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Holdout: 611 Massachusetts Ave. NW

Geoffrey Washburn has some experience handling the economics of downtown development. In the mid-’80s, construction of the Washington Convention Center forced Washburn and his father to sell their business location at 9th Street and New York Avenue NW.

So they moved their shop, Home Realty Inc., a few blocks east, to a town house at 611 Massachusetts Ave. NW. At the time, the building sat in a desolate landscape of parking lots interrupted by the occasional crumbling row house. Washburn thought that someday the neighborhood would improve—and that perhaps someone would eventually buy him out.

In 1993, National Public Radio (NPR) appeared to answer his dreams. The broadcaster purchased the ’70s-era office tower next door and slowly began to buy up the block.

For whatever reason, though, NPR has just worked around the Home Realty building. First, NPR expanded into a small one-story building next door. Then it turned the parcel on the other side of Home Realty into employee parking. Finally, three years ago, when the broadcaster needed still more space, it leased offices many blocks away, at 13th and H Streets NW.

Washburn still expected more development to come to his end of Massachusetts Avenue. But even after construction on the new convention center began in 1998, the parking lots remained.

Then, in late 2001, cranes began appearing in every direction. To the west of Home Realty, workers are renovating the old Carnegie Library into the soon-to-open City Museum of Washington. To the east, Clark Construction is building condos. And Washburn’s old headquarters on New York Avenue is a hole in the ground—the future site of an office building. “The past 10 years, we’ve been waiting for development in this area,” Washburn says. “Now it seems as if it’s happening instantaneously.”

As an old real-estate hand, Washburn figures that being at the epicenter of the boom has got to be worth something. He reckons his tiny 1,207-square-foot lot is worth a bundle—far more than $314,340, the value listed in D.C. real-estate-tax assessment records. But so far, no one has come knocking on his door, not even NPR. Says an NPR spokesperson, “We haven’t made any offers to buy that property.” CP