DC Plans $400M Effort to Save Downtown DC


After months of dismal news about rising crime, stubbornly high vacancy rates, and key players leaving Washington, D.C., for Virginia, Mayor Muriel Bowser is hoping a $400 million investment in the city’s downtown will turn things around. 

The mayor unveiled a five-year revitalization plan at a press conference Monday, with DowntownDC and Golden Triangle Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), in a follow-up to the previous Downtown Action Plan announced in 2023. 

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The $400 million plan will fund investment in public spaces, calls for taller height restrictions and champions reducing restrictions on businesses to attract newcomers to the area.  

In particular, the District will direct $45 million to expand a grant program for new companies or small businesses that open in the District; $40 million to expand amenities for current residents; $76 million to improving housing and local universities; $82 million for cultural districts and the arts, as well as streetscapes; $54 million for improving open spaces and parks; and other funding for public safety, transportation initiatives and more.

“I think it’s imperative that we’re making strategic catalytic investments in growing our city and growing the economy of our city,” Mayor Bowser said at a press conference after the announcement. “This is an investment with a return on the investment many times more than what the investment would be.”

The investment is necessary, spurred by the fact that annual tax revenues from D.C.’s central business district have dropped by $240 million since COVID first hit, explained Leona Agouridis, president of the Golden Triangle BID. 

“These investments will bring in additional investment from the private sector over a period of time once we articulate a vision, and we’re clear there’s a sense of moving forward,” Agouridis said at the press conference. “Following implementation of this plan, downtown stands to generate $487 million more annually in tax revenues than it would without intervention.”

The $401 million total will be allocated over the next five years, while the  budget for the next fiscal year includes an initial $39 million. 

The investment will go forward even if Monumental Sports owner Ted Leonsis moves the Washington Wizards and Capitals from the Capital One Arena to Arlington, Va. — a plan currently moving through the Virginia legislature.   

“If our teams vacate, we’re still going to be investing in the downtown area,” Bowser said, adding that the $500 million offer to revitalize the arena is still on the table for Leonsis. “What I don’t want anybody to think is that the Capital One Arena the way it is is good enough, because part of what we know is that it could be more interactive with the streets that surround it.” 

The District’s Office of Planning has developed a parallel plan, called the Downtown Public Realm Plan, with its own recommendations for downtown. 

“With the future of downtown, we have a unique opportunity — and responsibility — to be bold, creative, and collaborative,” Bowser said. “These plans give us a road map for how our community can work together to deliver on the enormous potential of our beautiful Downtown D.C.”

Keith Loria can be reached at Kloria@commercialobserver.com.