Gay What ?
Rest of site back up shortly!

Joseph F. Vivalo, Jr. dies at 53

Joe Vivalo, obituary, gay news, Washington Blade

Joseph F. “Joe” Vivalo, Jr. in 1987.

Joseph F. “Joe” Vivalo, Jr., 53, a former resident of Washington and Arlington who was active in political and AIDS charity fundraising and events management, died in Key West, Fla., on Feb. 5.

His death was from suicide, according to Terry Michael, with whom Vivalo shared an apartment on Capitol Hill in 1986-87 and again in 1992-93. Vivalo, who was gay, worked as a waiter at Mr. Henry’s restaurant, Michael said, after moving to the District from Portland, Ore., in July 1986. Living in New York from 1988-92, he returned to Washington in November 1992, where he resided again on Capitol Hill and later in the Logan Circle area, before settling in Arlington. At the time of his death, Vivalo had been living and working at a guesthouse in Key West.

A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Vivalo was a director of the Pallotta TeamWorks AIDS Ride in Washington in the late 1990s and was director of the Whitman-Walker Health AIDS Walk in 2000, when he also produced a fundraising concert for Whitman-Walker at the Kennedy Center, featuring singer Patti LaBelle. He worked in several AIDS walks in Manhattan in the late 1980s.

Specializing in arts and entertainment fundraising, Vivalo was fundraising director for former U.S. Rep. and 1984 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, in her unsuccessful race for the U.S. Senate in New York in 1992. He had served in the Mondale-Ferraro presidential campaign in Portland, Ore., in 1984, as a young field worker. He worked on the Clinton-Gore Inaugural Committee in Washington in 1992. And he was on the facilities management staff of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. in 2012. For a time, he ran a bike restoration business in Arlington.

Born Dec. 30, 1960 in Youngstown, Vivalo was a son of the late Joseph Vivalo and Marie Ann “Dolly” Vivalo, who survives, along with siblings Debbie, Jeff, John, Katie, Jacqueline, Michael and Kimberly. He is also survived by friends in the Washington area, including Walter Quetsch of Capitol Hill, at whose Fire Island cottage Vivalo was a frequent guest during the past two decades, and Washington attorney Jim Prunty, whom Vivalo met during his years in Portland.

Vivalo attended Ohio University, where he earned a degree in political communication. He was an active swimmer in high school and college. He had a passion for dance music and was a friend of the late San Francisco disco icon Sylvester James, “who visited Joe at our apartment on Capitol Hill in late 1987,” Michael said, noting that “Sylvester’s ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ and ‘You Are My Friend’ tracks became Joe’s signature songs.”

A memorial service for Vivalo was held in Youngstown Feb. 8.

12
Feb
2014

Mid-City in winter

Mid-City, Logan Circle, gay news, Washington Blade

The big Mid-City winners in this category were zip code 20005 (Logan Circle) and 20004 (Penn Quarter). (Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The books are closed on January 2014 real estate stats and, in general, it was a better month for market activity than January 2013. So let’s take a look at the numbers:

 

Mid-City, gay news, Real Estate, Washington Blade

Mid-City statistics

First, comparing median sold prices, Mid-City properties saw growth in median sold prices for January 2014 over January 2013 — $576,101 over $511,841. These figures are higher for both Mid-City and D.C. overall in either year; additionally, Mid-City median sold prices have a greater increase year over year than D.C.—by 12.6 percent compared to 11.6 percent for D.C. The big Mid-City winners in this category were zip code 20005 (Logan Circle) and 20004 (Penn Quarter), with 63.3 percent and 53.9 percent increases respectively. However, because these two zip codes had so few solds in January (a total of eight), it might be more accurate to designate zip code 20010 (Columbia Heights, Mt. Pleasant) as the winner with 28 solds and a 35.3 percent increase. The big loser was zip code 20003 (Capitol Hill, Navy Yards) with a -2.8 percent decrease in median sold prices over January 2013.

For active listings, Mid-City had a greater percentage increase in the number of properties on the market—from 387 in January 2013 to 463 in January 2014—for an increase of 19.6 percent in available properties in comparison to only a 5.4 percent increase for DC overall. Again, the big Mid-City zip code winner was 20010 (Columbia Heights, Mt. Pleasant) with a 78.3 percent increase in active listings, while the big loser was again zip code 20003 (Capitol Hill, Navy Yards) with a decrease of -34.8 percent in the number of active listings.

