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WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA9) -- A couple of hundred years ago, Pierre L'Enfant told President George Washington the Southwest Waterfront would serve as a magnificent gateway for the city.

Instead, for half a century, it's been a neglected corner.

But that's about to change.

Developers and city officials just broke ground for The Wharf, a massive $2 billion project on the Southwest Waterfront...

It was so nice, they did it twice. The second time with confetti.

Councilmember Jack Evans joked that he's been working on the new community for so long, that "Pierre L'Enfant, George Washington, we all got together, said maybe we can get this project going."

It's taken 8.5 years, $65 million, 7 D.C. Council votes, and three acts of Congress just to get started.

The project starts at the bridge, the historic Maine Ave. Fish Market, where there are four piers and a mile-long cobblestone wharf, stretching past Arena Stage to St Augustine's Church.

Developer Monty Hoffman admits $2 billion is a lot of risk, "but you would never do that if the ground wasn't A+ like this. Where else can you be at the nation's capitol, walking distance to the White House, right on a mile of waterfront?"

Parks, a concert hall, movie theaters, scores of restaurants, bars, cafes... thousands of offices, apartments and condos... converting a neglected but priceless corner of the city into a kind of modern-day Georgetown.

"We planned lots of small streets and alleyways so we can get less expensive restaurants, cafes, and maybe a cup of coffee without spending a lot of money," says architect Stanton Eckstut. "You should not think you have to spend a lot of money to come and enjoy this waterfront."

And Everett "Bufus" Buchanan, who's lived in the neighborhood for 66 years, will still have space to sell barbecue. "I think they're doing something wonderful down on the waterfront." he said.

Supporters say it's an even bigger deal than National Harbor in Prince George's. "And we won't need a casino to keep it afloat," needled Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Andy Litsky.

Urban renewal in the 50s and 60s tossed thousands of low-income Washingtonians out of Southwest. The Wharf will include more than 200 units of more or less affordable housing.

Phase One should be finished by 2017.

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