Bill McLeod

Bill McLeod, was Executive Director of Barracks Row Main Street from August 2002 to December 2006, during the period in which the Capitol Hill Business Improvement District was being formed.

In this interview McLeod discusses the backstory of Barracks Row and creation of the BID, including the factors involved in its establishment. He also describes the steps in furbishing the streetscape and buildings on Barracks Row, and the elements of working with community groups.

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Interview Date
December 18, 2023
Ken Jarboe
Betsy Barnett
Chellie Hamecs

Full Directory

JARBOE: Okay. We’re rolling, we’re rolling. Okay. It is December 18, 2023. I am Ken Jarboe. I am conducting an interview with Bill McLeod who is currently the executive director of the Dupont Circle …
JARBOE: Business Improvement District. But, for our purposes, was the executive director of the Barracks Row Main Street at the same time that the BID was, the Capitol Hill BID, was being formed. I am conducting this interview for the Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project and we are at my house on East Capitol Street. And, just a reminder, Bill, this is on the record.
JARBOE: We will be producing a transcript that will be posted on the website. It will be lightly edited but not ... As I had to tell some of the participants, this is a transcript of an interview, not an article based an interview.
MCLEOD: Right.
JARBOE: So, you know, we take off some of the missteps of the “uhs”, “ers”, “oohs”, “you knows.”
MCLEOD: But everything else is in there.
JARBOE: But basically we want to be true to the …
JARBOE: … to the process here. So, you have been involved in BIDs, Barracks Row Main Streets, back and forth for 28 years I think you said on one of your websites.
MCLEOD: So I worked for the National Main Street Center from 1994 to 2002. And, then, in 2002, I left to go to Barracks Row Main Street. And Jill Dowling started at Barracks Row Main Street, I think, in 1999 and was …
JARBOE: I’m sorry. Who was that?
MCLEOD: Jill Dowling was the first director of Barracks …
JARBOE: Jill Dowling was the first director. Okay.
MCLEOD: And she was there for two years. And she and Linda Gallagher really got the streetscape project going. And, so, that was one of the early Main Street programs in DC. It was a self-initiated program as opposed to a citywide launched program. So the citywide program launched in 2002, but Barracks Row Main Street had launched on its own…
JARBOE: Right.
MCLEOD: I think in ’99.
JARBOE: So, in ’99, a group that was calling itself the Business Association …
JARBOE: … something like that, decided they wanted to do Main Street.
JARBOE:  And they got in touch with the National Trust.
MCLEOD: That’s right.
JARBOE:  Okay. And it was basically Linda Gallagher and Jill?
MCLEOD: And Jill. And some of the business owners, you know. Denise D’Amour, Laurie Morin, Dennis …
JARBOE: Dennis Bourgault?
MCLEOD: Bourgault, yes.
MCLEOD: And it was the Barracks Row Business Alliance. That was the group that kind of pushed to create a Main Street program.
JARBOE: Okay. And, so, you came in and the streetscape was just starting or …?
MCLEOD: Yeah. Literally one month after I started, they had a ribbon cutting to launch the start of the construction and I was, you know, so new I didn’t know what was going on. [Interviewer laughs.] I didn’t know any of the players. I was shaking a lot of hands and passing out a lot of cards but it was trial by fire because it was a really intensive streetscape project.
JARBOE: And, at the same time, the BID was getting formed.
MCLEOD: Yes. So I know George Didden was talking to Patty Brosmer [President Capitol Hill BID] and Patty was doing a lot of quiet work around the neighborhood collecting signatures to get a Business Improvement District going for Capitol Hill. And I think they launched in 2003? Is that right? [George Didden was President of National Capital Bank, and he was a major force in the creation of the BID. He served as the chairman of the steering committee and as the founding President of the BID.]  
JARBOE: I’ve got a timeline here somewhere. I keep this for all of these interviews, so I can keep my dates straight. Yeah, the letters to the business owners, the business plan, went out in 2001.
MCLEOD: All right.
JARBOE: And in November of 2002 they got the official DC …
JARBOE: … approval. But they didn’t actually start doing business, until 2004.
MCLEOD: 2004.
JARBOE: So, they were getting set up and all that.
MCLEOD: Right, right.
JARBOE: So, they would be getting going just as you’re getting into the streetscape.
MCLEOD: Yes. And I remember going to one meeting at National Capital Bank and Patty was there and George was there and they were kind of doing a dog and pony show about kind of selling the vision for the BID. And, then, a few months after that there was a hearing in City Hall. John McGaw was there, of course, George Didden and Patty. [John McGaw was a DC official working with the Main Street as Special Assistant to the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.] And everybody brought testimony. And I brought written testimony in support of the BID.
JARBOE: Okay, so, you didn’t present but you submitted testimony in support of the BID …
MCLEOD: Yes, for the aforementioned …
JARBOE: … at the City Council hearing.
MCLEOD: And I remember the technology didn’t work. They were going to do a recording and everybody was going to testify on microphones, not on television like they do today. You know, everything’s televised today. But they had this recording system they couldn’t get to work, so everybody just submitted written testimony and everybody was in and out, I think, in about a half an hour.
JARBOE: I had forgotten that because I … I can’t remember whether I actually went down there or I just submitted testimony for the basis for the ANC [Advisory Neighborhood Commission] because we passed a resolution in support as well.
MCLEOD: Yeah, great.
JARBOE: I think I would have remembered that, but, you know, who knows? Strange things happen down at City Hall.
MCLEOD: City Hall. Yeah. And it was in the evening, I remember. So, like an evening hearing, like at 6:30 or something.
JARBOE: And how did you first hear about the BID? Were you involved at all with BIDs when you were at Main Street or with the National Trust?
MCLEOD: Yeah. Yes. Yes, when I was at the National Trust, we were following BIDs all around the country because it was so innovative. It was a fantastic funding source. And I remember I was taking this writing class at Georgetown University and I wrote an article, a paper, about the first BID in DC. Because DC was way behind all the other cities in the U.S. All the other big cities in the U.S. had set up BIDs and then the Downtown BID finally formed and I wrote this paper about finally DC gets a BID, you know, ten years behind all the other cities in the U.S. And, then, that must have been in ’97, ’98. I can’t remember. And, then, they all rolled out.