Average days on the market is one indicator of the “speed of the market” and a general index of the seller’s market: the fewer the number of days on the market, the more the market is considered to be a seller’s market. Here, D.C. showed an -18.5 percent decrease in average days on the market, while Mid-City experienced a 35.3 percent increase. This means there were more properties on the market for a longer time in January 2014 over January 2013 in Mid-City, but fewer in D.C. overall. However, to put this all in perspective, there must be a six-month supply of homes on the market for it to be considered a “balanced” market between sellers and buyers. Dividing the average days on the market by 30 to obtain the number of months of supply of available homes, we can see that both D.C. overall and Mid-City have approximately a two-month supply of homes on the market—making it clear that we are still in a seller’s market.  (However, this figure is up from the fall season, when homes moved so quickly off the shelf that there was less than a one-month supply.)

Identifying winners and losers in this category depends on your point of view: if you are a seller, a lower number of days on the market is better because it means that there is less competition for your property; if you are a buyer, a greater number of days is better because it means you have more options from which to choose and sellers may be more willing to negotiate. So, for this category, winner/loser zip codes for sellers are 20002 (H Street, Atlas District, Trinidad) with a decrease of average days on the market of -66.1 percent over January 2013 and 20005 (Logan Circle) with an increase of average days on the market of 205.4 percent over January 2013. For buyers , the winner/loser zip codes are just the opposite: your buying options increased in zip code 20005, while they decreased in zip code 20002. Looks like the H Street district is heating up.

The final comparison is sold price/original list price. Here, what’s being compared is how big a percentage of the original list price sellers are getting. The higher the percentage, the more we are in a seller’s market. The D.C. market has been in the 90+ percentage range for the last five years—even through the modest real estate decline we experienced in the District. Bargains are few and far between in D.C., and this is something that newcomers trying to buy a home here frequently learn the hard way by losing a number of their first offers. In this category, there wasn’t much different between D.C. overall and Mid-City from January 2013 to January 2014: Both experienced a .7 percent increase in the ratio of sold price to original list price, with the Mid-City ratio of 98.5 percent being 1.4 percent higher than D.C.’s 97.1 percent. (This means that Mid-City homes sell for closer to asking price—surprise!) In this category, the big winners—at least from a seller’s perspective—were zip codes 20004 (Penn Quarter) and 20005 (Logan Circle), with 4.5 percent and 3.4 percent increases over January 2013. It’s worth pointing out that zip code 20005 had a sold price/original list price ratio of 101.3 percent. This means that Logan Circle properties are selling for more than their asking price—even in the dead of winter. How is that possible? It means that 20005 properties are receiving multiple contract offers.

And the big loser in this category?  Zip code 20007 (Georgetown/Burleith, Glover Park), with a -1.6 percent decrease in the sold price/list price ratio to 95.1 percent. However, at a median sold price of $885,674, that’s hardly “loser” status.

Happy Hunting!

Ted Smith is a licensed Realtor with Real Living | at Home specializing in Mid-City DC. Reach him at TedSmithSellsDC@rlathome.com and follow him on Facebook.com/MidCityDCLife, Youtube.com/TedSmithSellsDC or @TedSmithSellsDC. You can also join him at free monthly seminars for first-time homebuyers or monthly tours of open houses in a different neighborhood each week. Sign up at meetup.com/DCMidCity1stTimeHomeBuyers/.

12
Feb
2014

Hot housing trends in D.C.

Real estate, trends, gay news, Washington Blade

Some residents are opting to ‘go micro’ while others are finding their money goes far enough to afford an extra bedroom in their condo. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Spring is finally here but the biggest buzz isn’t about what’s outside but what’s going on inside. Real estate in the District is changing in a major way from size and design to renovations. Here’s a roundup of some of the latest trends a savvy buyer should know about when hunting for a new home in the District.

First, expansion has become a need than a want. Efficiencies were once the popular (and affordable) option when seeking out a new condo. However, more buyers are now springing for that two-bedroom unit. According to Valerie Blake of Prudential PenFed Realty, the market is more affordable than it’s been for a while. Residents are no longer forcing themselves to downsize and are choosing to spring for another bedroom. The extra space can be used for a guest room, office, nursery or combination of the three.

More space isn’t only desirable feature. Those looking for a new condo are no longer primarily interested in condo facilities such as how good the gym is or whether there’s a pool. Instead, Blake notices a trend of residents wanting their own private, larger outdoor space.

D.C. residents also seem to have had enough of picking up the hammer, those who work the local market say. Many buyers are now looking for completely finished properties that require no extra work.

Kevin McDuffie of Coldwell Banker in Dupont Circle says, “People just want to bring their clothes and toothbrush. They don’t want to do their own renovations. They want a finished product.”

