehicles (outside of emergency vehicles) and the creation of a pedestrian street used for additional outdoor spaces for consumer activity, neighborhood retailers and food and beverage establishments. I have been pushing the creation of these pedestrian streets since early 2005, but it took the devastation of COVID-19 to bring together all the parties in agreement on this movement including the AdMo BID, neighbors, local associations, civic groups and more. 

With what’s happening due to the pandemic, what is the need for this now?

Now there is an absolute need for this initiative because Washington D.C. has been slow to reopen. And even now with the reopening at its beginning phases, there is no plan for those without outdoor seating. Currently, if a retailer or restaurant does not have outdoor space, they do not get revenue, they cannot pay taxes, they cannot create jobs or opportunity, and they risk the chance of permanent closure. We decided to coordinate this effort in an integrated way for the sake of our small businesses and our community.

What are the chief goals of the coalition?

Our chief goals are simple: Save the businesses; bring back jobs to the community; create a responsible way for people to work socially; save the tax base and economy of the neighborhood; save the charm of Adams Morgan; and make Adams Morgan a destination for locals and tourism.

How have you been working with district leaders on this?

We have been diligently working with Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau and her staff, including David Meni, and the mayor’s office. It is key for us to get their support and have them understand what we can do as entrepreneurs, businessmen/women and community leaders.

We have been frustrated with the ineffective movement from other district leaders. Our businesses and our towns need innovative thinking and decisive action in order to survive. Since leadership was unable to take responsibility for the spiraling economic and social effects of three months of business closure, we took it upon ourselves to effectuate change.

Can you provide some advice on what small businesses can be doing to better survive these challenging times?

Businesses need to innovate. No one could have predicted how long the “stay at home” orders were going to last—but those who were quick to realize the situation are those who are doing better today. Businesses need to broaden their services and simplify their offerings. They need to have a strong digital presence, especially on social media, and they need to update their website often. Customers crave communication in these confusing times and will go to business pages that are most effectively connecting with them.

And of course, they need to be able to provide a safe, clean, and healthy environment for their employees and their customers. If employees feel safe, that extends to the customer base, who will have confidence to come back to these businesses. 

What bold ideas do you have to infuse revenue back into these small businesses in D.C.?

Businesses need to create revenue outside of their four walls. It is their job to create new daily offerings to their consumers. They need to innovate and be creative. 

I understand you used some of your own money to fund these businesses because the government was unable to do enough. Tell me about your efforts there. 

My partner at Foxhall Partners, Matt Wexler, and myself preceded the Coalition with initial capital, as have several other Adams Morgan business and property owners, who are also AMCDC founders. I then took it a step further and offered to personally match new funds raised by Coalition supporters.

I know personally the challenges that come with being an entrepreneur and a business owner. I want our community to flourish and I want to help by infusing finance into these businesses and create more jobs and more opportunity.

What is unique and special about The Adams Morgan neighborhood?

Adams Morgan is one of the few 24/7 neighborhoods with activity all day long. Besides tons of bars, restaurants, and businesses there is a lot of new residential development and beautiful parks. The community is eclectic, charming, and perfectly situated in the middle of the city.