JARBOE: I had heard a story that there had been legislation submitted in the late 90s to set up the BID system …
JARBOE: … and it failed.
MCLEOD: It failed.
JARBOE: What happened?
MCLEOD: Well, I didn’t know too much about that. Joe Sternlieb told me that story. He was kind of pushing the establishment of BIDs in DC and … [Joe Sternlieb was Deputy Director of the Downtown BID. Subsequently, he became CEO of the Georgetown BID. Before joining the Downtown BID, he was Staff Director, Committee on Economic Development for the DC Council.]
JARBOE: Right.
MCLEOD: … it didn’t pass. And everybody was scratching their head. And, then, they tried again, the second time. And, you know, second time’s a charm for some reason. And when people really start to see the need. And, then, of course, the Downtown BID, you know, they’re doing great things, innovative things. Huge budget, partnerships with the National Park Service. It’s really …
JARBOE: Well, Downtown and Golden Triangle were the first?
MCLEOD: First two, yeah.
JARBOE: Yeah. Because I remember having—I don’t know if it was exclusive conversations or inclusive conversations with George and Patty, kind of thing. “Let’s let those guys set up. They’ve got the big bucks. If they can’t pull it off ...
MCLEOD: No one else could.
JARBOE: “… we’re not going to be able to either.”
JARBOE: So. It’s kind of the strategy was to ride in their wake ...
JARBOE: … to get it in.
MCLEOD: And I think Georgetown was the third BID and, then, Capitol Hill was the fourth BID, if I remember right.
JARBOE: Right. That sounds about right.
MCLEOD: And, if I remember right, Mt. Vernon Triangle would be the next BID after that.
JARBOE: Now, Mt. Vernon Triangle was not a BID. It was a CID. [A CID is a Community Improvement District. It is similar to a BID but includes residential properties as well as commercial.]
MCLEOD: They chose a wacky name and the only reason why is because they tax residential.
MCLEOD: So, they’re one of the few BIDs in DC that tax condo owners. And, you know, rather than taxing a hundred people or a hundred commercial entities, they tax like 1,100. It’s really onerous.
MCLEOD: Because every condo owner gets a tax bill for $120. It’s really a lot of work.
JARBOE: Right, right. Yeah, so, yeah, you can’t go through the condo association, because it’s tied to property tax.
MCLEOD: Property taxes, yeah.
JARBOE:  Right. Yeah. That was—You know, we had enough of a trouble, effort, getting the signatures for …
MCLEOD: Of the property owners, commercial property owners.
JARBOE: … our BID because it was so many property owners.
JARBOE: I can’t imagine trying to, you know, just trying to get an accurate count.
JARBOE: You know. “Well, did you reach your 25%? I don’t know. We either reached 35% or we reached ten.”
MCLEOD: Yeah, it’s really onerous.
MCLEOD: Some of the BIDs, you know, getting that 51% mark is really tough.
JARBOE: Now, what are the differences and similarities between a BID and a Main Street?
MCLEOD: Yeah. You know, that is—I get that question a lot. So, BIDs are funding mechanisms and that’s it. So, the board can choose to spend the money however they want. They can spend it on rebuilding sidewalks, or they can spend it on clean and safe or clean, safe, and friendly or place making, whatever they want.
Main Street, they have to follow methodology. And that is this whole four-point thing: you do economic development, you focus on design initiatives like storefronts, facades, historic preservation, and, then, marketing, branding. And then you have an organization that kind of manages it all. And, so, if you follow the four-point methodology, then, you’re a Main Street. It doesn’t come with funding, unfortunately. So, you’ve got to figure that part out yourself.
JARBOE: And this framework was put together by the National Trust.
MCLEOD: National Trust, back in 1977.
JARBOE: Oh, wow. That far back.
MCLEOD: Yeah. It was in response to shopping malls, right? Shopping malls were opening all across the U.S. in the 60s and early 70s and downtowns were suffering because of it. And, so, they did a pilot for programs around the country. And, in ’77, they kind of formalized the program. Yeah.
JARBOE: And, so, Barracks Row now is just having its 50th? Or 40th? ’99, so …
MCLEOD: ’99 and, then, it’s basically 2024. So, it would be, I guess, their 25th.
JARBOE: The 25th.
MCLEOD: Yeah, isn’t that crazy? Wow.
JARBOE: That sounds right.
MCLEOD: [Laughs] So quick. Time goes so quick.
JARBOE: Yes, it has. But, going back to the streetscape, because that was kind of the defining …
MCLEOD: It was a catalyst.
JARBOE: … seminal event.
MCLEOD: It was really something.
JARBOE: How did that unfold? I mean …
MCLEOD: Yeah. It was a lot of calls. Linda Gallagher made a lot of phone calls to the DOT [Department of Transportation] and she would call them every Monday morning.
JARBOE: This is the U.S. DOT.
MCLEOD: It’s not the federal money. It’s the local DC money, DC DOT. And it was all funded through the Federal Highway Administration. So, indirectly it’s federal, but managed by …
JARBOE: By DDOT [District Department of Transportation].
MCLEOD: DDOT. And, so, you know, Linda lived so close to Barracks Row. She would walk her dog and think why is this commercial corridor so run down when all the houses on East Capitol and Eighth Street and, you know, South Carolina, they’re all so beautiful and perfect. And you come to the commercial corridor and it’s honky-tonk and rundown. And she wanted to improve the sidewalks and the streetlights. And, so, she had a vision. And she sold it to the neighbors. And she got the Business Alliance on board. And she worked on that for at least two to three years and then groundbreaking was in 2002 and they finished in the end of 2003. So it was about an 18-month project.
JARBOE: Okay. And I assume it basically involved writing a grant to DDOT.
MCLEOD: I think it was more or less lobbying.