Design is always evolving and kitchen design is no exception. Dark cabinets with light floors used to be the “in” trend. However, now the opposite is true. Dark floors with lighter cabinets is the new chic. Many new homes feature this modern design. In general, traditional looks are no longer being used and a sleeker, sophisticated feel is in demand.

A neighborhood that’s becoming a trend in its own right is the waterfront in Southwest. Chris Heller of Coldwell Banker says this spot is one of the best places to move these days. He says the River Park building (1301 Delaware Ave., S.W.) sat for years with empty townhouses and apartments. Now, many units are going under contract. Heller attributes the interest to the location.

“It feels like living in a suburb over here. There’s a new Safeway and restaurants. But the Metro is only two blocks away. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Bucking the trend of seeking more space are younger buyers, some of whom are seeking “micro units.” These units are even smaller than efficiencies. Many have been included in buildings on 14th Street and in the U Street corridor. Young professionals seek these micro units because they are easy to manage and clean. They are used solely for the purpose of sleeping. Nowadays, Heller says, entertaining isn’t done inside the home the way it used to in the past.

“People don’t hold dinner parties that often anymore if at all,” Heller says. “They entertain their guests in the city in restaurants and bars. There are so many places to go now that there’s isn’t a need for space to entertain anymore.”

These micro units are about 278 square feet and can run as low as $99,000.

Clean, modern and ready for move-in seems to be the consensus among those looking to purchase in the District. It’s something many of us can agree with — the less work the better.

 

Apartment updates

 

U Street Corridor

 

The Cardozo, a 28-unit condominium residential building, is planned for the corner of 11th and V streets. Units are planned to be small, ranging in size from 615-750 square feet. The six-story building will have underground garage parking.

JBG plans to build two buildings with five stories of residential units including ground floor retail and one level of underground parking. One building is planned to run from 8th to 9th Street and the other will be to the east.

Louis at 14th is planned for the west side of 14th street south of U Street. The nine-story building will house 267 units with 30,000 square feet of street level retail. Amenities include a movie theater, yoga room, rooftop pool and 24-hour concierge.

 

Logan Circle

 

Developer Brook Rose has proposed a rental complex on the 1400 block of Church Street. The building would include 29 micro-unit studios and six one-bedroom apartments for a total of 35 available units. Eight stories high, the complex would incorporate the existing row houses on the street.

The Fortis Companies plans to build a 33-unit apartment complex by converting the National Alliance of Postal and Federal Workers in Logan Circle. An additional two floors would be built for either condos or rentals. The units would range in size from 600-1,700 square feet.

Habte Sequar has built the Aston, a development consisting of 31 condominiums, 18 parking spaces and 3,000 in ground floor retail on 14th and R streets. This building is sold out.

The Irwin, a five-story residential building, has been planned for a vacant lot on 14th Street south of Rhode Island Avenue. Units are planned to be small ranging from 500-600 square feet. Condo amenities would include a large internal courtyard, fitness center, bicycle storage, 20 parking spaces and a common roof terrace.

 

14th Street Corridor

 

Douglas Development is building a seven-story residential building on the southeast corner of 14th and Florida Ave.; 30 units are planned for the building.

Community Three plans for a residential building with 18 condos with ground floor retail. The six-story building would have condos around 600-1,400 square feet including a penthouse on the top floor.

The Corcoran is a seven-story condo planned for a current Zipcar parking lot on 14th Street. The 40-unit condo building would include ground floor retail.

CAS Riegler has redeveloped the Lionel Train Store (1324 14th St., N.W.) into a five-unit condo building. Units are around 1,000 square feet. Pricing runs from $600,000-$850,000. The building is sold out.

04
Apr
2014

Bowser or Catania?

David Catania, Muriel Bowser, mayor, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

The race between David Catania and Muriel Bowser for mayor is dividing the LGBT community. (Washington Blade photo of Catania by Michael Key; Blade photo of Bowser by Damien Salas)

D.C.’s overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning LGBT community will likely be navigating unchartered waters this summer and fall as an LGBT-supportive Democrat, Council member Muriel Bowser, runs against a prominent openly gay Council colleague, independent David Catania, in a hotly contested race for mayor.

“I have no idea how it will come out,” said Rick Rosendall, president of the non-partisan Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance.

“Many people are talking about supporting Catania,” Rosendall said. “At the same time, some people are circling the wagons as Democrats.”

Rosendall is among many activists who see a potential dilemma for LGBT voters in a city in which virtually all elected officials and nearly all credible candidates for public office are supportive on LGBT rights. Many have longstanding records of support on issues that were once considered highly controversial, such as the city’s same-sex marriage law.

