For Immediate Release: Friday, January 14th, 2021
District Bridges Statement Concerning The Woodley Park Main Street Competition & Award
District Bridges announced today that despite two years of successful program implementation and overwhelming community support, they were not awarded the Woodley Park Main Street grant from the Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD) for the FY22 year. The Office of the Inspector General has now opened an investigation of DSLBD due to concerns of biased procurement practices.
In the fall of 2018, Friends of Woodley Park (FOWP) was awarded the Woodley Park Main Street grant for FY19 by DSLBD. In October of 2019, FOWP terminated its founding Executive Director for cause. Following the termination, FOWP hired District Bridges to conduct a forensic review of the program to enable the closeout of the DSLBD grant and support the organization in stabilizing operations. Following the grant closeout, District Bridges was hired by FOWP to oversee the Main Street program under a management contract. District Bridges put in place an interim Executive Director, Jennifer Kuiper, and together, the organizations relaunched the Woodley Park Main Street program in 2020.
In January 2021, De’Andre Anderson was hired as the permanent Woodley Park Main Street Manager under the management contract between FOWP and District Bridges. In FY20 and FY21, through the FOWP and District Bridges partnership, the Woodley Park Main Street was able to give out $83,625 in small business grants and provide 618 hours of direct technical assistance to small businesses. In FY22, District Bridges has provided 80 hours of direct technical assistance to date and included Woodley Park in their annual DC Holiday Lights event. All of the work done in FY22 has been without funding from DSLBD.
In FY21 because of the strong working relationship, FOWP and District Bridges sought to merge operations to realize greater economies of scale and long term sustainability for the Woodley Park Main Street program. The Boards of both organizations unanimously approved a merger and sought the approval of DSLBD to reassign the grant directly to District Bridges. Despite the unanimous support of the Boards, Councilmember Mary Cheh, and the ability of the DSLBD to reassign the grant through written approval as stated in their grant agreement, the agency refused to do so and instead insisted that the grant would need to be recompeted ahead of the coming fiscal year.
In the summer of 2021, the Request for Applications (RFA) was published. District Bridges submitted an application for the Woodley Park Main Street grant which included letters of support from 45 Woodley Park businesses and community members and $18,000 in funds raised in support of the application. However, in September DSLBD informed District Bridges no award would be made and that their application had not been sent for scoring. It was conveyed to District Bridges that the ruling was due to an incomplete application, however, the documentation noted was already on file with DSLBD
When the Main Street grant RFA was re-released in October, it had been changed substantially in a way that specifically disadvantaged District Bridges’ model. In spite of this, District Bridges put forward an application, in good faith, believing that its track record of success and the voice of the community would be considered and ultimately win out. However, in November, DSLBD informed District Bridges that they were not awarded the Woodley Park Main Street. It was later learned that Historic Dupont Circle Main Street was awarded the grant. As of the release of this statement no formal announcement of that award has yet been made by DSLBD.
As a result of the significant irregularities in this grant competition, Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Keynan McDuffie sent letters to Mayor Muriel Bowser, the DC Auditor, and the Office of the Inspector General to investigate DSLBDs procurement practices. The Inspector General has now opened an investigation of DSLBD that is ongoing.
“While we are extremely disappointed by the actions of DSLBD and the result of the Woodley Park Main Street grant competition, it does not change the mission of District Bridges, which is to invest in community and support local businesses. In fact, as the businesses of Woodley Park can attest, we have continued to provide support to the Woodley Park business community throughout this time and will continue to do so simply without the dedicated funding from DSLBD,” said Brianne Dornbush, District Bridges’ Executive Director.
ABOUT DISTRICT BRIDGES
District Bridges is a community development nonprofit and the first organization to manage multiple Main Streets in DC. We manage the Chevy Chase (CCMS), Columbia Heights|Mount Pleasant (CHMPMS), Cleveland Park (CPMS), Logan Circle (LCMS), Lower Georgia Avenue (LGAMS) and U Street Main Street (USMS) grants. Our organization was established in 2005 as Columbia Heights was rapidly developing. Residents saw the diversity and unity that had long defined the neighborhood was at risk. So to maintain the neighborhood’s unique character, Columbia Heights Day was born. To keep the event inclusive and sustainable, the first board of directors formed the Columbia Heights Day Initiative (CHI). In 2015, CHI’s Board hired executive director, Brianne Dornbush. Under her leadership, the CHI developed into a robust organization serving the community year-round. In 2016, CHI was awarded the CHMPMS grant and rebranded as District Bridges (DB) with the vision to develop a multi-Main Street model that would increase capacity, create economies of scale, and build sustainability into DC Main Streets. The following year, DB was awarded the LGAMS grant and then in 2019 CPMS, LCMS, and USMS.
As the first multi-Main Street organization in DC, our model enables the rapid launch of new Main Street programs through streamlined operational setup, increased staff capacity to serve local businesses, and a holistic approach to community development that works to address the critical needs of each community. Our approach develops strong partnerships with community stakeholders to ensure our work is always community-focused, community-supported, and community built.