Dep. Mayor Falcicchio has plenty of development ideas
John Falcicchio, the deputy mayor for planning and economic development, is the complete opposite of what one might think of as a distant senior city official with many titles and vague functions. On the one hand, Falcicchio is in charge of overseeing, planning and developing projects for some 13 city departments and commissions that make up the unglamorous acronym DMPEC. They include cluster agencies and commissions such as the offices of planning, public and private partnerships and housing and community development as well as independent agencies dealing with housing finance and tenant advocacy, zoning and property tax appeals. Its portfolio includes the Arts Commission and the Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment. And it oversees, among others, the Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD).
On top of all that, Falcicchio is Mayor Bowser’s chief of staff and his longtime aide and confidant. Its presence is almost ubiquitous in the city’s most visible evolving development projects.
But incredibly Falcicchio (he says humorously to pronounce his difficult last name “John”) is relaxed, friendly, open, knowledgeable and happy to talk, it seems, about all facets of his agencies’ projects. He is confident and excited about DC’s future prospects. He speaks eagerly during an interview but not too much; he remains fully engaged and listens, nods, acknowledges questions and answers them directly. Not once during the hour-long interview with The Georgetowner at the St. Regis on 16th Street did he pull out his phone to do a quick email scan or turn to his manager communications to ask them to “contact us again”. on a question. His two favorite terms for the district’s multifaceted recovery seemed to be “imagine” and “innovation.”
The options for DC’s economic development after the two-year pandemic that essentially shuttered downtown, gutted popular, historic and favorite small businesses that were hallowed in the dozens of neighborhoods that make up the city’s eight wards, are numerous, according to Falcicchio. But there will be changes. Things will no longer be the same.
According to the deputy mayor, the top priority for economic development is getting DC’s workforce back to in-person and office work. Tens of thousands of federal and association workers came to town every day to work downtown, especially on K Street. They spent an average of $40 a day at local support businesses. “We have to get them back,” Falcicchio said. “But we won’t have them all.” Falcicchio expects remote work to become an integral part of the way people work. Most of the professional workforce will come into the office maybe three out of five days a week. Offices will shrink. Day laborers will not need as many ancillary services. They will have less patience to move around, even by public transport.
Some of the solutions Falcicchio and his planners envision involve converting office space into condos and residences, including plenty of affordable housing for service workers, hospitality and sanitation workers to teachers, first responders, emergency and medical personnel. “We see our future in providing a vibrant space for people in food, education and medicine, especially to work and reside in the district,” Falcicchio said. This includes workers in industries of all kinds — energy, high-tech, digital companies — not so much manufacturing employees as corporate professionals (the C-crowd), those who need to be close to the federal government to represent their tax, regulatory and competition interests.
The district is already investing in four huge new real estate development projects similar to the wharf development in underdeveloped areas of Southeast Washington and the St. Elizabeth campus, Falcicchio said, adding that public-private partnerships will be of increasingly the vehicle to provide the investment and management aspects.
What about our part of the neighborhood, Georgetown? Falcicchio stressed the importance of continuing the development and maintenance of the historic C&O Canal as Georgetown’s special attraction for businesses and tourists. (He mentioned the gondola.) But he primarily referred to the district’s increased support for planning by the Georgetown Business Improvement District and Main Street nonprofits working with the DSLBD, to plan and develop local ideas . As a model example, he pointed to Georgetown Parks’ impressive partnerships between the National Park Service, the District Parks and Recreation Department, neighborhood park “Friends” groups, and non-profit community organizations, such as the Georgetown Garden. Club.
Falcicchio’s vision is to involve communities in imagining innovative projects, new ways of doing things collaboratively and in new forms of partnerships. The 42-year-old said he fell in love with the challenge of community governance and politics when he came to the nation’s capital of Jersey City, New Jersey, as a graduate of St. Peter’s Prep to attend the Catholic University of America. He never left.
He credits his knowledge and skills to mentoring big bosses like Mayors Adrian Fenty and Muriel Bowser. He recalled with admiration Bowser’s deft and swift response to the George Floyd protests as well as President Trump’s photo op at St. John’s Church in Lafayette Park that resulted in a section of 16th Street NW be renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza in June 2020. And, no, Falcicchio assured us, he is not interested in running for office.