Bowser’s decisive victory over D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary appears to have come with the support of large numbers of LGBT voters, even though the city’s most prominent LGBT leaders backed Gray.

A Washington Blade analysis of 18 voter precincts believed to have large concentrations of LGBT residents shows that Bowser won 14 of them, with Gray and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells, a Council member from Ward 6, each winning two of the “LGBT” precincts.

Several of the precincts won by Bowser are located in areas long known as “gay” neighborhoods, including Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Adams Morgan and Shaw. Other precincts she won are in areas considered up and coming neighborhoods into which many LGBT people are moving, such as the 14th and U Street, N.W. corridor, Bloomingdale, and Ledroit Park.

Everett Hamilton, owner of a local public relations firm and longtime gay Democratic activist, is serving as a volunteer communications strategist for the Bowser campaign. He said he believes Bowser captured the majority of LGBT votes for the same reason that she won the overall citywide vote.

“At the end of the day, LGBT people, like all city residents, are going to vote for the person who can best run the city and who they believe is best for the city,” he said.

With a gay brother and a gay campaign manager, Hamilton said no one can dispute the fact that Bowser and her campaign have strong ties to the LGBT community, Hamilton said.

Other political observers, however, point out that Gray was ahead of Bowser and the other mayoral candidates until U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen took the extraordinary step of implicating Gray in an illegal scheme to raise more than $600,000 for Gray’s 2010 mayoral election campaign less than a month before the primary.

Gray has long denied having any knowledge in the scheme that led to the indictment of businessman Jeffrey Thompson, who pleaded guilty to orchestrating the scheme in exchange for being promised a more lenient jail sentence. It was Thompson who has told prosecutors Gray knew about the illegal activity and approved it.

The revelations by Machen resulted in an immediate rise in support for Bowser that many observers believe led to her victory at the polls.

Catania’s LGBT supporters, meanwhile, have said that Catania’s reputation as a reform politician with a strong legislative record on issues such as healthcare, education, and LGBT rights will have none of the negative baggage that Gray had as the general election campaign for mayor moves forward.

Longtime gay Democratic activist Paul Kuntzler, one of the founders of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, surprised many in the LGBT community last week when he announced his support for Catania over Bowser. Ben Young, Catania’s campaign manager, said “many more” prominent LGBT Democrats would soon announce their support for Catania.

Veteran gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, a Blade columnist, has emerged as one of Catania’s leading critics, saying Catania’s status as a former Republican whose philosophy isn’t as progressive as people think will work against Catania in a city with an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate.

Angela Peoples, president of the Stein Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, said the club’s bylaws prevent it from endorsing a non-Democratic candidate when a Democrat is running in a particular race.

Even if the club could endorse a non-Democrat, Peoples said she expects the club to back Bowser, although its members have yet to set a date to vote on an endorsement.

“As always, I will certainly yield to the will of the membership,” she said. “This election poses an interesting situation for many folks and for LGBT folks in the District as there is an LGBT candidate on the ballot,” Peoples said.

“However, I think what I’ve seen thus far coming out of the primary is Democrats are uniting around Councilwoman Bowser. And I think that’s great to see,” she told the Blade.

Peoples said the club would likely adopt a plan for an endorsement vote at its April meeting scheduled for next Monday night.

The city’s most prominent transgender activists, who were solidly behind Gray in the primary, also have yet to say whether they will back Bowser now that she defeated a mayor that many in the trans community considered a champion for their rights.

Although Bowser has voted for all transgender equality measures that have come before the Council, Catania has been the author of several of those measures, including a landmark bill removing longstanding obstacles to the ability of trans people to obtain a new birth certificate to reflect their transition to a new gender.

10
Apr
2014

D.C. zoning board’s curious battle over city transit policy

Shaw, zoning board, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The District government knows it can’t have it both ways. City agency adjudicators at the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment, however, appear not to have gotten the memo.

Or perhaps there is more to their intransigence than is readily apparent.

One thing is certain: poor attendance delaying board decisions coupled with an astonishing lack of concern for the huge costs of decision-making deferral and a startling lack of appreciation for the expense factors in the business of building are indefensible in a city no longer willing to countenance pitiful government administration.

At issue are policies simultaneously encouraging car-less households and development in public-transit-intensive areas while fulfilling housing needs at affordable cost.

Caught in the crossfire is the local development team of Brook Rose and Gregg Busch. The duo, partners in both business and life, have encountered inexplicable opposition to their languishing proposal to provide housing in one of the most in-demand areas of a city enjoying strong and sustained population growth.