MCLEOD: You know, getting the ANC support, the Business Alliance support, the residents’ support, and then, meeting with DDOT and saying this neighborhood needs it, it’ll be catalytic, and everybody’s ready for it. And, so, they had to find money for it. Then they had to have meetings. Then they had to come up with the design and they had to have like a whole charrette process where the public could see the designs. [A charrette is a community design workshop process where members of the public work together with experts.] And they had these new American elms were going in.
JARBOE: Right.
MCLEOD: These Washington globe streetlights were going in. It was very transformational because before that it was all these Cobra streetlights. I don’t know if you remember.
JARBOE: Right. No, I do.
MCLEOD: It was very 1960s with the streetlights.
JARBOE: I have a funny story about that.
JARBOE: When they replaced them with the globes and took out the Cobras, it was so much brighter.
MCLEOD: It was crazy bright.
JARBOE: And Francis Campbell, who was on the ANC with me and was chair of the planning and zoning committee when I was chair, basically said, “It looks like a runway.”
MCLEOD: It looks like a runway.
JARBOE: We were expecting planes to start landing here instead of at National [Airport], you know. It was kind of … It was …
MCLEOD: People actually called my office about that. They said it was too bright.
MCLEOD: And I told DDOT, I said, like, “Everybody’s complaining. You’ve got to lower the wattage on these bulbs.” And they said, “No, it will soften over time.” And, then, one of my friends took a flight into National Airport and they looked out the airplane window and they could literally see Barracks Row from the air, because it was so much brighter than the rest of the city. [Both laugh.] But I think in time, it did soften.
JARBOE: And, when the trees grew up.
MCLEOD: The trees really softened what the streetlights … Yeah.
JARBOE: Another image I carry around of the streetscape was of the trees and walking the street with Casey Trees and DDOT and saying, “This one we could save.”
JARBOE: “This one isn’t going to make it.” And literally tagging each individual tree as to whether to be taken out or not.
MCLEOD: So, you were preserving the historic trees that were there.
JARBOE: Right.
MCLEOD: Yeah. Because I remember there was about eight trees that were identified that could survive construction. And I think seven of the eight made it. One died. You know, when you pull up the sidewalk, you damage the root path and you never know.
JARBOE: Yeah. That’s the problem, that’s the problem. And it did help get rid of some of the diseased trees.
JARBOE: But I remember then getting complaints from citizens saying we didn’t hear anything about cutting down any trees.
JARBOE: Well, you know, we had it out there. We had … You know, it’s just people don’t always pay attention until it’s right in their face.
JARBOE: And, you know, that’s understandable. There was just … You know, I think the businesses had some of that same reaction I would imagine.
MCLEOD: I remember there was about a week of the trees being chain sawed down. And it was shocking to hear and to see because a lot of these were mature oak trees. And people were calling my office complaining. Like. “Stop taking the trees down!” They’re screaming at me. And I didn’t even know what to tell them, you know. So I would try to tell them, you know, some are being saved. “The ones that are being saved have been identified as being healthy but we don’t even know if they are going to survive construction.”
JARBOE: Right.
MCLEOD: But, you know, seven of them did.
JARBOE: Yeah. But there was a long design process in all of this. What was Main Street’s role in that?
MCLEOD: Yeah. That was before my time. So, that was Jill’s bailiwick. She really took that on because she went to school for planning. But I know they had a number of meetings for residents and businesses to look at ... You know, what do you want the sidewalks to look like? What do you want the streetlights to look like? Do you want them to be historic? And, so, they kind of rolled out this whole process and I think they did a great job. I personally think what was built was very compatible with Capitol Hill. Because the brick was herringbone. You know, they spent a lot of time laying brick in a herringbone fashion. And, then, the trees and, then, streetlights.
JARBOE: But there were a number of surprises along the way.
MCLEOD: [Laughs.] Every day there would be a surprise. Yeah.
JARBOE: Well, tell me about the gas lines.
MCLEOD: Yeah. The gas lines held up the project for about three months. All construction stopped for three months because they realized they had to replace some of the gas lines. And they were going through the alley in the, I think, the 500 block. And, fortunately, Steven Jumper from Washington Gas was on the Barracks Row Main Street board. And I just had to call up Steven one day. I said, “Steven, we need your help, you know. Construction is on hold because of the gas lines. What can you do?”
And we had this meeting, and everybody was in the room and I put together a timeline and I showed them the timeline. And, after that meeting, everything went like clockwork. Steven fixed it all. And, you know, I don’t think I ever thanked him enough for that. Because he made it happen. Whatever he did, you know, he got it all done. It was fantastic.
JARBOE: If I remember, part of the problem was that the markings of the gas lines weren’t necessarily correct.
MCLEOD: They weren’t correct. Yeah. So, they were mismarked and, then, they were pulling up sidewalk and they were pulling up the roadbed and they found abandoned water lines. They found active water lines. They found abandoned waste lines. They crushed some waste lines. So they had to come back and redo the sidewalk, because some of the toilets weren’t flushing in some of the restaurants. It was really challenging. [Laughs.]
JARBOE: I understand there was another surprise when they dug up the street.
JARBOE: The streetcar railway.
MCLEOD: Yeah. They found all these streetcar trolley tracks. I mean they were literally in there still. And they tried to pull most of them out but I asked for one of the trolley tracks to keep in the office as a souvenir.
JARBOE: Mm-hmm.
MCLEOD: They gave me this kind of twisted ... [It] looked like a twisted girder. I thought okay, whatever. [Interviewer laughs.] But, anyway, yeah, those tracks were in there. They just paved right over them. And when they did the streetscape this time around, they pulled them fully up and paved the road properly.
JARBOE: That was something they had not planned on having to do.
MCLEOD: [Laughs.] They had no idea they were still there.
JARBOE: I think the street trolley rails are still down here on East Capitol.
MCLEOD: I’m sure.
JARBOE: Because there’s a manhole cover a little further down. In fact, it’s a square one. And it’s recessed in. And it looks like it was one of the original …
MCLEOD: Like a switchbox or something?
