Local editorialists quickly dismissed Theodore N. Carter’s appointment to the National Capital Revitalization Corp. (NCRC) earlier this month as political payback. The post-petition-crisis campaign manager for Mayor Anthony A. Williams had far too few experiences on his resume to make him a standout to head D.C.’s quasi-public and very powerful economic-development agency. For starters, Carter has a resume heavy on politicking and light on real-estate development.
He admits to a rather limited background in business finance.
Yet Carter does have a proven track record in showing up early at weekend community events. As the mastermind behind Williams’ write-in campaign for the Democratic nomination as well as the general election, Carter accompanied the incumbent mayor to at least a few 7:30 a.m. church services this fall that didn’t quite make it to LL’s Sunday schedule.
That qualification might have clinched it for the NCRC board, which allegedly chose Carter without any executive-office influence over at least one bank president and other high-profile business types who lobbied vigorously for the plum position. Slackers need not apply: One recent NCRC public hearing, for example, commenced Saturday morning, Dec. 14, at 8 a.m. at the Josephine Butler Parks Center on 15th Street NW.
Early birds showed up to testify about the District’s handling of two city-owned parcels of land near the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and North Capitol Street NW, close to Union Station. Almost six years ago, the city granted development rights for the land to a private development team to build between 500,000 and 675,000 square feet of office space.
The award occurred toward the tail end of the city’s prolonged ’90s economic slump. The properties in question were hardly considered prime real estate, but they were to be key to the revitalization of the northwest commercial corridor bordering the U.S. Capitol. Now the city-owned property sits in the shadow of new construction. What was once a dumping ground for drab industrial and government buildings has turned into a sought-after spot for all kinds of mixed-use development.
In December, the RLA Revitalization Corp., a subsidiary of the NCRC, held one last speak-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace public hearing before officially disposing the land. One group rose to object: the Trammel Crow Co., which lost out in the competition to a group of developers named Republic Square Limited Partnership.
The deal would be the first to test Carter’s mettle playing with the big boys: The spat over who gets the real estate contains just about everything a rookie development boss could ask for, including a crew of acolytes connected to Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. and big money.
The NCRC was created to dispose of undeveloped D.C. land in such a way as to promote economic revitalization as well as public utility. In the late ’90s, the agency’s predecessor—the Redevelopment Land Agency (RLA)—selected Republic as the developer for the former Government Printing Office site after opening the deal up to a competitive bid process. At the time, Republic proposed constructing an office building. The development team included some of the biggest power brokers in Barry-era D.C. politics: Richard L. Kramer, of Republic Properties Corp., which built Georgetown Park and the Portals, as well as minority partners such as Pedro Alfonso of Dynamic Concepts, the Anacostia Holding Co., and longtime city contractor John Clyburn.
It was hardly Goliath vs, David, though.
Losing bidder and big-time developer Trammel Crow, whose partners included the H Street Community Development Corp. and North Capitol Community Development Corp., challenged the RLA decision at the time, insisting that it had won the bid on the merits. Scoring documents from an RLA independent panel show that evaluators split evenly over the competing companies: Two chose Trammel Crow, two chose Republic, and the fifth pronounced a tie. However, in terms of overall points, Trammel Crow emerged victorious, with a higher score in seven out of nine categories.
For whatever reason, the RLA went ahead with Republic. The decision attracted attention from other city agencies as well as the financial control board. “After a review of the recommendations of the panel that reviewed submissions in response to the request for proposal…I remain concerned about the process and recommend that the Redevelopment Land Agency Board of Directors begins its review with a clean slate,” wrote then-D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development Director W. David Watts.
“Of particular, specific concern is the scoring of the panel: the votes of the five (5) panelists resulted in a 2:2:1 tie,” wrote Watts. “The actual numbers were the most difficult to rationalize, especially when juxtaposing a 16-point margin from one panelist against a tied score from another panelist.”
In 2000, Republic eventually reached an exclusive rights agreement with the quasi-public agency; it later agreed to a purchase price of $26.7 million. The company, though, still hasn’t developed the two parcels of land, which today consist of little more than a
Trammel Crow insists that its representatives didn’t show up that Saturday morning out of sour grapes. Trammel Crow Regional President Chris Roth had a new argument for the NCRC board: “We believe the price contained in the proposed [land-disposition agreement] is grossly inadequate,” said Roth. He characterized several other terms of the deal as “commercially indefensible,” “inadequate,” and “not in the best interests” of the city.
Roth testified that an independent real-estate appraisal and consulting firm had estimated the value of the property now at between $45 million and $48 million. In addition, he argued, the D.C. Council passed a law in 2000 that limited these exclusive rights agreements to one year with a one-year extension. Republic’s exclusive rights to the valuable property, Roth argued, have expired.
And then he upped the ante: “If, in fact, we are correct that this [agreement] is fatally flawed, then given our confidence that the terms in the proposed [agreement] are highly detrimental to the District, we are prepared unconditionally, without further studies or contingencies, to offer right now an all-cash purchase price of $10 million over that currently being offered,” Roth testified, to some surprise.
Republic pooh-poohed the arguments. “Trammel Crow has been trying to be a deal-spoiler on this for years,” Kramer told the Washington Post.
At 8:30 Wednesday morning, the subsidiary agency rendered its decision. The board had voted unanimously to go with Republic, with two conditions: that the purchase price for the land increase to $28.7 million and that the deposit on the property increase to $1.3 million.
“This process has been going on for some time. We’re quite pleased to come to a conclusion,” says Republic spokesperson Jeanne Clarke Harris.
Roth once again walked away astonished. “I find it incredible that at a time when the District is experiencing significant fiscal pressure, that a prime piece of land is sold for at least $10 million less than its current market value,” he says. “This is truly an unfortunate outcome for the taxpayers of the District of Columbia.”
“We did do another appraisal, and [it] showed that the price is fair,” says Carter. “We did not take these issues lightly.”
* Ward 7 resident Vincent C. Gray has been meeting with supporters about a possible challenge to Councilmember Kevin P. Chavous in 2004. A director of the Department of Human Services during the administration of Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, Gray now serves as executive director of Covenant House, a social-service agency headquartered on New York Avenue NE.
Gray made similar overtures four years ago but decided not to run. In 2000, Chavous received only 53 percent of the Ward 7 vote against no-name opponents such as Robert B. Hunter and Mary D. Jackson.
When asked why he might campaign this time, Gray answers, “Obviously, the interests of children and youth are important to me.” Chavous chairs the council’s Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation, which oversees such perennial D.C. snafus as special education and recreation centers.
“I would not want to at all suggest my running is an anti-Kevin Chavous campaign,” the magnanimous Gray tells LL.
He might be right: Wilson Building sources say Chavous himself has been mulling a bid for an at-large seat, which would serve as a dress rehearsal for the mayor’s race two years later. It would also free him up from those ubiquitous community meetings in places such as Near Northeast and Kingman Park. Chavous would most likely face At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil for the Democratic nomination.
Chavous had no comment on Gray’s possible candidacy. “I expect that I’ll be running for re-election in Ward 7,” he says.
* Ward councilmembers often devote much of their staff’s time to constituent services: replacing streetlamps, filling potholes, and the like. For some time, Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose was after the Department of Transportation to cut down an overgrown linden tree on her block of 5th Street SE.
The department marked the tree one day last week. The next morning, it fell down on its own, totaling a neighbor’s car.
“We’ve got to be quicker,” says Ambrose. “I’m grateful that no one was walking under it.” CP
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