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SWBID Hosts ‘Big Ideas Tour’ With Top Leaders From Southwest, DC to Engage in Profound Discussion About What’s Next for the Area

Local community organizations and businesses, including Hoffman & Associates, I.M.P., Donahoe Hospitality, GOODProjects, and other leaders in Southwest gathered at The Anthem Thursday, January 26, for candid conversations on how neighborhood leaders from different sectors must partner together with considerate intention to help overcome social and economic conditions to achieve mutually beneficial results. Each speaker was given the same prompt “Why is this the time for Big Ideas?”

SWBID’s Executive Director, Steve Moore, started the conversation by explaining the format inspired by the Long Conversation as more of a TED Conversation rather than a TED Talk with various speakers at a few minutes each. Many of these conversations included economic and community investments, trends, and forecasts designed to strengthen local businesses, expand the Southwest economy, and improve residents’ and community members’ overall quality of life.

Moore’s opening remarks included that the Southwest experience is unique in how it thrives through attractions that include hospitality, tourism, museums, various entertainment venues, The Wharf, diverse restaurants, and more. “What makes Southwest exceptional is our ability to adapt in the wake of a sea change for cities. You are watching us innovate before your eyes. Our job, the BID’s job, is to be sure this whole experience ecosystem is working and improving constantly.”

Donna Westmoreland of I.M.P. has a vision of turning I.M.P. music venues into a more eco-friendly environment. “How do we make it [the venue experience] better and more wholesome for the world? We’re working with people and artists who demand it, but I want to be leaders in eliminating single-use plastic. What I’ve discovered is this economy of scale is critical to its success. It creates jobs, incentivizes, and we can be a beacon to create this,” she stated.

Additionally, Thomas Penny, president of Donahoe Hospitality, has advocated for well-paying, meaningful jobs over his entire career, starting as a dishwasher and continuously advancing as the current president. 

“We need to have people across Southwest and in public housing able to see themselves in business, access it, and move up..but also see investments in it and find ownership. Many residents have been here for decades and love the experience of the Wharf, but we have to start with workforce development.”

In a similar sentiment, Darius Baxter from GOODProjects shared how his work empowers Southwest families in poverty-dense communities towards upward mobility by instilling personal growth and fostering the skills necessary to access purposeful jobs.

Furthermore, Molly Smith has a long-standing history in Southwest DC at Arena Stage, being a part of the first integrated theater in the District and starting when women directors were uncommon. Smith asserted the critical need for arts and humanities to connect with our lived environment and how Southwest was once a “forgotten neighborhood.” The collective voices in the room prove that is no longer the case, and there is room for impact among each stakeholder when working together.

HDR Mid-Atlantic Transit Lead Shyam Kannan accentuated that when he spoke about the magic of transit and how we can get more people to and from Southwest with a positive experience. “When kids take transit––they’re looking around, and their eyes become huge. They’re going places and seeing everything and taking it in. There’s actual joy in motion. We forget how amazing technology moving under our nation’s capital is,” he said. “When you’re on the bus, look up and take in the scenery––it’s truly magic. The next big thing we can do for everyone is create an operating system on phones for transit, so folks don’t worry about the transaction and the anxiety that comes with that. If we can make it seamless, imagine the possibilities.” 

Lastly, Speaker Uwe Brandes is a forward-thinking, award-winning urban planner focused on meeting needs through thoughtful design and developing communities that enhance residents’ long-term well-being. Brandes is the faculty director of the Urban & Regional Planning Program and faculty director of the Georgetown Global Cities Initiative. In the closing remarks, he gave thoughtful insight into how to move forward in our current environment and where BIDs can enhance their work.

“Best practices of community building is in a new era. There are new forms of professional practice and what’s happening in Southwest is a prime example. The role of a place and community manager is to make sure that integration [community building] happens and real work needs to be done to advance the common good.”

The Big Ideas Tour featured both conversation and exhibit style showcases displaying the work the SWBID has done over the year within the community. Southwest businesses, neighbors, and the SWBID have established professional relationships with community leaders. They frequently partner on Southwest priorities and leverage the full benefit of advocating and supporting community needs. The Big Ideas Tour captured that conviction and looks forward to implementing new ideas to connect Southwest mindfully.

Speakers included:

  • Darius Baxter, GOODProjects
  • Uwe Brandes, Georgetown University
  • Tamara Christian, Spy Museum
  • Rev. Brian Hamilton, Westminster Presbyterian Church
  • Monty Hoffman, Hoffman & Associates
  • Shyam Kannan, HDR
  • Thomas Penny, Donohoe Hospitality Services
  • Molly Smith, Arena Stage
  • Sunny Sumter, DC Jazz Festival
  • Donna Westmoreland, I.M.P./9:30 Club/Anthem

About the SWBID

The Southwest Business Improvement District (SWBID) is a 501(c)(6) corporation that was established in December 2014. The SWBID spans 483 acres south of the National Mall, including the SW Federal Center, the District Wharf, and the Southwest Waterfront. We’re a BID with a larger purpose. The work of the SWBID is to make this community more connected, the neighborhood more beautiful, and have more opportunities for people and businesses to thrive in a commonplace.