JARBOE: Something like that. Yeah. And they’ve now since paved over it.
MCLEOD: Yeah, right.
JARBOE: But there’s always a little indentation there where you can tell that it was because of space underneath. But, yeah, there’s a lot of stuff underneath these roads and houses that you don’t know about.
MCLEOD: These old neighborhoods.
JARBOE: So I read your very fascinating article.
MCLEOD: Oh, yeah.
JARBOE: That you did on survival.
MCLEOD: Yes. [Laughs.]
JARBOE: Tell me about what you had to do to kind of keep the street together and what was the role of the BID, if anything?
MCLEOD: Yeah. So we were trying to market ... You know, the Barracks Row Main Street and the promotion committee were trying to do an event every single month to draw people to the neighborhood. And, maybe it was a Halloween event or a Mardi Gras event or a Christmas event, something to draw people to the neighborhood. And, after a while, I think the public got used to the streetscape and they got fatigued with the events because the events kind of flopped in kind of January, February. So, maybe it was the season. But it was a very interesting dynamic kind of unfolded because we had this whole calendar of events laid out and we kind of put it all on pause after a Mardi Gras event that kind of went flat. And we said, “Okay, let’s put all our effort now into a big festival to reopen the streetscape.” And we did our first Barracks Row Fall Festival. We scheduled it in, I think,  October [2003]. The streetscape was mostly done. There were a few details that weren’t quite done but we did the Fall Festival anyway.
JARBOE: And, so, that was the beginning of the annual …
MCLEOD: It was the beginning …
JARBOE: Barracks Row festival.
MCLEOD: … festival in the street. Jill had tried a fall festival in a parking lot. There used to be a parking lot next to the Shakespeare Theatre there.
JARBOE: Oh, right. Yeah.
MCLEOD: So, she had done something small in a parking lot. But we did the first one closing the street, with vendors. We only had 40 vendors out there. We got DDOT out there. The director of DDOT, what was his name? Oooh, it was a long time ago.
JARBOE: It wasn’t [Dan]Tangherlini?
MCLEOD: Dan Tangherlini came out …
JARBOE: Because he then became, at some point, city manager, I thought.
MCLEOD: Yes, yeah. He came out and basically he and Linda Gallagher were up on stage and christened the streetscape and it was quite a big deal for us. We had the Marines out. We had the marching band from Hine Junior High School out.
JARBOE: Yeah, they get on everything.
MCLEOD: They were great.
JARBOE: They’re great. Yeah, the Hine Jr Marching Panthers. Even though it’s now in Ward Seven. [Interviewee laughs.] So it sounds like that there was almost an implicit if not explicit division of labor …
JARBOE: … between the organizations.
MCLEOD: The Capitol Hill BID was supportive of the street festival, where they came out and they prepared the street for the vendors. They made sure everything was perfect. They helped set up the tents. They helped to do all this stuff. And, then, the vendors came in and then the public came. But there was never any overlap. You know, the Capitol Hill BID added me as a representative of the Barracks Row Main Street to the board at the very beginning. So, I was an ex officio member of the board for four years. And I can’t believe how quickly that flew by. But it was great, you know. And, you know, I think having me serve on the board or listening to what the BID was doing, we would carve out roles for each other so we weren’t stepping on each other’s feet. And, then, the BID was very supportive. I remember we did Santa Claus, we did Santa’s workshop with Santa Claus on Eighth Street, and Patty and India [Person, BID Ambassador] came out. And we’re out there in the freezing cold. I think it was 20 degrees and we’re drinking hot chocolate. We didn’t get many kids that first time we did it. But they were so supportive of Santa’s Workshop and the photos with Santa.
JARBOE: So they basically supplied some of the muscle.
MCLEOD: They did a lot of the muscle and a lot of the emotional support, I tell you. When no one else came out in the cold, they were there. [Interviewer laughs.] And India is still around  …
JARBOE: Oh, yeah. No, she’s great. She had to take leave for a little bit.
JARBOE: Some issues. But she’s back and, yeah …
MCLEOD: Wonderful.
[Subsequent to this interview, India Person passed away from cancer on January 25, 2024.]
JARBOE: And it sounds like that working together kind of set the tone …
JARBOE: … for ongoing activities.
MCLEOD: Yeah. I think that you’re right. Setting the tone is probably the best way to describe it because, you know if a partner does what they’re good at and we do what we’re good at and we work together, we can take it to the next level. And, you know, if it’s just me and five volunteers, there’s only so much you can do. But when you’ve got the BID and their muscle and, you know, they’ve got relationships at DDOT and DPW [Department of Public Works] it’s a big deal. They really took everything to the next level.
JARBOE: And was there a role for CHAMPS [Capitol Hill Area Merchants and Professionals] in all of this at that time. You know, CHAMPS is one of those organizations that’s gone up …
MCLEOD: Gone up and down, yeah.
JARBOE: … and down and up and down.
MCLEOD: And, so, CHAMPS, you know as a business association, I think they were kind of searching to find their way, to be honest. Because the Main Street was doing so much and the streetscape was almost done and then the BID launched and they were doing great stuff and it was big and splashy. You know, stuff was happening on the Hill like nobody had ever seen before. And, so, CHAMPS was kind of rethinking, you know, what’s our role now.
JARBOE: Right.
MCLEOD: That’s what I remember. Yeah.
JARBOE: Yeah. It’s always somewhat confusing. Well, not confusing but a little interesting to me on the ANC trying to sort through what everybody was doing because you had a lot going on the Hill. Not only was the Barracks Row going on but you had stuff going on down at the Navy Yard.
JARBOE: That was technically in our ANC. But I remember Sharon Ambrose [former Ward 6 City Councilmember] pulling people together for meetings.
MCLEOD: Every six months she’d have these big meetings.
JARBOE: Right.
MCLEOD: And would she have them in her office or in the Navy Yard? I can’t remember.
JARBOE: She would have them down in the Officers’ Club or the Non-Commissioned Officers’ Club.
