People get food in Franklin Square Park
Attendees are handed plates of food at the 2014 PhilanthroFEST, held in Franklin Square Park.

Downtown D.C.’s landscape has been changing over the last twenty years. People have been concerned about every development and change to the center of local commerce. One of these areas of concern regarding development is Franklin Square Park.  

Franklin Park lies only blocks from the White House and has a rich history. It first served as a well that brought water to the White House. The area was known as Fountain Square at that time. Over the years the park has been remodeled. The new millennium is no exception to changes being made to this historic site. It also sits across from what will be Planet Word, a literary museum, which was formerly a homeless shelter inside the Franklin School building.  

[Read more: While some people who reside in the park had heard about a plan to redevelop the space, most were shocked to learn about it] 

There were two public meetings held earlier this year in which residents could learn what the next steps for Franklin Park are and what is envisioned for the transformation. David Rubin, who is part of the design team for the development of Franklin Park, presented what the design firm has come up with at the June 20 meeting. 

‘‘We want everybody to use the park … The goal of the park is inclusion for all,” Rubin said. He noted that the plans include a children’s play area, five new water fountains, a cafe, and changes to stormwater drainage.  

Designs for franklin park

A rendering of the finished park, displayed on a poster at the June meeting. Photo by Reginald Black.

The park renovation is a partnership between the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District, the National Park Service, and the District government. On hand to represent the government during the June meeting was Sharrod Gormon for the Department of General Services. He did his best to lay out a timeline for the pending construction.  

“We don’t have a contractor,” Gormon said. He added that the agency would bring them on board sometime in the late summer or early fall.  

The park will be closed for about a year to implement this plan. Officials at the meeting indicated construction will require the entire park to be closed and construction may lead to some disruption of weekend use for those who come to the park. 

[Read more: Downtown DC BID meets with homeless representatives to discuss Franklin Park closure] 

Once construction begins in Franklin Park, those experiencing homelessness in the park will have to find somewhere else to go.When asked what will happen during construction, Ellen Jones of the Downtown D.C. BID said, “We’re working on it.” 

In addition to the new Day Services Center that opened one block south of the park in February, Jones said the BID is in negotiations with churches in the area to help provide more places for people experiencing homelessness to be while the park is developed. “We are going to need something during construction,” she said. 

Franklin Square Park

Franklin statue in Franklin Square Park. Many people experiencing homelessness reside in the park. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The day center, which opened in February of this year, provides a “one-stop shop” for homeless individuals where they can receive a hot meal, shower, do laundry, and address other immediate needs. 

[Read more: Navigating homeless services is complicated. A new downtown center makes many of them available in one place] 

“We have enough time,” said Micheal Coleman, a former constituent representative for the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH).  

[Disclosure: Reginald Black is a current constituent representative for the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness.] 

Coleman proposed the ICH’s consumer engagement group should directly conduct outreach and support in order to soften the blow to services on the weekends, when many faith communities and other civic groups traditionally distribute meals and other supplies in the park. 

He emphasized that residents of color are becoming more and more frustrated about occupying spaces in the District of Columbia.  

[Read more: Panel discussion highlights the need for cultural and historic preservation of Black District communities] 

“I don’t want to have what happened to [Martin Luther King Library] to happen when the park closes,” said Coleman, who was once homeless himself. “The impact that it’s going to have will put a little more weight on the civic unrest in the community.”   

Documents on the National Park Service’s site state that Franklin Park construction will begin this fall.