On Tuesday, after an already 10-month-long process, BZA board members again postponed a decision on an application by Rosebusch LLC for a zoning variance allowing renovation of three historic rowhouses with integrated construction of 37 micro-unit apartments spanning 1456-1460 Church Street, N.W., in the Logan Circle neighborhood.

The developers are seeking an exemption to provide four parking spaces instead of the 19 required in exchange for an appropriate and allowable offsetting mitigation measure. As proposed, the micro-unit tenants would not be allowed residential permits for on-street parking.

In other words, they wouldn’t own automobiles. The encouragement of which has specifically been adopted as city policy – alongside what many consider deliberate discouragements to possess one.

Never mind that it is acknowledged as impractical to provide so many parking spaces underneath the tiny infill lot. Even if feasible, the prohibitive expense would add a cost burden to each housing unit and subsequent rental pricing – for an amenity many, if not most, would neither need nor use.

It’s simply a deal breaker.

All this despite the project being backed by the Office of Planning, the Historic Preservation Review Board, the Department of Transportation and the neighborhood advisory commission. Not unusual in local regulatory situations, opposition is limited to a small number of Gladys Kravitz types in an adjacent condo building. Of note, the ringleader is the boyfriend of a BZA board member, with both men sharing a unit in the building. (The boyfriend has recused himself from voting on the matter.)

That’s where the story gets interesting, and may explain why some board members have expressed an unwillingness to grant the same parking relief recently approved for several projects, including one nearby.

The oft-unusual universal support of relevant agencies and entities recommending approval combined with prior BZA blessing of others with no compelling variable distinction and without credible or coherent board proffer in this instance, is troubling. It would seem that developers might be well advised to light votive candles hoping that a regulatory board with immense power not include someone with a personal connection in a public matter involving their project.

Ironically, the city intends to downwardly revise parking requirements for housing developments in transit-bountiful locations. Transparent is the dysfunction of a government incapable of consistently implementing public policies designed to benefit local residents and achieve larger goals. Likewise any inability to enforce the proposed conditions, expressed as a concern. Claiming lofty objectives requires the competency to manage the details.

The controversy doesn’t involve the modest apartment sizing – a market-driven trend proving popular with a variety of diverse demographics less interested in large housing spaces and more concerned with convenience and adversely affected by affordability.

More compact and less costly housing are desired by many single adults, younger residents and older “empty nesters” with modern lifestyles. They seek proximity to vibrant streetscapes brimming with socialization options – fundamentally altering the way some residents perceive and utilize their living spaces.

It’s only a mixed-message-sending D.C. government that appears confused about what it wants.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

18
Apr
2014

Creative flow at Fathom

Drew Mitchell, Fathom Creative, gay news, Washington Blade

Fathom Creative president and CEO Drew Mitchell discovered an interest in visual communication at a young age.

Similar to other digital success stories, it started in a garage.

Fathom Creative president and CEO Drew Mitchell discovered the art of visual communication at a young age. While eight-year-old contemporaries worked lemonade stands on the suburban Silicon Valley sidewalks of his childhood, he hosted gallery-like showings of his youthful drawings inside the family car space.

“Always creative,” Mitchell spent summers at art school instead of soccer camp. Another athletic activity, however, had Mitchell devoting five hours training daily with his high school swim team. He enjoyed “excelling in a sport where you’re primarily competing with yourself and striving for self-improvement.” It would later inspire his firm’s moniker.

In 1994, following several years first as graphic designer and soon creative director at high-profile D.C. public relations firms, including an art director stint at News Corp., he “decided to go out on my own” at the age of 29. “I always knew I wanted to start my own business before I was 30,” Mitchell notes.

Setting up shop in 1994 as sole proprietor behind an oversized plate glass window visible along Connecticut Avenue north of Dupont Circle, Mitchell would recall his days in the water when naming the soon-to-expand firm. “As soon as I thought it I knew it was right,” he says, noting its relevance to public communication.

Adopting the slogan “Think Deeper,” Mitchell’s penchant for presentation would lead him to install an oversized video monitor in the studio’s second floor window with images running day-and-night. It was an attention-getter similar to those he would employ when relocating five years ago to a storefront at 1333 14th St., N.W., in the Logan Circle area.

In the fall of 2009, when Mitchell’s original office lease expired, he and his life partner Bill Fischer decided to invest in a property suitable for both living and working. Purchasing an expansive 7,500-square-foot three-level historic commercial property, they reserved the top floor for their residence. Fischer, having coordinated the building renovation and subsequently handling business infrastructure and operations, recently returned to a career in business intelligence technology systems management.

Those among Fathom Creative’s 20 staffers working on-site are located on the ground level, currently undergoing renovation. The company has maintained a satellite office in New York City since 2003 and is preparing to open a similar San Francisco outpost late this summer.