JARBOE: In the Navy Yard.
MCLEOD: In the Navy Yard. And she would bring 30 people to talk about the big projects and nudging them along. And everybody would give an update about these big projects, big development. And it was really very good. Yeah, really.
JARBOE: Were you in some of those meetings?
MCLEOD: I went to at least four, as I recall. She would have them every six months. And, then, it became less frequent.
JARBOE: Right.
MCLEOD: But they were very, very good. It was mind blowing to hear all the development coming down the pike. It was really something.
JARBOE: Yeah. I found them very, very useful. Even if you didn’t have to do anything, just keeping tabs or, you know, in the back of your mind knowing that, you know, something’s going on down over here.
JARBOE: Somethings’ going on over here. It was very, yeah, it was very useful.
MCLEOD: It was very useful. And I always think, you know, DC’s full of silos, right?  You know, everybody does their own little thing and nobody shares it. Well, when you start sharing it, you get better at what you do and then you also know who the resources are. What are they doing? And, so I think those were fantastic meetings to kind of break the silos down.
JARBOE: Well, you may be interested that the Eastern Market Main Street hosted a get-together for all the boards of all the …
MCLEOD: Oh, great.
JARBOE: CHAMPS, the BID, Barracks Row Main Street, and Eastern Market Main Street.
MCLEOD: Fantastic.
JARBOE: And now they’re apparently going to be sharing office space as well …
MCLEOD: Oh, good.
JARBOE: The groups together. So that will be good. And, you know, as a couple of people said at the reception, this is what we need to do to be able to coordinate because, you know, Barracks Row Main Street should not be separate from Eastern Market Main Street. The two have to work together.
MCLEOD: Yes. George Didden always had a vision that everybody should be in the Old Naval Hospital.
JARBOE: Right.
MCLEOD: The BID and Barracks Row Main Street should, you know, be in the same office and everybody should be talking to each other. And that was his vision. And the Old Naval Hospital is fantastic now.
JARBOE:  The Hill Center [at the Old Naval Hospital] did not quite work for that. But I remember George pushing that very much. And he would be pushing, making sure that all the various other entities kind of knew what was going on.
MCLEOD:  It was good.
JARBOE: In the intervening years, it seems that the Barracks Row Main Street has kind of become really focused on the marketing side of Barracks Row. Is that the role?
MCLEOD: That’s kind of ... Well, I don’t know what the board of directors wants, right? Because it’s ultimately the vision of the board. But I see a lot of Main Streets around the country, as they mature, as economic development is in full swing, it’s not as urgent as it was when they first start. And, then, as the streetscape is done and the facades are done and cash is flowing and the buildings are being better maintained, what happens is they start to figure out that what [they] need is more marketing or more attention to fill the businesses, to keep reminding everybody they should come to the neighborhood. I definitely see that around the country, not just on Barracks Row.
JARBOE: One of the suggestions you made, the key highlight of what you need to think about, was making sure that you have a plan set up for maintenance.
MCLEOD: Maintenance. Man, oh man. [Both laugh.]
JARBOE: That sounds like a hot button.
MCLEOD: It’s a hot button for me because the key to success in my opinion is maintenance. But it’s not sexy and nobody wants to fund it. But all I do is maintenance, right? If you build brick sidewalks, you have to have a stash of bricks. When DDOT was building Barracks Row, I had a stash of bricks in the Barracks Row office. And when one would go missing, I would drop it in place so that a second one wouldn’t go missing. And, you know, nobody talks about that.
I would be out there weeding the tree boxes. You know, I love gardening. And so, on Monday mornings—most of the retailers wouldn’t open on Mondays—I would weed the tree boxes on Monday morning through the growing season just to make sure that the tree boxes looked spectacular. And the first year, you know, the trees were new and the liriope [grass-type groundcover] was new and so it didn’t need much maintenance. But year two, year three, year four, they really started to get ... You know, it’s a growing environment so you need to give it more maintenance. And so I would be weeding it and then we’d have these mulching days. I’d get all these volunteers out and we’d mulch all the trees, usually in the spring. It’s really all about maintenance. But mulching a tree box, I’ll tell you, is not sexy. [Both laugh.]
JARBOE: You know, the BID does that now.
MCLEOD: Yeah. Oh, great. Yeah.
JARBOE: The Men in Blue, they’ve gotten very good at that.
MCLEOD: Yeah. That’s a great job.
JARBOE: The thing about missing bricks. You know, Tommy Wells [former Ward 6 City Councilmember] started and Charles Allen [current Ward 6 City Councilmember] has continued this Brickie Award. [Interviewee laughs.] And they kind of talked about, “Well, you know, we saw a bunch of bricks sitting there and, you know, they looked like they were city bricks so we just borrowed one.” So I wonder if some of your missing bricks ended up as …
MCLEOD: As an award.
JARBOE: … as an award. The Brickie Award.
MCLEOD: Well, that’s a good thing.
JARBOE: Yeah. That would be good. That would be good. Beyond maintenance, there is, as you alluded to, not the physical maintenance but the organizational maintenance.
MCLEOD: Man, oh man. We could talk for hours about organizational maintenance.
MCLEOD: Yeah. So I got an Executive MBA from George Washington back in 2012 and we spent, you know, two years we spent talking about organizational behavior. I don’t know if you have a question [laughing] but …
JARBOE: No, no. No, I …
MCLEOD: I will literally talk for two hours about …
JARBOE: I am interested in getting your experience both here and, you know, otherwise on these issues.
MCLEOD: Yeah, I’ve worked for five non-profits over the last 29 years now. And, you know, you never tell your bosses, the board of directors, what to do. But you can educate them, you can nudge them, you can cajole them, you can praise them, whatever you need to do. But if you really are good at it, they’re energized, they’re growing, there’s healthy turnover, there’s committees working, there’s, you know, vision, there’s work planning. They’re doing all this stuff and it’s all happening and it’s continuing. And it's never great, it’s never bad, it’s always good. Right? Because if it’s great, that’s not sustainable. If it’s bad, that’s not sustainable. But if it’s good, that is a sustainable rate. Because these people are volunteers. They’re not employees. And so, for them to give two or three hours a month, that’s huge. That’s a superstar volunteer in my opinion. ANC commissioners, I don’t know how they do it because they’re giving, you know, ten to twenty hours a week, I am sure.
