New D.C. taking place along the Anacostia River

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Local,DC,Harry Jaffe

You missed a great party if you didn't make it to the Tour de Fat festival Saturday along the Anacostia River.

The tour's name had nothing to do with body weight. It was part of a national tour sponsored by Colorado's New Belgium Brewing Co., famous for its Fat Tire brews. Fat tire refers to mountain bikes, rather than what might be around your waist. The festival showcased the Yards Park in all its glory: Bands played along the river bank, families frolicked around the fountain, kids roamed over the new bridge connecting the river trail.

I highlight the festival not for the free beer but because of the gleaming park along the Anacostia. Eight years ago when I started writing this city column for The Washington Examiner, this bank of the river showed the trashy, industrial side of the District.

We spend much time and many words on dysfunction in the District government, for good reason. Examples of corruption, malfeasance and malfunction greet us every day. But beyond the John A. Wilson Building, I see a city that bears little resemblance to the one I wrote about in February 2005.

The District is no longer Marion Barry's town.

"We are witnessing the transformation of a major American city," says Ernie Jarvis, president of the D.C. Building Industry Association. "It's clearly market-driven and demand-driven, but it's supported by the government."

The market has driven development eastward past Shaw to Petworth, Eckington and Bloomingdale. Anacostia is next. Parts of the city that were destinations for drug dealers a decade ago are hot spots for restaurateurs from New York and Italy. I'm talking 14th and U streets east to the refurbished Howard Theatre and across North Capital Street.

Businesses are creating jobs in D.C. at a rapid rate -- 2,000 in March, according to the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. The latest figures show the number of working District residents rose 18,634 in March compared with the year before. We are indeed adding more than 1,000 residents a month, many with jobs.

Mark Ein, an investor and entrepreneur, started Venturehouse Partners on Seventh Street downtown in 1999. "We were early in planting a flag to focus on technology investments," he says. "We believed that over the long term, Washington was the place to be. It's very much come that way."

Even as government jobs shrink, Ein and other entrepreneurs are seeding private-sector opportunities.

Meanwhile, crime is down, and the city's financial reserve is back up to $1.5 billion. Word in the Wilson Building is that revenue estimates later this month will show another increase.

Let me take you back to the Anacostia River. For the past century, the capital city has faced the Potomac River by way of Georgetown. Keep a close watch on the transformation coming to the wharf along Maine Avenue in Southwest and the Yards in Southeast, between Nationals Park and the Navy Yard.

The new District will be a river town, the river being the Anacostia. Blink and you might miss the new city rising around you.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonian.com.

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