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A lengthy political battle stands between the city’s proposal to orchestrate several land swaps and purchases in order to build a D.C. United soccer stadium at Buzzard Point and the realization of the plan. But one central piece of the plan, previously lacking in clear details, has begun to come into focus: the building that would be erected by the developer Akridge at 14th and U streets NW, the site of the current Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center.
The Reeves Center is the city’s main trading chip in the stadium deal. Under the proposal, Akridge would acquire the valuable property in exchange for cash and a parcel at the Buzzard Point stadium site. Some members of the D.C. Council have expressed frustration that the office of Mayor Vince Gray has agreed to trade the parcel to Akridge rather than opening it to bids in a public auction, where it could bring in more money for the city. Others have worried about the form the new property will take: Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham wants offices, to bring daytime population to an area dominated by nightlife, while Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells has insisted on affordable housing at the site.
At the Council’s first hearing on the stadium deal yesterday, members grilled city and Akridge officials on the details of the plan. Their answers provided a few insights into the likely shape the Reeves replacement will take.
As expected, Akridge President Matt Klein said the new building—-the Reeves Center will be demolished—-would be mostly residential, in keeping with the profitable trend of high-end residences in the area. Klein said the plan was for rental housing rather than ownership units. Akridge expects to build the new development without asking for a so-called planned unit development to grant greater density than allowed under the zoning rules. That means up to 525,000 square feet, compared with the Reeves Center’s current 300,000 square feet.
Below the residences will be retail, although exactly how much there’ll be is unclear. City Administrator Allen Lew, who negotiated the stadium deal on the city’s behalf, told the Council there would be 50,000 square feet of retail. Klein revised that figure down slightly, saying Akridge would include at least 35,000 square feet of retail, and up to 50,000. That’s out of about 70,000 usable square feet on the ground floor of the site.
Graham remains concerned that the building will be the same type of glassy, high-end apartments that have come to predominate along the U Street corridor. “We’re back to ground-floor retail and luxury apartments above it,” he lamented. “When I came into office, U Street was a nightlife destination, period, period, period. We worked for 16 years to change that, and we have changed that. To have a setback from that progress seriously concerns me.”
But Graham and Akridge have been in discussion about possible daytime uses for the site. Lew said a small hotel was an option, as was “a block of office space that would relocate from a neighboring state.”
Then there’s the question of what type of housing the new development will have. Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, who has complained about the over-concentration of affordable housing east of the Anacostia River, wants to make sure that affordable housing is a major component of the 14th and U development. “If housing is going to be put on that site, there has to be a certain percentage of affordable housing on that site,” he said.
Lew informed him that the requirement under D.C.’s inclusionary zoning law is for about 8 percent of the units to be set aside for low-income residents. Barry replied, “Well that’s not enough. We’re going to raise that.”
Graham and other members of the Council worried that Akridge may have gotten a very good deal for the Reeves Center site, given that it was valued at just $56 million. If the developer is indeed sitting on a profit margin that allows it some flexibility, we may start to see some of these councilmembers’ suggestions incorporated into the project, at the expense of some of that profit. If we don’t, the fight over the stadium deal could get quite contentious.
Rendering courtesy of the Office of the City Administrator