JARBOE: Yeah, yeah.
MCLEOD: And, you know. But I try to ask not too much from the board of directors.
JARBOE: And it seems like both the BID and Barracks Row Main Street have been able to reach that spot, that sweet spot.
MCLEOD: The sweet spot, that’s right. Yeah.
JARBOE: The other part of maintenance, there was two parts. The next step is the next step up, which is the maintenance of out exterior relations. [Interviewee laughs.] The maintenance with city government, the maintenance with the businesses. What did you do at Barracks Row when you first came in to strengthen that?
MCLEOD: Yeah. So let’s talk about merchants I walked the corridor and went into every shop, when I was new, probably every week, with a flyer or a newsletter or a public notice or an announcement that, you know, the water would be shut off on Sunday morning. Whatever it was. And, so, I spent so much time walking the corridor so that people knew who I was. And it literally took some of the businesses six months to figure out who I was and what I do. They would see me and they just thought, “Mmm, here’s this guy passing out flyers.” But then they realized I was attached to an organization and I wasn’t the newspaper delivery guy. I was actually writing the newsletter to capture stories that are germane to them. And, so, it’s a lot of repetition, talking to businesses. And in restaurants there’s a tremendous amount of turnover. At particular retailers and services, they have better retention. But restaurants, you’ve really got to spend a lot of time getting to know the staff and visiting again and again.
For the City Council or for the agencies you’ve got ... You know, we did mailers, we did newsletters, we walked City Hall. We would try to testify in support of what DDOT was doing or the Council was doing or DSLBD [DC Department of Small and Local Business Development]. You know, they were the Main Street funding source. They also certify all the BIDs in the city. And, so, we try to spend a lot of time. In my new job, it’s been almost a year now, for Dupont Circle Business Improvement District, we walked City Hall quite a bit this past summer and it was very good to get our name out there and just tell the Council what’s been going on. So, that’s been really helpful.
JARBOE: The final area of maintenance kind of goes back to what you’re talking about—the buildings, the façade. It’s kind of how do you maintain, for lack of a better term, the economic ecosphere.
JARBOE: Of the corridor.
MCLEOD: Yeah. That’s a big question, so maybe we take it apart a little bit. When Barracks Row was young and small, the sidewalks were done and fresh and the buildings looked like crap, you know. They really needed to be repointed or repainted, new signs, upgraded signs. And, so, we launched a sign grant program. And that worked for a year or two. And then, we were able to get a grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development [DHCD] to do a big façade grant program. And it was slow moving but it was successful. And they received two or three façade grant programs through DHCD after that. So, that was meaningful.
Then, what happens is that economics change in the neighborhood where the value of the buildings can become so high that it pushes the tenant out or the landlord thinks they can get a better tenant. And, then, things kind of start to go haywire. Taxes go through the roof. And there’s a whole weird thing where people want to add second stories or third stories to the building. They want to gut the entire building and upgrade fully. They want to tear the building down. You know, this whole story, just to tear the building down. And, so, I think the key is you have to anticipate what’s coming and try to work with the landlords and the tenants to kind of keep up with the market. And if you do that successfully ... You know, I always think Chat’s Liquors is a great example of a longtime business. They opened in the 1930s and they’ve kind of evolved as the neighborhood has evolved. They’ve carried more high-end things as the neighborhood’s kind of gone more up market. And it’s been very good. Yeah.
JARBOE: That was one of my ongoing relationships, with Chat’s, because they were right in that point where the neighborhood was changing, and they were still selling singles for quarters out of the front ...
MCLEOD: I remember that.
JARBOE: And we, finally, we got them to move the singles to the back so that the people had to at least go all the way back there and come all the way up. [Interviewee laughs.] And, yeah, it was an ongoing conversation.
JARBOE: But they finally got it. They finally saw where the neighborhood was going.
MCLEOD: They really did get it and the kids were smart, you know. Miss Ophelia’s, you know. So, dad opened the store and Burnie the son and the daughter Opal, you know, they were working there. And they got it. Right? They saw the neighborhood changing. They started carrying more high-end things and then the high-end things were selling. So they’re making more money. Right? And it really did work, so that was very successful. Yeah. Tough conversations sometimes though.
[Ophelia Williams was the wife of Burnett Williams Jr., the former owner of Chat’s Liquors, and the mother of the current owner Burnett “Burnie” Williams III. She also ran Ophelia’s Flowers Cards & Gifts, next to Chat’s, which closed in 2009 and is now Ophelia’s Fish House and Oyster Bar.]
JARBOE: So, would the Barracks Row ... The Main Street was kind of watching that? Nudging.
MCLEOD: We had a conversation with them and then we offered them a glass grant. And I don’t know if you remember those, but they had plexiglass windows. And the plexiglass was so scratched up and yellowed. And we gave them a glass grant and we changed it to this security glass.
JARBOE: Right.
MCLEOD: And their windows were opened and exposed for, like, three hours while they were changing. I literally stood on the sidewalk with the glass installer while that was happening so that nothing bad would happen, nothing wayward, you know. People weren’t reaching into the windows. And Burnie, you know, he felt like his business was now open to the street. He could see out and people could see in and it just totally changed the dynamic of what was happening there. And it was very good, I think. It was difficult at first, you know, because it was a new dynamic for the business to feel like they were kind of looking out now and people were looking in. But it was very good. Big change.
JARBOE: And having the mix of organizations such as, you know, having Barracks Row Main Street to do that sort of stuff, having the BID to come along and de-gum the side …
MCLEOD: Oh, the sidewalk.
JARBOE: … the sidewalk.
