Franklin Park opening in September with public bathrooms and improved accessibility
Franklin Park in downtown D.C. is set to reopen in September with overhauled greenspaces, a children’s garden, and high-quality restrooms, according to a DowntownDC BID presentation from July 28. The five-acre lot bound by I and K streets NW, 13th to 14th Street, is managed by the BID in partnership with the D.C. government and the National Park Service. According to NPS, the long-needed repairs would not have been possible without $18 million contributed by the District. Part of the funds for park upkeep will be pulled from a new cafe on the property, through the BID’s nonprofit.
“Among the upgrades to the park, visitors will be able to enjoy ADA accessible sidewalks, a rich and diverse tree canopy, enhanced lighting, conversational and flexible seating,” reads a DowntownDC BID follow-up email from the meeting. The project restored the central fountain, previously out of order, added interactive water and light features, and almost doubled the adjacent plaza.
[Read more: The park had been set to open this month]
Long a gathering place for homeless residents, officials assured meeting attendees that the refreshed park is a place for everyone. Rachel Hartmann, executive director of the BID’s nonprofit arm, explained that they’ll provide homeless outreach at the new Franklin Park, directing residents to the nearby Downtown Day Services Center. Located at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (1313 New York Ave. NW) and also managed by the BID, the center offers walk-in services on weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., including showers, laundry, restrooms, phone, computers, emergency clothing, help obtaining vital records, medical instruction, harm reduction, and housing guidance. Residents can direct questions about these services to [email protected].
Some of the nonprofit and government agencies that previously provided services to homeless residents at Franklin Park moved to nearby Vermont Avenue when the park closed for renovation. Others shifted their operations during the pandemic. it’s not clear if those organizations will be welcomed in the new Franklin Park without additional paperwork. “As in the past, individuals wishing to provide services in the park must apply for a permit with NPS,” said a BID spokesperson in a statement to Street Sense Media. Over the weekend, when the Downtown Day Service Center is closed, “the DowntownDC BID will continue to offer its weekend community service” on the 800 Block of Vermont Avenue, near Franklin Park. Organizations must apply for timeslots to do outreach there, too.
The D.C. chapter of the mutual aid organization Food Not Bombs started a petition asking the BID to make “a written and verbal commitment allowing unhoused residents to resume sleeping at the park and Food Not Bombs to resume serving the Franklin Square community.”
The bathrooms — which include flush toilets and running water faucets, unlike many NPS bathrooms for outdoor parks — will be part of the same building as the cafe but with a separate entrance open nearly year-round while the park is open.
Cecily Mendie, the BID’s manager for Franklin Park, said park amenities and programming will be free and that staff will be onsite for hospitality and maintenance.
For NPS, part of the challenge with the project was honoring and restoring elements of Franklin Park while adding modern amenities that serve a variety of residents and visitors. “Franklin is one of the earliest and most historic parks that come out of the L’Enfant Plan [for Washington, D.C.],” said Jeff Reinbold, NPS superintendent for the National Mall and Memorial Parks. “But this isn’t the Fabergé Egg. This is a real, living, breathing community and city and there are needs that residents and users of the park have.”