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College students have become as welcome in District neighborhoods as control board chairman Andrew Brimmer at a home rule rally. The mere sight of a Georgetown University student lugging boxes into a Burleith town house ignites fears of garbage, noise, and steadily declining property values. Longtime community residents give students the same treatment Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. received at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium during the Redskins’ opening game Sept. 14: a long Bronx cheer.
But the social status of university students, now somewhere below that of homeless panhandlers, could soar to celebrity heights in many neighborhoods. Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, and West End residents may soon be hosting open houses to entice university students out of dorms and into rental housing in their communities. And D.C. pols may lead drives to get more out-of-town college students to register as voters in D.C.
The sudden appeal of District undergraduates is rooted in green: The financial rescue plan for D.C. passed by Congress in July directs tax credits to areas of the city where 20 percent or more of the residents earn incomes below the poverty line. And sections of stately Georgetown and Foggy Bottom will meet that threshold because of their concentration of unemployed or low-income college students.
The White House, which is just a few blocks from George Washington University, might even qualify for employer tax credits under the recently passed legislation, according to local tax analysts.
The new tax breaks for District residents and employersfashioned by Senate Republicans eager to make D.C. a lab for slashing or killing the capital gains taxwill be allotted by census tracts. And pity the unfortunate business caught on the wrong side of the tracts.
For instance, the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW will be lumped into the same census tract as the White House and GW. So the city’s premier hotel will be able to reap lucrative employer tax breaks, while the pricey Hay Adams Hotel on the north side of Lafayette Park, one block outside of the GW student-infested census tract, will have to go begging.
The new tax breaks could also mean millions in higher leases for downtown landlords with buildings on the right side of the tracts. Employers hungry for the new tax breaks will trip over themselves to get into those buildings.
Members of Congress, District leaders, and tax lawyers are just beginning to sort out the implications and loopholes in the bailout package.
“This will be a heyday for the tax attorneys,” observes Marie Drissel, a member of the D.C. tax revision commission, which got a briefing on the new tax breaks from analyst Martin Sullivan this week. “Some downtown commercial properties will see their values skyrocket.”
With tax breaks like these, the bailout plan is more likely to attract Donald Trump than hard-working middle-class types.
The push to cram an oversize new convention center into Mount Vernon Square glides on enough grease to stock a Jiffy Lube. Yet somehow the effort keeps getting stuckalbeit temporarilyas backers hurry to get the new center built by the turn of the century.
The latest snag in the Mount Vernon Square campaign came last week, when control board officials hinted that the board might reject the only serious bid for the project, which was submitted by the team of Clark Construction Group and the Sherman R. Smoot Co. The cost-conscious board is wary of the Clark bid because it came in over the $490-million limit set by the city in its bid request. Control board executive director John Hill confirms that the board is now reviewing the bid, and a well-placed source says the board will move against the contract on Friday.
The lucrative project attracted only one other bidder, ADU Enterprises Inc., a D.C. corporation not in good standing with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. ADU consists of owner Emmanuel MacFoy, a storefront, a fax, and an answering machine. ADU’s proposal had control board officials rolling on the floor clutching their sides before they sent it to the circular file.
The control board could order architects to redesign the project to lower construction costs without changing the overall size of the new convention center. But that would mean additional delays. The Washington Convention Center Authority (WCCA) originally planned to break ground next month.
WCCA’s fast-track plan, however, slowed down over the summer. First, the president’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation questioned the center’s design, which requires closing part of 8th Street NW and altering the sacred L’Enfant plan for the city. The council grudgingly bowed to pressure from Mount Vernon Square advocates earlier this month but urged a cost comparison of two competing sites before proceeding.
Then staff members at the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), which has final say over the project’s design, toyed with plans for an alternative site on New York Avenue north of Union Station. But this week NCPC members are expected to give swift approval to the Mount Vernon Square plan after pretending to listen to eight hours of testimony for and against both sites.
Last week, the 63-year-old Committee of 100 on the Federal City, a private group of architects, businessmen, and historic preservationists, released its convention center plan. The committee’s proposal recommends building the new convention center on the New York Avenue site and selling Mount Vernon Square to private developers for the creation of “Shaw Village”a mixture of apartments and small shops.
Committee chair Tersh Boasberg said Shaw Village would preserve the character of the neighborhood and bring in as much as $27 million annually in tax revenues, twice what the new convention center will pour into city coffers.
Shaw activists Leroy Thorpe and Beth Solomon oppose the Mount Vernon convention center plan, claiming it will dislocate thousands of Shaw residents. Both eagerly embrace the Committee of 100’s plan, even though turning the land over to private developers could accelerate gentrification and lead to even more residential displacement than the proposed convention center. Solomon dismisses that objection as a red herring. “The intention is to preserve the character of the existing community,” she says.