A retail-style “showroom space” that has featured eye-catching company branding installations will soon become an independent coffee shop launched by a third party. The firm also operates Fathom Gallery on the second level, and an adjoining 1,500-square-foot outdoor deck. Each accommodates 100 guests for gatherings and approximately 100 annual event rentals – including corporate retreats and board meetings, tech industry “meet-ups,” gay and “mixed-gender” weddings, cocktail receptions, dinners and other gatherings. Fathom often invites clients and associates for grilling parties and to sample a signature beer of homegrown hops.

Specializing in all aspects of business branding, strategic communications and social/digital messaging for national and local-based clients, Fathom serves as an off-site creative department for some and project fulfillment agency for others. GSA-certified for federal contracts alongside handling association and advocacy accounts, Fathom is also one of only five U.S. firms with recognized expertise in Prezi – a sophisticated alternative to PowerPoint presentations.

“Our work is often complex but always exhilarating,” Mitchell modestly offers in light of 20 years of proven results for a diverse client base.

Mitchell adopted the title “fearless leader” along the way, with whimsical job descriptors for staff. “It’s a reminder to me and a promise to clients,” he says, “reflecting our attitude when taking on new challenges.”

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

29
Apr
2014

Outdoor café fee hike hot as a summer sidewalk

fee, gay news, Washington Blade

The popular patio at Hank’s Oyster Bar in Dupont (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

It might have seemed like a good idea to D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray to scheme up a proposal to hike city fees for outdoor cafés by $1 million in the dreary days of winter. But it sure looked silly when the public caught wind of it last week in the run-up to the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

When D.C. Council members sat down at an all-day meeting to review Gray’s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Support Act, incorporating Council recommendations, a previously little-known proposal to more than double sidewalk café fees for most businesses and nearly double them for the remaining few dominated public attention.

Dupont Circle eateries on 17th Street were featured on NBC4 News with reporter Tom Sherwood. Hank’s Oyster Bar manager Jeff Strine and Floriana Restaurant owner Dino Tapper pointed out that ever-increasing fees and taxes were a growing hardship for local establishments. D.C. Council member Tommy Wells pledged his opposition to the increase, saying, “It really sends a message to small business that we’re raising the fee for the sake of raising the fee.”

Mayor Gray wants to increase annual fees by 66 percent – although a companion provision eliminating prorated fees for partial-year seasonal operation converts it to a much higher amount for all but about 30 businesses among hundreds.

Reaction was equally swift and harsh to an additional element of the legislation. A D.C. Council committee, chaired by frequent enterprise nemesis Mary Cheh, had approved a new penalty stipulating that business owners could face imprisonment of up to 10 days or a fine of $1,000 for each day of a regulatory violation.

Local restaurateur and industry advocate Geoff Tracy remarked on social media, “I’ll never understand why politicians keep restaurants perpetually in the crosshairs.”

At-Large Council member David Grosso – not always a friend to local small businesses but proven when provoked to possess common-sense reactions to the most egregious excesses – took to Twitter to call the idea of locking up business owners for regulatory infractions “ridiculous.” Logan Circle neighborhood advisory chair Matt Raymond sardonically commented on Facebook, “We MUST get these dangerous scofflaws whose sidewalk cafés encroach one inch beyond their permit off the streets and behind bars, where they belong!”

You could envision neighborhood naysayers rustling around in kitchen drawers for tape measures. Cheh sensibly demurred, suggesting she was willing to remove the prison provision.

Gray’s proposal, along with Cheh’s committee, also relinquishes future D.C. Council control of regulations and fees – instead giving the executive exclusive authority to determine all licensing approvals, rules and permit costs. Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington President Kathy Hollinger had earlier written to Council members arguing against investing sole authority with the mayor.

“Sidewalk cafés contribute greatly to the ambiance of our city, create jobs and provide substantial revenues…through sales and employment taxes,” Hollinger wrote. “In addition, sidewalk cafés contribute to public safety, by encouraging ‘eyes on the street,’ a known inhibitor of criminal activity. Given these important contributions…the rental rates paid for the use of public space for cafés should be part of larger policy discussions before the full Council…”

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson, however, astonishingly revealed he thought the proposed fees weren’t set high enough.

David Garber, a neighborhood advisory commissioner in the rapidly developing Navy Yard area where residents gleefully cheer the opening of each new outdoor dining and drinking space, offered a succinct retort. “D.C. already has a reputation for being a difficult and costly place to start and run a business. When businesses and entrepreneurs are considering where to open, grow, and succeed, I hope that in the future our reputation is a little more friendly than it is today. Proposed fee increases like this won’t bring us there, and will ultimately cost us more than we hope to earn.”

