227 Harry Thomas Way NE
December 2015 / May 2016
Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects
Washington Business Journal Best Real Estate Deal 2016; Potomac ASLA Honor Award 2021; Washington City Paper 2022 Best of D.C. — Best Dog Park
large lawn, playground, dog park, gardens, bioremediation meadow with a boardwalk, plaza areas, performance area adjacent to a large gently sloped lawn for audiences, cafe space with seating, and connections to the Metropolitan Branch Trail
“There were tears in my eyes when I saw the plans for Tanner Park.”
—Conor Shaw, Eckington Civic Association
Alethia Tanner Park achieved its identity, as did NPF’s other parks, through a call for suggestions from the community and a subsequent community vote. More than 2,100 people participated in online and direct mail polling that led up to the naming and eventual dedication of Alethia Tanner Park.
Alethia Tanner, who was born into slavery in Maryland in the 1780s, purchased her freedom in 1810, as well as the freedom of many family members. She was a strong proponent of educational initiatives for African Americans in the District. In addition to supporting several schools for free African American children through her entrepreneurial ventures, including a produce stand in Lafayette Park next to the White House, she funded the education of family members who would later become prominent leaders in the city’s education scene. In March 2019, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie introduced legislation to officially name the park “Alethia Tanner Park,” and the D.C. Council passed the legislation later that year.
As with the other two NPF parks, the naming process reflected an effort to establish the site as a place for and by the community. It enabled community members to feel ownership of the park, and it reinforced the importance of community involvement and support when developing parks.
Alethia Tanner Park sits on what was formerly a fenced-off vacant lot just north of the New York Avenue bridge between the Metropolitan Branch Trail and Harry Thomas Way NE. A park on this site was first conceived of in the NoMa Public Realm Design Plan. With the working name “Pepco Park,” the undeveloped Pepco-owned site on the east side of Harry Thomas Way, adjacent to an existing Pepco substation, was recognized as the largest and most significant open space in the area. It had the scale and proximity to be a very meaningful recreation resource for the neighborhood. Following the approval of the city’s $50 million funding, the Foundation identified the Pepco site as a key opportunity and began exploring its acquisition.
During this process, some stakeholders were concerned that the location would not serve NoMa’s residents, given the significant barrier of the New York Avenue bridge that crossed the railroad track and the need to navigate the treacherous Florida Avenue/New York Avenue intersection. To dispel these worries, on a pleasant D.C. summer afternoon, NPF President Jasper took some of the folks with concerns for a walk along the MBT from the NoMa Metro station to the Pepco site, which helped them realize that for pedestrians and cyclists, the potential park was surprisingly close. By sharing experiences such as these with various stakeholders, NPF was able to convince those initially resistant to the purchase that it would be a transformative project for the neighborhood.
In 2015, after nearly two years of work with Pepco, during which period the company’s leadership coalesced in support of the park project, NPF acquired 2 acres of vacant land for $14 million and secured an option to purchase the balance of the nearly 4-acre site (referred to as the Option Parcel) at a future date. As one resident shared, the acquisition was a “moment of real excitement” for the neighborhood. The site was given the working name “NoMa Green.”
Acquiring the Option Parcel was essential to one of the most important improvements to the MBT: straightening out the dangerous “z-turn” at R Street NE, which posed a hazard to pedestrians and cyclists. NPF did not have sufficient funds to purchase it directly, so it issued an RFP to private developers seeking to enter into a transaction with the requirement that the buyer enable nearly half an acre of land to become a new alignment for the MBT and a dog park to be owned by the D.C. government.
Foulger-Pratt provided the best offer. In 2016, NPF simultaneously closed on the Option Parcel with Pepco and sold the 1.5 acres to Foulger-Pratt, acquiring additional park property without the use of any NPF funds. This transaction earned a nod from the Washington Business Journal as a Best Real Estate Deal of 2016.
Foulger-Pratt recognized the opportunity and value that Tanner Park could bring to its development project and NoMa and chose to invest in an amenity for the entire neighborhood. The nearby Eckington Yards project developed by JBG Smith and the Boundary Companies also recognized the value the park could offer to their developments and offered funding to the Foundation for the park site as well as to install a bikeshare station and other public amenities near the site.
The new site was always intended to serve as a large park for community gatherings and recreation, but not for sports activities, which were already being accommodated at the nearby Harry Thomas Sr. Recreation Center. Following the two acquisitions, NPF issued a Request for Proposal and selected Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects to design the park. The design process envisioned a park that would be enjoyed by generations of D.C. residents. Hiring a great landscape architecture firm to design each of the parks throughout the NoMa Parks Project helped all stakeholders, including DPR, to think about park design from a legacy and stewardship perspective.
The NPF team once again centered the design process around the community. Conor Shaw of the Eckington Civic Association described the community engagement process for Alethia Tanner Park as “unusually participatory, which was refreshing.” He noted how well attended and engaged the meetings were, reflecting NPF’s focus on ensuring broad community engagement. The Foundation and the design team hosted Community Conversations with the park’s designers to get feedback on design concepts, presented at Advisory Neighborhood Commission and civic association meetings, and stayed continually present online to maximize local reach.
The community shared priorities around children’s play, dog spaces, natural plantings, and shade trees, In addition child, pet, and personal safety were mentioned as hopes for the park, presaging how safety would be woven into the planning, design, and aesthetics of the park from the beginning. This community engagement process helped build a sense of ownership among community members, which NPF knew was a critical element to ensuring the park’s long-term success.
As noted above, a primary objective for Alethia Tanner Park was to provide an expansive, open green space for informal recreation or large community gatherings. In addition, the park’s design represented an opportunity to improve safety on the MBT, as discussed in detail below. The park design features a large, gently sloped lawn, a playground with areas to serve children from toddlers to teens, a dog park, gardens, a bioremediation meadow, plaza areas, flexible seating areas, a bosque, an allée of elms, a cafe structure, connections to an improved MBT, and art.
The design team and NPF also wanted to ensure a strong connection to history. The site was originally a rail yard serving both the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Eckington and Soldier’s Home Railway, D.C.’s first electric streetcar line. The park reflects this history through a variety of design elements, including the project’s graphics and signage, which are derived from old railroad schedule signage. Visual reference to trains is also a happy consequence of the park’s adjacency to the above-ground section of the Red Line Metro and railroad tracks leading to Union Station.
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