The year 2013 has not been kind to Howard University. As I laid out in this week’s paper, the 2013 Encyclopedia of D.C., Howard has jumped from one disaster to another: a letter from a university trustee warning that the school was “in genuine trouble” and “will not be here in three years if we don’t make some crucial decisions now”; another alarming letter from 13 Howard deans, the resignation of Howard’s president; the termination of its chief financial officer; multiple lawsuits alleging discrimination and retaliation; the elimination of around 75 staff positions; a struggling university hospital; the collapse of Howard’s big development project; a lawsuit from the developer of that project; and a violent turn at the annual Yardfest concert.
It’s small consolation, but Howard can now cross one of those worries off the list. As first reported by the Washington Business Journal‘s Michael Neibauer, a federal judge has tossed out the lawsuit against Howard from the developer of its planned mixed-use project, Howard Town Center.
Howard canceled its agreement in June with the development team, led by the Cohen Companies, saying only that the team had “failed to meet certain benchmarks under the ground lease and development agreements.” The following month, Cohen sued Howard for wrongful termination, seeking a $100 million judgment and an injunction to prevent Howard from interfering with the progress of the development. Howard Town Center is a Georgia Avenue NW project that was set to include 445 apartments above a Fresh Grocer grocery store and other retail—-an important development to neighbors, and one that would bring needed income to the university.
But the judge in the case, U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell, found that Howard had the right to terminate the agreement because “the plaintiff did not pay rent owed on repeated occasions.” At the heart of the case was a $1.475 million rent payment that Cohen did not pay by the deadline. Cohen argued that the rules surrounding the payment were not as Howard believed them to be, because they were governed by the development agreement and not the ground lease, but Howell stated flatly in his ruling that “the plaintiff is incorrect.”
It’s not clear what the judge’s decision means for the future of the site, which continues to hang in limbo. But for Howard, the end of the lawsuit means one fewer headache in a year of too many.
Howard Town Center rendering from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development website