11th St. Bridge aerial view.

Challenge

The District of Columbia’s Anacostia Waterfront Initiative (AWI) is a 30-year, $10 billion dollar program that is transforming the shores of the Anacostia River into a sustainable, world-class waterfront. Nine District Department of Transportation (DDOT) projects form the backbone for this renaissance by supporting and fostering many other economic development, community redevelopment, environmental and recreation projects. Two of DDOT’s projects – the $390 million 11th Street Bridge Project and $908 million South Capitol Street Corridor Project – are the largest in the agency’s history.

Stratacomm was hired to provide full-time, embedded strategic communication and outreach services to support DDOT’s efforts by building community understanding, awareness and support for the agency’s AWI Program and projects. When Stratacomm joined the management team for the project, it was mired in controversy and mistrust by community members on both sides of the river. Strong community engagement and public education efforts were required to change perceptions, manage expectations and explain the benefits. The team helped DDOT navigate many community, political and media-sensitive challenges involved with advancing these projects through various stages of planning, design and construction progress while transforming into a model for how future megaprojects should be built in the District.

Our Approach

Stratacomm developed a comprehensive strategic communications plan that served as a roadmap for implementing various tactics. To improve understanding and trust with communities on both sides of the river, Stratacomm developed a Community Communications Committee, the 11CCC, with a breadth of local community, business and other opinion leaders. Planned quarterly group meetings and periodic one-on-one meetings and tours were held and earned high praise from committee members, external stakeholders, DDOT leadership and staff. The 11CCC and similar efforts are credited with turning perceptions of the project from being highly controversial to “the gold standard” and “a model” for other DDOT projects [actual quotes from 11CCC members]. Among the strongest committee advocates are members of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, an influential constituency that earlier brought suit against the project.

In coordination with DDOT, Stratacomm also created and led a successful project-related public education effort to proactively share information, gather valuable feedback and strengthen important stakeholder relationships. Community engagement included:

  • Daily project outreach with citizens, businesses and community organizations
  • Creating and leading community stakeholder panels
  • Developing online and social media content, and other project collateral
  • Managing and planning proactive media outreach
  • Planning and executing special events publicizing project progress and successes
  • Providing project updates at Advisory Neighborhood Commission and other community meetings

Results

Some of our team’s results included:

  • Conceptualized, designed, launched and continually managed a redesigned, award-winning AnacostiaWaterfront.org website to increase usability and further establish the brand of the AWI Program. In less than two years, the new site garnered more than 100,000 visits with an average of 3,700 visits per month.
  • Developed monthly electronic AWI newsletters that drove nearly 3,400 visits to the website. Visitors from the newsletter are very engaged with site content, spending nearly three minutes on the website.
  • Grew the AWI email database from 64 subscribers to more than 1,550 subscribers.
  • More than 1,100 people attended 11 large public meetings held for AWI Projects that Stratacomm planned and managed.
  • Provided responses to more than 400 phone calls to the AWI Program phone line and about 500 inquiries to the AWI email address.
  • Planned and managed three separate, high-profile events with District of Columbia Mayor Vincent C. Gray celebrating milestones for two different sections of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail that were attended by a combined 260 VIPs and resulted in an average of 1.9 million regional media impressions. Prominent federal and regional government partners also attended each event.
  • Coordinated special briefings for the Washington Post’s Dr. Gridlock resulted in numerous placements and project progress was widely covered on local TV and radio news.