MCLEOD: We used to get the gum buster out there. Patty paid for GumBuster to de-gum the sidewalk. And it was a big deal because all those black spots were terrible and it was really, really helpful. And, also, you know, the job—it’s a job training program. The BID, it’s a job training program which changes people’s lives. It’s a lot of work. I went to some graduation ceremonies. And, you know, Patty does all this fantastic job training and it means a lot to people. A lot of the businesses on Barracks Row hired kind of ex-offenders or at-risk people, and, so, it was interesting to see these people kind of moving up in the neighborhood or changing their lives in the neighborhood. It was very, very good,
JARBOE: So the businesses in Barracks Row Main Street and the other [businesses] had really noticed that part of the bill?
MCLEOD: Oh, they—you bet. You know, they see the same guy come down the street, around the same time every day, and they get to know them. And, you know, sometimes they get hired. Sometimes they say, “I know what you’re making pushing. We could use somebody as a stock person.” And it can be a very nice second step for someone who’s trying to get back on track.
JARBOE: Right.
JARBOE: Right. You know, and that’s a good synergy.
MCLEOD: It’s a fantastic synergy. It’s a great message that people’s lives can change and it’s not easy, you know. And it’s all about relationships, really. You see the same guy walking down the street, pushing a bucket, and he gets a job offer from somebody he knows in the neighborhood. It’s really very good.
JARBOE: Now, part of the reason I think Barracks Row Main Street has been so successful is that it’s relatively compact.
JARBOE: It’s what? Three blocks …
JARBOE: … three-quarters of a mile. [Interviewee laughs.] Something like that.
JARBOE: One of those six facing blocks is the Marine Barracks. Another one includes the fire station. So, you’ve got a mix of activities going on there that are not all, you know, not all private, not all retail.
MCLEOD: No, it’s very difficult. Yeah. And, when I was there, it included the south of the freeway.
JARBOE: Right, okay.
MCLEOD: So, it included the blue castle there [8th and M Streets NE]. And that was kind of an insular school. They had no retail or much of a presence. And, then to get people to go under the freeway was really difficult. It was impossible. We could never get anybody to go under the freeway. So, we would tell everybody, you know, we’re managing all of the 400, 500, 700, 900 (which is the freeway), 1000, and 1100 block[s]. All these blocks.
JARBOE: Right.
MCLEOD: And people never saw it. They always thought it was just three blocks. And, then, when the streetscape was being done, all the work was being done on the other side of the freeway. And they thought construction had stopped. And, so, people would call my office and say, “Why did construction stop?” I said, “It didn’t stop. You haven’t been under the freeway. They’re working in the 1100 block.” And, then, “Oh, okay, yeah.” It’s funny.
JARBOE: So, is there any . . . getting back to the organizational, you know. The economic ecosystem and then the organizational ecosystem. It sounds like the Barracks Row Main Street and the BID at the very beginning managed to work out a relationship. Was that fits and starts? Was it kind of opportunistic—did you think about it? Did you sit down with Patty and say. “We’ll do this and you’ll do that.”?
MCLEOD: I think, you know, Patty is so easy to work with, I just think it was like everyone was so excited to have the BID. And, you know, to have the sidewalks cleaned every day. I mean, it was miraculous. And we were just so happy to have another partner in the neighborhood that was doing so much. It was—I don’t even think we ever sat down. I think it just rolled out and we were working together and I’m coming to board meetings and she’s great and George is great and just all this synergy. It was fantastic. Yeah.
JARBOE: So yeah, it seemed to me that the BID and Barracks Row both had, I won’t say narrow niches, but very specific missions that were complementary. And since they started that way there really wasn’t any reason to get, you know, in each other’s territory.
MCLEOD: Yeah, I think that’s key. I think since they had these niche tasks already there was no stepping on toes. I’m not interested in stepping on toes. You know, I work very closely to the Golden Triangle BID. I never want to step on Golden Triangle BID’s toes. You know, they’re our southern border. Three of the blocks on the south side of the Dupont Circle Park are Golden Triangle’s. And I steer clear and I talk to Leona [Agourdis, President and CEO of the DC Golden Triangle BID] regularly and I see her regularly.
JARBOE: Right. However, here on Capitol Hill there does seem to be [interviewee laughs] some things that there’s, I won’t say tension about, but, you know ... For example, the BID puts up the banners.
JARBOE: And the Christmas …
MCLEOD: Christmas decorations, yeah.
JARBOE: … lights. It seems that they took that on because the Main Street was obviously not going to do it just in —you know, they weren’t going to expand up and start putting you up on the 200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue.
MCLEOD: Yeah, yeah.
JARBOE: But that needed to be done.
JARBOE: So, did you sense any gaps or any, you know …
MCLEOD:  Yes. I’m trying to remember. So, there used to be snowflakes [seasonal decorations] on Capitol Hill. And there were no snowflakes on Barracks Row. So, I launched a fundraising campaign to buy snowflakes for Barracks Row. And we had them installed and it was crazy expensive. And buying those snowflakes itself was crazy. And, then, installation and the powering. We had to retrofit the streetlights. We never thought about this but, when you put the streetlights in place, there’s no power source, unless you ask DDOT to put an electrical socket up there. So, we had to have them all retrofitted. But I guess the BID was doing the snowflakes on Pennsylvania Avenue.
JARBOE: I think so.
MCLEOD: And then, we were following their lead and then we just let them take the whole thing. So, we ordered the same snowflakes they had and we just let them do the whole thing.
JARBOE: Okay, so, it was a case of not fighting each other but kind of evolving together.
MCLEOD: Yeah. And we followed their lead on this one.
JARBOE: Right. Okay. Since you’ve been gone for a little bit …
MCLEOD: Yeah, a little bit. [Laughs.]
JARBOE: Do you get up on the Hill often?
MCLEOD: About every six months. You know, I love Trattoria Alberto. I mean, all the restaurants are great on the Hill, but Trattoria Alberto is my favorite because, you know, the staff is still the same. You know, from 20 years ago, the staff is still the same. [Interviewer laughs.] It’s crazy. I love Italian food, you know. I love old restaurants in particular. I’m an old-fashioned guy. So, I try to get up to the Hill every six months and try my—agnolotti is what I like to get there. And, then, of course, Eastern Market on the weekends is always a blast. I love to take friends from out of town. Yeah.