The Committee concluded that WCCA could save $270 million by building the new center at New York Avenuean option that would also leave room for future expansion.
But none of the city’s political leaders has pushed for the New York Avenue site nor heeded the advisory council’s call to study both sites. The Washington Hotel Association, which has collected some $500 million to build the new center through a 13-percent tax on downtown hotel rooms, wants nothing to do with the site near Union Station. On the record, hoteliers complain that the New York Avenue site is inconvenient and too far from downtown attractionswhich is code for their apprehensions about the blighted neighborhood that surrounds the site.
Following a long tradition of beleaguered special interests crying to Congress, some Committee of 100 members have asked Rep Charles Taylor (R-N.C.), who chairs the House D.C. Appropriations subcommittee, to kill the Mount Vernon Square plan.
But the Mount Vernon Square plan is a greased pig that could prove too slippery for even Taylor to contain.
•When Ward 8 activist Sandra Seegars and six of her allies showed up at the mayor’s community picnic last weekend sporting signs and T-shirts promoting the recall of Barry, D.C. cops asked them to leave immediately. Seegars said a U.S. Park police officer soon arrived on the scene and told her he had been summoned by the mayor’s command post.
But Seegars and company stood their ground, pointing out that they had the right to attend the public event, which took place on national parkland next to the mayor’s home. First Lady Cora Masters Lady MacBarry unexpectedly defused the situation by encouraging the group to stay and eat from the chow line provided by Player’s Lounge.
“Cora, my new best friend!” Seegars joked afterward. Seegars said the group went to the picnic “mainly just to be seen” and didn’t plan to stay long. But she was surprised by the docility of the 200 or so in attendance.
“It’s not like it used to be,” she notes. “Barry supporters didn’t boo us out or tell us to leave. We didn’t get none of that. And we got four signatures walking up to the place.”
Maybe the lack of hostility from Lady MacBarry and the mayor’s supporters reflects a confidence that Seegars and the cabdrivers, upset over Barry’s proposed reforms for their industry, will fail in their recall drive. With little more than a month to go before the petition deadline, the recall effort still needs more than 12,000 signatures from registered votes to reach the nearly 35,000 valid signatures required to force a recall election.
And the group needs to get nearly one-third of those remaining signatures from Ward 4 voters to meet the requirement of collecting 4,000-plus signatures in at least five of the city’s eight wards. So far, Seegars says the recall effort has reached that threshold in only Wards 1, 2, 3, and 6, and has given up hope of collecting enough signatures in Barry strongholds in Wards 5, 7, and 8.
Ward 4, a key element of Barry’s winning strategy three years ago, has proved particularly tough for recall petitioners. They were chased away from the Safeway at Georgia Avenue and Piney Branch Road NW, a popular spot for political activity, when they tried to collect signatures there in June. But Seegars said Safeway regional officials have since relented and lifted the store manager’s ban.
U.S. Park Police also ordered petitioners away from the National Theatre last month. Seegars and her supporters took their case to higher-ups at the Park Service and were back the following week.
• For those of you still hoping Barry won’t run for re-election next year, LL’s advice is, get over it. Last week, Barry replaced Doreen Thompson as head of the city’s cable TV office with former WRC-TV reporter Leo Alexander. According to sources within the office, Barry is bringing in Alexander to help reshape his image, through the use of cable TV Channel 16, for next year’s re-election. The mayor was reportedly sold on this strategy by Linda Boyd, his communications director and Alexander’s close companion.
Boyd then got the honor of personally ordering Thompson to clean out her desk.
•Often-reviled developer Oliver Carr was the guest of honor at a Sept. 17 celebration at the National Building Museum. Nearly 1,000 of his closest friendsactually, many had never met the manpaid $250 to fete Carr for saving D.C. after the 1968 riots. “Without Oliver Carr, this city would be a dump,” observed one tuxedoed guest as he entered the Pension Building. Thanks to Carr, of course, the city has become a dump with plenty of parking.
Inside were the movers and shakers of the local business community, including MCI Arena owner Abe Pollin, Robert Smith of Charles E. Smith Co., U.S. Fine Arts Commission chair J. Carter Brown, George Washington University President Stephen Trachtenberg, etc., etc.
Surprisingly, Carr managed to wander through the huge crowd almost unnoticed during a pre-dinner reception. LL cornered him to ask whether he felt he deserves credit for saving the city. But the developer, who lives in Maryland, spotted photographer Bill Rice focusing to take his picture and quickly fled before completing his answer.
Carr seems to share Princess Diana’s aversion to photographers.CP
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