National Capital City Fire Damaged Area Civic Center – One Step Forward, One Step Back

This afternoon at 4:15 I spent 20 minutes in the City Council Chambers, with five committee chairmen on their floor talking to diverse audiences including local artists, historians, community leaders, staff.

To recap:

• The National Parks Services inspector general recommended that the Parks Service look at the plant’s management practices to see if that’s causing any of the ongoing problem to be difficult to manage.

• The city is continuing to separate asbestos from other pollutants in the building.

• The Mayor’s Office is going to take over environmental works that were historically under the POKA, so there will be some change going forward.

• The city will consider the inspector general’s report, and meet with consultants from Parks and Recreation about whether to terminate the city’s contract with Massey Hall Systems, since it’s in violation of the terms of that contract.

I’m trying to be cautious because of Massey Hall’s history.

In March 2007, the hotel caught fire and lost what was saved of the 20 rooms that had been rented to them. Then, the building was retrofitted with sprinklers and a sprinkler retardant system to comply with the current regulations, and the landlord was looking for a tenant to replace the hotel. It was the economic collapse of 2008, and, some people speculated, that’s what caused the initial fire at the building, so the political pressure to find a replacement tenant was reduced.

Massey Hall Systems’ lease was extended in 2009, then extended again in 2011.

The building has survived.

“I would like to believe that the movie ‘Groundhog Day’ is a true statement about Americans,” said Senterfitt, the majority whip, in the speech that he gave to the committee chairmen and the people at today’s event. “In the movie, Bill Murray must relive the same day over and over. The fire of 2008 was repeated over and over in ways too complex for me to explain here.”

But this afternoon, he talked about the building, specifically its potential to use.

“Massey Hall has been uniquely designed and constructed as the Plaza City Civic Center,” he said. “The Plaza City Civic Center is a designated landmark in the United States District Court, a memorial to the efforts of the surviving people of New York during 9/11 and a space in need of the type of civic programming like the free public concerts that the building can provide.”

And he added: “It is available to the public for wedding receptions and special events that people from all walks of life can enjoy, making it a place for the people of Washington, D.C. to make their lives better and a place for leaders of government to connect with people.”

That, in addition to restoring the building, will be critical in moving the city past the pandemic and back to a degree of normalcy.

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