Uber Comes to Ward 7

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Ride-hailing giant Uber has picked Ward 7 to build a brick-and-mortar resource center, a meeting point for drivers across the region, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced last month.

The mayor touted the news as a jobs creator, with the planned 8,200-square-foot center set to have 25 full-time employees and the construction contract going to a DC-based small business enterprise. The center will be at East River Park Shopping Center, off the intersection of Benning Road and Minnesota Avenue NE, where Bowser made the announcement.

“The economic development priorities of this administration, they start with a simple phrase: it’s an-all-eight-wards strategy,” Bowser said, repeating a catchphrase used often in her first term.

Known as an Uber Greenlight Driver Support Hub, the center is meant to provide “in-person customer service and assistance” for Uber drivers and potential drivers, a mayoral press release said. There are over 42,000 active Uber drivers in the region, and over a third of DC-based drivers live east of the Anacostia River, according to Arathi Mehrotra, chief of Uber’s mid-Atlantic operations.

“Our goal is for this center to become a gathering place, really a venue for drivers to network and share stories,” Mehrotra said at the Oct. 19 announcement with the mayor. “We plan to invest millions of dollars into this facility and the supporting functions in the next year alone,” she added. The center will be the first Greenlight Hub in the Washington region. Today, there are smaller Greenlight service centers in Tysons, Va., Takoma Park, Md., and Forestville, Md.

For Jimmie Williams, chair of the Ward 7 Democrats, the hope is that Uber’s name recognition will attract more business to the area and to the shopping center, which has a Safeway alongside a handful of vacant units. “In terms of visibility, in terms of bringing focus to Ward 7 and business growth, I am very pleased with it,” Williams said in an interview. “Having an Uber, that increases the likelihood that other people will follow the same model and will come to a fairly empty mall.”

Robin Zeigler of Cedar Realty Trust, the owners of the sprawling shopping center, echoed Bowser’s message at the announcement. “We look forward to Uber being a catalyst for growth and job creation,” Zeigler said.

Courtney Snowden, the deputy mayor for greater economic development, said the city has been in talks with Uber for about two years. Uber in 2015 opened its East Coast headquarters in downtown DC. “We’ve been working in close partnership,” Snowden said.

Moves in Ward 7
Earlier in the month, the mayor also christened a modernized American Jobs Center Headquarters in Ward 7, run by the DC Department of Employment Services. The twin investments in the ward come at a politically opportune time for the mayor.

Williams, who is also president of the Penn Branch Civic Association, said he thinks it is good Bowser and Gray are both “working together to strengthen the focus on Ward 7 and east of the river.” Gray attended the Uber Greenlight Hub announcement in October. Bowser paused to acknowledge her former foe early in her speech, then turned to say they have common goals. “We certainly share a commitment to making sure that Ward 7 gets the type of investment that it needs,” Bowser said after pointing to Gray.