JARBOE: Given that you’ve kind of been following the area now for 20, almost 30 years …
MCLEOD: [Laughing] Yeah. Crazy.
JARBOE: … what’s your impression of what’s happening now?
MCLEOD: Well, you know, I always bike it. I biked here today. And I came up Eighth Street. You know, I came K Street to Eighth Street and, then, I went to Pennsylvania. I went to Frager’s because I think it’s one of the best hardware stores in the city. You’re so lucky to have Frager’s. And I was snooping around there and I bought the Farmer’s Almanac and, then, I went a little bit further down and I saw Mangialardo’s still in business. Boy, you’re lucky to have Mangialardo’s and its old-time sub shop.
JARBOE: I’ve never been there.
MCLEOD: I love it.
JARBOE: I know. I keep saying I’ve got to get down there.
MCLEOD: You’ve got to go. If you just get a sub, just get the G-Man. It’s an amazing, amazing sub. I love Italian subs. And, then, by CVS there’s this—I think it’s called the Yume Wall. And I know the artist, Kris Swanson.
JARBOE: Oh, yeah. I actually have a tile up there.
MCLEOD: Yeah. Oh. Kris Swanson …
JARBOE: Yeah, Kris Swanson put it together.
MCLEOD: She put it together and I remember going to, like, a ribbon cutting with her because she used to do Second Saturday on Capitol Hill. And I wanted to check on that wall. And, then, I remembered there was a shoe repair place a little bit further down.
JARBOE: Yeah, Peter Bug.
MCLEOD: Yeah, Peter Bug’s still got his sign up. I don’t know if he’s open anymore.
JARBOE: Oh, he’s still—oh, yeah. He’s still …
MCLEOD: Still there?
JARBOE: … there.
MCLEOD: Amazing. But there’s this new development on the Hill. You know, there’s some new buildings tucked along Pennsylvania Avenue and it’s great to see infill development that is successfully integrated into the historic fabric of the Hill. It’s not jarring construction. I think it’s very well designed. And the Hill is very active today. It’s December and it’s cold. It’s really windy today. And people were all over Pennsylvania Avenue, going to the hardware store, walking around their houses, going to the elementary school there. And, so, it was very exciting to see Capitol Hill so active. And I thought, “Hmm, maybe I should retire here. [Both laugh.] If I can afford it.” I probably can’t afford it. But, you know, it’s such a great neighborhood. You know, it really is a village unto itself.
MCLEOD: And it’s beautiful, you know. You guys have done great things the last 20 years. It’s amazing.
JARBOE: Good. Any further thoughts about anything we’ve discussed?
MCLEOD: I want to tell a funny story. So, one day Patty Brosmer calls me and she’s, like, “Bill, I just got a complaint from a resident saying they don’t like the noise of the buckets being pushed down the sidewalk.” I said, “What are you talking about? I love that sound. When I hear the bucket going down the sidewalk it means the guy is here to sweep the trash. To me that’s a great sound.” And she’s, like, “That’s what I thought,” you know. So one person thinks that it’s an unattractive sound but the benefit, you know, you can’t ... Their sidewalk is being swept every single day. You can’t get better than that. And I thought, it’s some very uplifting sounds.
JARBOE: Now, that’s interesting. That’s …
MCLEOD: Yeah. [Laughs.] That’s a funny story.
JARBOE: That’s what we want it to be. We want it to be part of the neighborhood. Not just an accepted part of the neighborhood, but an integral part of the neighborhood. For me, it’s kind of hard to imagine the Hill without the BID.
JARBOE: Not just because I remember how dirty it was …
MCLEOD: Dirty it was. Oh, I know.
JARBOE: … it was before.
MCLEOD: I remember Barracks Row before.
JARBOE: And the almost bunker mentality, you know, that you didn’t feel like you could go out. The Metro Plaza was not a welcoming space.
MCLEOD: Oh, wow.
JARBOE: You really didn’t want to walk down that first block of Barracks Row.
MCLEOD: Yes, I know, I know. Yeah.
JARBOE: And it seems between Barracks Row Main Street and the BID and CHAMPS kind of turned that around.
MCLEOD: Yeah. I hope so.
MCLEOD: I think it’s fantastic. I always feel, when I walk Barracks Row—you know, I bike over here and then I walk my bike up and I just walk Barracks Row. And it still feels like I’m coming home. And it’s been 20 years. And it’s a funny little ... It’s such a great neighborhood. It’s really amazing.
JARBOE: One of the things, just to get your impression on, one of the things that we talked about when that group got together for the board of directors and the reception was how the Eastern Market Main Street and Barracks Row Main Street have kind of found their own niches.
JARBOE: That Barracks Row has thrived as a destination restaurant area.
JARBOE: And Eastern Market, the businesses along Seventh Street there are mostly retail. You’ve got a couple of restaurants but one does not say let’s go down to the Eastern Market to think about dinner. One says let’s go down to Barracks Row.
JARBOE: And that encompasses Tunnicliff’s.
MCLEOD: Yes, Tunnicliff’s. It’s great.
JARBOE: It encompasses the 600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue. And, so, that has that identity. But, then, when you want to go shopping, you don’t necessarily say let’s go down and walk Barracks Row to think about Christmas gifts.
MCLEOD: You go to Eastern Market.
JARBOE: You go to Eastern Market.
MCLEOD: That’s right, that’s right. And it’s a great division of retail. It’s good. Seems to really be working.
JARBOE: Interesting.
MCLEOD: It’s awesome.
JARBOE: Great. Well, thank you very much.
MCLEOD: Yeah. Great time with you, Ken. It’s great to see you, too.
JARBOE: This is fun.
MCLEOD: It is fun.

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project
Bill McLeod Interview, December 18, 2023

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