A glimpse of a thriving downtown
Better Block Project offered a revitalized Mount Rainier for a day
Click here to see the video
A temporarily revitalized area of downtown Mount Rainier was the centerpiece of a street festival Saturday that used art galleries, music and dance performances to create the impression of a thriving downtown for an afternoon.
The Better Block Project modernized a section of 34th Street, mostly between Bunker Hill Road and Rhode Island Avenue, by decorating empty storefronts with art and setting up outdoor, café-style seating at restaurants.
"People could get a real sense of how [the street] could look," said Jan Townshend, program manger of the Neighborhood Design Center, who estimated that the first-time event drew more than 400 people despite the chilly, overcast weather.
"People loved the outdoor cafés. ... Some of the storefronts that have been an eyesore for a long time are now looking really nice," Townshend said.
The project was organized by the nonprofit when Townshend saw a YouTube video detailing a similar project in Oak Cliff, Texas, in 2010.
Oak Cliff used the project to spur new business and development, something Townshend hoped to replicate by using the project to generate interest from businesses in leasing the vacant properties.
Townshend said three potential tenants had expressed preliminary interest Saturday in coming to Mount Rainier. One of them, the non-profit ScrapDC, which collects and recycles arts and craft supplies, already signed a temporary lease, and it was now a matter of waiting to see if other interested parties decide to move to the city.
The project, whose co-sponsors included the city, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the Gateway Community Development Corp., was put together with the help of at least 100 volunteers and cost an estimated $15,000, Townshend said.
The artwork and outdoor seating were accompanied by performances by local artists, including Lesole's Dance Project, which has a studio in the city, and soul singer Tamara Wellons, a Mount Rainier resident.
"It was really great to see people walking around 34th Street and going into business and sitting at tables and eating," said Brooke Kidd, executive director of Joe's Movement Emporium, another of the project's co-sponsors. "There's usually just a trickle of foot traffic, and this brought a steady flow of patrons."
One business that saw an influx of new customers was Island Style Ice Cream.
"We had a very busy day for a cold day," said Harry Brockenberry, who co-owns the shop with his wife, Pancita Brydson.
"It was a lot of fun. ... They should do it next year," Brockenberry said.
Councilman Bryan Knedler (Ward 2) said he was very impressed with the turnout and the street's transformation.
"It looked very clean ... there were lots of people," Knedler said. "I think it's great."