D.C. Council budget deliberations get underway this week. As quick as an egg fries up on a hot summer sidewalk, the Council should reject these proposals.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

28
May
2014

Wheelchair theft prompts support for D.C. gay man

D'Arcee Neal, gay news, Washington Blade

D’Arcee Neal (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A 28-year-old gay man who is wheelchair bound due to cerebral palsy became the beneficiary of an outpouring of community support last week after his custom-made, lightweight wheelchair was stolen outside the Logan Circle home of a friend.

D’Arcee Neal, who works for the national disability group United Cerebral Palsy and sings with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, said the theft of his wheelchair effectively left him immobilized, unable to perform basic daily tasks and unable to travel to and from work at his downtown D.C. office.

He said the customized wheelchair, which gave him both mobility and the dignity of being self-sufficient, would cost about $5,000 to replace.

Knowing the predicament he faced, his friend Nicole Marissa Yates took it upon herself to create a page on the fundraising website GoFundMe without telling Neal she had done so.

“I don’t know what it feels like to have your mobility taken away from you, but I imagine that even though he’s a strong, vibrant individual, he feels violated,” Yates wrote in a message posted on the fundraising site. “As his friends and family, we can come together to show him that we love and support him by funding his new chair,” Yates wrote. “Thank you for your contribution – anything helps!”

According to a report on the website, 155 people contributed a total of $7,300 in five days. Yates said the effort received a boost when Channel 4 News reporter Jackie Benson did a story about the wheelchair theft that included an interview with Neal on the evening news.

Neal told the Blade he’s grateful for the support he received from members of the community along with friends who contributed to the fund. He said the funds enabled him to purchase a temporary $400 wheelchair for his immediate use while he arranges for another custom made, lightweight and high-speed chair to be made. That could take as much as a month or more, he said. He plans to donate the temporary chair to a local charity.

He said he left the chair that was stolen in what he thought was an inconspicuous spot near the steps to the basement apartment at his friend’s place while apartment sitting for the friend. He isn’t able to drag or move the chair up or down steps, he said, in a world in which very few private residences are wheelchair accessible.

According to Neal, he prides himself on keeping in good physical shape by crawling up and down entrance steps – both at his friends’ homes and his own basement apartment in Anacostia, where he keeps his wheelchair outside in a concealed location.

“There are handicapped accessible apartments and homes but the rent is thousands of dollars a month more than I can afford,” he said.

02
Jul
2014

Creating art that pops

Glenn Fry, gay news, Washington Blade

Visual artist Glenn Fry moved to D.C. nearly 15 years ago. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When visual artist Glenn Fry moved to D.C. nearly 15 years ago, he bartended at some of the gay community’s most popular nightlife venues and nightclub events. Quickly pegged as a recent transplant due to his failure to observe the local habit of reflexively asking customers what they do for a living, Fry remembers those exchanges from his perspective.

“People didn’t know how to process my being an artist,” Fry recalls, “although they were intrigued.” “Danger, Will Robinson,” was the comic strip thought bubble he would imagine floating over their heads while he concocted beverages.

“Ever since I was a kid I loved cartoons, loved the Pop Art movement,” Fry explains. “I would have loved to have been a part of that whole Manhattan ‘new art’ scene during the days of Andy Warhol.” “Warhol, along with fellow New York City pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, brought silkscreening to the forefront as a respected and appreciated art form.”

Fry chuckles when re-telling an art patron compliment, “if Warhol and Lichenstein had a kid, it would be you.”

The iconographic, bold, colorful, thought-provoking, graphic-inspired silkscreen prints Fry composes blend the pop art cultural influence of his youth and the marketing designs that would follow college. Printing on heavy paper, wood, glass or canvas in often oversized formats, he creates both one-of-a-kind and limited-edition images. From inspiration to composition to production, Fry fashions all aspects of his craft.

After earning a Fine Arts degree from Edinboro University in Northwestern Pennsylvania, Fry moved to Cleveland to work as a graphic designer. Specializing in corporate advertising for 10 years, he grew increasingly impatient to focus on more creative endeavors.

Now 47 and a full-time artist-entrepreneur managing Glenn Fry Art as his business enterprise, Fry is glad he gravitated to D.C. “I may not have been able to continue as an artist had I not moved here,” pointing out that economic downturns have largely not affected Washington – or interest in art. “D.C. has been good to me, my art has been well-received and I’m appreciative of that.” Besides, he notes, “New York’s bohemian culture isn’t around anymore.”

