…Franklin Square sits on nearly five acres of federal land, but it’s currently undergoing an $18 million renovation paid for by the D.C. government. The new city/federal partnership was enabled by a federal lands package that gave District officials more authority over National Park Service-controlled parks in the city. The BID will manage the park once it reopens later this year, though the National Park Service will continue to oversee event permits there.
The revamped public square will include a restaurant, a pavilion, an expanded and rehabilitated fountain plaza, a children’s play area, ADA-accessible sidewalks, and new seating, according to the BID. Officials say they want it to become an attraction unto itself — something like Manhattan’s Bryant Park.
But critics wonder who the renovations will benefit most. Street Sense, a newspaper focused on issues affecting the unhoused, published an opinion piece in June that described the overhaul as hostile to resident experiencing homelessness.
“The purpose of the renovation is to impose restrictions that prevent homeless and people suffering from mental health and addiction problems from being visible in downtown D.C. — from having a safe haven where they can congregate and get basic human services from local outreach workers,” wrote Colly Dennis, an artist and Street Sense vendor. “Although the renovation of Franklin Park is highly appreciated and may be well overdue, we need to take into consideration the people who called it home for years.”
When the park was closed last year, the DowntownDC Foundation — a nonprofit established by the BID — pitched in funding to provide services to homeless individuals and establish the DowntownDC Weekend Community Services Program, which moved services from Franklin Square to Vermont Avenue. In a recent report, the BID said that volunteers staffed meal distribution events there during the pandemic, providing an average of more than 450 meals on weekends.
“Community outreach groups and individuals are welcome to utilize this reserved block of space to distribute food, clothing, books, medical and any other vital resources to over 200 individuals experiencing homelessness in the downtown area,” BID spokesperson Karyn Le Blanc wrote in an email…