When Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser announced last night that she would try to pass the D.C. United stadium deal by year’s end but without the controversial swap of the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center, several parties to the deal must have breathed a collective sigh of relief.
For the soccer team, it was a clear sign of Bowser’s commitment to building the stadium at Buzzard Point, and quickly, when her stance had previously been murkier. For members of the D.C. Council and the public who were critical of the plan to trade away the Reeves Center, at the high-demand corner of 14th and U streets NW, it meant Reeves could be retained for a more lucrative market sale or another use. For Pepco and the other Buzzard Point landowners who stand to profit from the deal, it showed Bowser would leave the remainder of the arrangement intact.
But there was one apparent loser. The developer Akridge was set to trade mostly vacant land at Buzzard Point for the Reeves building, which it would then develop into residences, offices, and retail, at terms that a Council-commissioned report deemed favorable to Akridge. Instead, while the rest of the deal would be held together, Bowser’s announcement meant that Akridge’s portion would be largely cut out.
Akridge, needless to say, was not happy about it.
“I was very disappointed,” says Akridge president Matt Klein. “That might be the kind way to put it.”
Klein says no one from Bowser’s team has informed Akridge of any changes to the deal; instead, he learned about her change of plans from press coverage. He’s reluctant to discuss hypotheticals about what Akridge might or might not do in the face of a deal whose details he has not seen. But if Bowser thought Akridge would simply play along and sell its Buzzard Point land to the city at the price negotiated by the administration of Mayor Vince Gray, she could be in for a tougher fight than anticipated.
Faced with a need to renegotiate, Klein says he might force the city to acquire the Buzzard Point parcel through eminent domain—-a lengthy and potentially costly process the city had hoped to avoid in executing a comprehensive land-swap deal. Pepco, Klein says, bought land across the street from Akridge’s Buzzard Point parcel last year for $64 per developable square foot, whereas the current stadium deal has the city acquiring Akridge’s land for $28 per square foot. Should the matter go before the courts to set a value for the land, “there’s a lot of risk to the District in that valuation.”
The city used eminent domain to assemble the land for Nationals Park, a project that ran over budget. “Eminent domain caused the costs at the ballpark to go through the roof,” he says. “That was one of the attributes of the deal that the current administration put forth, that they didn’t have that risk, that they had full land control.”
Bowser said last night at a meeting of the Federal City Council that she expected the deal to remain on schedule, despite her major change to it. “We expect all the parties involved to get the deal done by the end of the year,” she said.
But Akridge may not cooperate. Even if it does, the timeline to renegotiate the deal is ambitious. Negotiations for the current deal began more than two years ago, says Klein. “We spent a lot of time and a lot of brain cells and a lot of attorneys’ fees getting the deal done, and it took a whole lot more than 30 days,” he says.
A Bowser spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. Klein says he plans to reach out to her soon.
“We’re always willing to talk,” he says. “You’ve got an alternative deal, please let us know.”
Update: Bowser and Akridge founder and chairman Chip Akridge spoke on the phone on Monday, and Bowser mentioned the possibility of removing Reeves from the deal but did not present a formal proposal or state that she would announce her plans on Tuesday night, according to sources from Bowser’s office and Akridge.
Rendering from D.C. United