The stark simplicity of his silkscreened compositions initially belies both the complexity of their thoughtful origination and multi-layered manual execution. “I’m often inspired by situations I’ve gone through or those friends have experienced,” Fry says in describing the genesis of a piece. “I want my art to be fun, uplifting, colorful, graphic and bold, with a contemporary twist.”

While Fry designs pieces at his apartment near Logan Circle, he produces his prints at a nearby studio, organized by local artist Gary Fisher. Ten years ago, Fisher invited Fry to join him and three other artists in renting the basement level in a small commercial building at 1327 14th St., N.W., near Rhode Island Avenue. “Gary was the one who prodded me and inspired me,” Fry says, recalling his professional transition while still bartending.

Fry launched his first exhibit at Gallery Plan B, a couple of blocks north on 14th Street. “They really helped me spring to life in my profession,” says Fry. Working full-time as an artist since 2008, Fry has since garnered high-profile commissions for permanent installations at two Federal Reserve Board buildings, IBM, National Geographic Channels, and the Washington Design Center.

As his art gained exposure and grew in popularity, requests for commissioned pieces by both local businesses and individuals would follow. “Trusting me to create something they’ll enjoy, knowing my style and investing in my work” gives Fry great satisfaction.

“I’m grateful every day that I’ve found my passion,” Fry says, “I’m doing the thing that makes me happy.”

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

Glenn Fry, gay news, Washington Blade

Glenn Fry (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

07
Jan
2014

‘Maid to Clean’ the environment as well

Maid to Clean, gay news, Washington Blade

Maid to Clean business owner Cindi Bermudez is an avid cyclist. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

By ALWYN DIPPENAAR

Local residential and commercial cleaning service Maid to Clean has sought to be environmentally friendly since it began business in 1996. The small business is an award-winning green cleaning service that is located in Alexandria, Va., serving the Washington metropolitan area. Residents in Dupont Circle and Logan Circle often see a crew of three from the company on their modified three-wheel bicycles moving from one job to the other in bright green uniforms.

When not managing her business, lesbian owner Cindi Bermudez is also an avid cyclist. She recently discussed why she chose to nurture this special project and introduce three-wheel bicycles as a mode of transportation for some of her staff.

Washington Blade: What motivated Maid to Clean to use this unique form of transportation? Was it for marketing benefits or efficiency of moving between jobs?

Cindi Bermudez: I have ridden my bike to the office for years. And for years, the crew has been asking me, “Cindi, when are you going to get bikes for us?”

As I thought about maids on bikes, I came up with possible benefits: We could save money on vehicle operating costs, cut down on parking tickets, avoid traffic jams and generate a unique marketing buzz. Plus we could stay fit and have some fun!

Some decisions were spot on. The “advertising buzz” was great.

Others were a bit off. While we do save money on parking tickets and vehicle costs, more money is spent than expected on retrofitting the trikes and getting them repaired.

The right bicycle for our needs hasn’t been engineered yet, which is why we have only one cleaning team using the bikes at the moment. The trikes that we currently use were designed for indoor use, to help employees move around quickly in large warehouses. Ideally we’d like a different bike. Something that can stand up to our load requirements – maybe even a hybrid with an electric motor.

 

Blade: Did you get the reaction that you wanted from your staff when you announced making use of bicycles and what feedback have you received from the public?

Bermudez: The reaction to the trikes has been terrific from staff, clients and the public. The team was pretty excited about the trikes, especially members who have been with Maid to Clean for years. The routine definitely became more exiting.

Clients ask to pose with staff for pictures regularly. Even complete strangers seem interested. When the team is out riding, passers-by often wave, honk and take photos from their car windows. As much as the attention is fun for the staff it gives them a sense of pride.

By bringing trikes into our routine, I have a new way to reward loyal staff members. I can also boost our commitment to keeping the planet healthy. While we have always used eco-friendly products and equipment, we now also have a way to reduce our carbon footprint.

 

Blade: Do you think Washington is a bike-friendly city?

Bermudez: Having made significant strides in the last half-dozen years, D.C. now rates as a bike-friendly city in my estimation, particularly the D.C. and Arlington areas.

 

Bermudez raises awareness and promotes cycling both in her work and personal life whenever possible. She biked across the country on the “TransAmerica Bicycle Tour.” The tour covers 4,200 miles from Yorktown, Va., ending in Florence, Oregon. Bermudez has endured wind gusts of up to 35 miles per hour and was chased by a pack of wild dogs. “The ride has been a great opportunity to test my mettle. … this has been the trip of a lifetime.”

01
Aug
2013