If you haven’t heard Mayor Vince Gray talk about Skyland, the mostly-empty hodgepodge of retailers in a sea of concrete at the intersection of Good Hope Road, Naylor Road, and Alabama Avenue SE in Ward 7, you haven’t been paying attention. Redevelopment has been in the works for decades, but slowed by a combination of factors, including old tenants reluctant to leave, new tenants reluctant to come, neighbors worried about the effect of construction on their properties, and disorganization during the transition from the National Capital Revitalization Corporation to District control in 2007. When Gray came into office, he moved this project—-just down the street from his home in Hillcrest—-up to the top of the economic development pile.
For incoming Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Victor Hoskins, that meant a timeline: 22 months, he said back in March, would be enough time to unravel all the court cases and secure “clear title” to the whole parcel, allowing it to be sold to the Rappaport-led development team. Rappaport has consistently said that they can’t really nail down financing and leases until they’re sure the risk of getting sued over ownership of the land had disappeared.
Since then, the Office of the Attorney General has been working overtime on the Skyland cases, spending federal Community Development Block Grant funds for out-of-court settlements with landowners to speed things up. As for tenants, Hoskins’ office has been working with the businesses that remain to either go somewhere else or give up the ghost, for which they receive up to $20,000 (not a very attractive price to leave your livelihood behind at a good location).
But why 22 months? All the rest of the stuff probably wouldn’t take that long. What will take that long is the relocation of RCN, a telecom center that keeps Internet and phone services running for the surrounding area. The city has selected a new location, on a wooded area off to the side of the planned development. But they have to get it there first before anything else can break ground, in order to ensure continuous communications services.
In the mean time, the District is planning some selected demolition on the site, to make way for to-be-announced interim uses. Action on the site will be a relief for many of the neighbors, who’ve been in I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it mode for years now.