Wednesday, January 23, 2008

12/13/07: The Washington Business Journal - Developers sketch out competing plans for Poplar Point

By Jonathan O'Connell

Washington Business Journal
Thursday, December 13, 2007

Jay-Z, Google, a charter school and other attractions were dangled before residents of D.C.'s Ward 8 by four groups vying to develop 130 acres of riverfront property on Poplar Point.

In a room in Birney Elementary School filled with city officials, developers and dozens of local residents, each team took 15 minutes on Dec. 13 to explain its plans for new housing, retail, office space, hotels, entertainment venues, parks and public services.

The city is expected to choose a development team early next year.

The audience at the presentation included Victor MacFarlane, president of the company that owns D.C. United, which is interested in the site for a new stadium. Three of the development groups mentioned a possible soccer stadium.

Other offered attractions included music venues, offices that might draw technology companies and transportation that would better connect Anacostia to the rest of the city.

A team of Archstone Smith -- one of the companies developing the old convention center site -- and Madison Marquette suggested a complex with a central shopping center, which was likened to Gallery Place. The project features 994,000 square feet of retail, more than twice as much as the other teams are offering, and the most office space, 1.9 million square feet. Archstone Smith representative Daniel McCahan said his team was in discussions with a nationally known entertainment venue.

Clark Realty Capital LLC proposed that existing neighborhoods be connected with Poplar Point by building a "deck" over Interstate 295. The Clark proposal also included a center for environmental companies and a museum. The company drew cheers when it talked about building a pre-K through grade 12 school in partnership with KIPP, the network of charter schools that already serves hundreds of Ward 8 children.

Forest City, which is developing The Yards near the Nationals ballpark, said it is in learning more from the community before making firm plans. "This will be what you want it to be," said Alex Nyhan, Forest City development manager and a former official with the deputy mayor's office. The company proposed a set of neighborhoods and parks with street-level retail, a 50,000 square foot floating ampitheater and more housing than the other teams: 4.084 units, including 3 million square feet of condominiums. Nyhan said the Forest City team is seeking 25 percent ownership by companies designated as "local, small, disadvantaged business enterprises."

Mid-City Urban and General Growth Properties proposed a smaller development with more green space and wetlands, along with an extension campus of the University of the District of Columbia. They also offered a promise to make 40 percent the group's 4,700 housing units affordable and half the affordable units available to purchase. Scott Nordheimer of Mid-City Urban touted his company's record in building or rebuilding more than 900 units in Ward 8, including Henson Ridge on Alabama Avenue SE. He also noted that the developer contributed to a resurgence that brought the new Giant Food grocery store to the former Camp Simms site.

The team's presentation lacked any reference to a previously announced partner, Doracon Development. News reports last month in Baltimore, site of Doracon Contracting's headquarters, said the company was being investigated for contracting fraud.

On the issue of the soccer stadium, Clark billed its proposal as an extension of the planning residents had done with MacFarlane Partners before development of Poplar Point was opened to bidding.

"We've tried to continue to build on the work you've done," Clark's Cleve Johnson told the audience.

He said the company's construction arm had built other stadiums, including the Nationals ballpark, and would work to "get a deal done between the District and Mr. MacFarlane, if at all possible."

The Archstone team said its project could be anchored by a soccer stadium or entertainment venue.

Nyhan, of Forest City, said if the District, D.C. United and the community want a soccer stadium, "we will deliver it."

MacFarlane, after seeing all the bids, said in an interview that he liked Clark's plan because of the density it offered but also liked aspects of Archstone Smith's.

He said the time to partner with one the development teams was now, not after the city chooses, "so we can cut off looking at other places" that have been "very welcoming."

Councilman Marion Barry, D-Ward 8, made clear that a soccer stadium was still a top priority for him, rallying the crowd to repeat the words "soccer stadium" upon his arrival. In an interview afterward, he said the only two plans he would consider were Clark's and Archstone Smith's.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's down to two," Barry said.

The three-hour meeting ended with James Bunn of the Ward 8 Business Council and others yelling at the developers for offering jobs and training to residents, but not equity in the project, which the development teams disputed.

An earlier version of this story misstated the role of Mid-City Urban in the development of the Giant Food grocery store at the former Camp Sims site.

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