September 20, 2020 | Update

Letter on the Use of the DCUSA Garage

September 20, 2020


Dear Director Anderson,



I am writing regarding the District’s contracting process for management of the DC USA parking garage at 3100 14th Street NW. This District-owned property was built with taxpayer financing under a very different set of assumptions about parking demand than we operate with today. Without your closer attention, I am concerned that a new management contract will be finalized that leaves those assumptions wholly intact and fails to fully use this asset and District funds to maximize the public good.

It is common knowledge – almost a running joke – that this garage is overbuilt. The structure has 1,000 marked spaces and is used to access the highly trafficked retail center of Columbia Heights. Even after monthly packages were offered and spaces purchased in bulk for institutions like the Washington Hospital Center, there are still hundreds of spaces that sit empty. There is so much room that a car detailing shop has been able to set up shop on the bottom floor, and we still have space left over.

The garage was funded through Tax Increment Financing and was built to attract the anchor tenants of the DC USA project – many of which were accustomed to parking-heavy suburban stores in the early 2000s. Ultimately, it seems we far over-estimated how much retail demand would be driven by nearby Metro rail/bus and pedestrian traffic. It makes sense for us to learn from that experience in a new contract. I believe allowing for additional community use of excess capacity would have a significant positive ripple effect. Shifting some demand off of street parking – even on the margins – will go a long way towards achieving more in Columbia Heights.

I am excited about the steps the District has made to create a more just and safe system on Ward 1 streets. The most obvious example is the 14th Street bus and bike lane demonstration project, which is currently nearing completion. It will deliver a more dependable experience for the 20,000 riders a day who are currently marginalized on our street space and create protected lanes for bike and scooter riders. 

Creating 24-hour bus lanes on 14th Street required removing about 70 street parking spaces, which was a difficult trade-off for our community and required significant buy-in from the ANC and residents. If we are going to achieve our goals of more transit, walking, and cycling – not to mention reaching carbon neutrality – we’re going to have to build many more projects like the one on 14th Street, and that’s going to require removing more street parking. I want to prioritize harm reduction so that residents who may still need cars for work or health reasons, or who can’t afford high parking costs, aren’t left out. The unused space in this garage should be the perfect opportunity to do so.

I fully understand that DGS must operate within the budget allotted for this contract in FY20/21, but I believe the District should have considerable leverage for a better deal.

Reviewing the current contract (DCAM-20-NC-SS-0013), a few things stand out. Most notably, the monthly operating budget is quite high for a facility of this size, especially one that is almost completely automated. The contract also mentions an additional capacity of 244 spaces if vehicles are stacked. Since that stacking – which requires the highest labor costs – has almost never occurred (if ever), it makes little sense to impute that into the total operating expenses the District is paying out. If the contract is not in line with how the space is used currently, I fear there may be the potential for wasteful spending.

Fully recognizing that it is unusual for a Councilmember to wade into sub-million-dollar contract solicitations with this level of detail, below are a few proposals to maximize the use of this property and help meet the District’s other goals of safety, equity, and sustainability:

  • Set-aside comp spaces with passes to be distributed to nearby building managements or RPP holders. This would ideally prioritize Senior housing and subsidized apartments in the immediate area, like Trinity Towers or the Maycroft;


  • Use of the garage for more neighboring institutions, especially medical facilities and DCPS; and


  • Clearer procedures for garage use during snow emergencies, and DDOT projects that require limiting parking on-street or in alleys.

            Of course, contract negotiations are complicated, and there are constraints that DGS is operating under. There may be legitimate reasons why the new contract will end up looking like the old contract. I wanted to elevate this to your attention so you’re aware of the context surrounding this facility, and because I think it would be unfortunate if we didn’t at least try for something better.



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Brianne K. Nadeau

Councilmember, Ward 1



George G. Lewis, Chief Contracting Officer, DGS

Councilmember Robert White, Chair, Committee on Facilities and Procurement



For a follow-up letter from Chairperson White of the Committee on Government Operations and Facilities, click here