It Was The Best Of Times, It Was The Worst Of Times
Subway Station Opens - Disastrous Development Plans Approved
However, a subway stop alone will not rejuvenate a neighborhood - a subway line and the right economic plan can. Columbia Heights has such a plan formulated by interested residents through a series of public meetings funded by the DC government and conducted by the Washington Area Foundation of the American Institute of Architects. These meetings, called a charrette, concerning the disposition of over 10 acres of public land, became the public input to the government process to award the parcels to a developer or developers.
Four developers submitted proposals for the parcels. Only one, the Forest City Corporation, followed the charrette guidelines. Forest City would develop the four major parcels at the subway stop. Their proposal would have adaptively reused a nationally protected historic theater, the Tivoli, in some combination of performance space, community and tech education center, small business incubator, and office / retail space.
They proposed developing the main, largest parcel as retail space that would be appropriate for a modest income neighborhood including a general merchandise discount retailer (big box) and up to a 75,000 sq. ft. grocery. A third smaller parcel would be movie theaters and the fourth was to be an office building, contingent upon finding tenants.
The winning developers, Horning/Giant and Grid Properties would develop only one property each, leaving two parcels vacant and devalued. Horning/Giant would demolish all but the outer wall (along 14th St) and lobby of the historic Tivoli and replace it with a Giant supermarket. Grid Properties would develop a sports / entertainment center on the main parcel. It would be a big glass box that they describe as "Times Square" like.
The only organization anywhere, including Columbia Heights, that has spoken in favor of the winning developers is the Development Corporation of Columbia Heights (DCCH) which is the sole local minority partner in the two winning proposals. Its Director, Robert Moore, was (is) close to former Mayor Marion Barry. He served as Director of the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) when a similar terrible decision was made by the Redevelopment Land Agency (RLA) to award the same parcels to local developer, Herbert Haft. RLA is an agency under DHCD. That proposal failed after 15 years of public resistance.
These new winners remind me of "deja vu all over again". Herbert Haft was ready to demolish the Tivoli to build a Safeway. He held the rights to develop the other three parcels as well but showed no interest in doing so. Former Council member Frank Smith made an alley closing on the Tivoli lot contingent upon Haft having a plan and time table to develop all the parcels.
The proposed Grid Properties sports / entertainment complex here has no financing. All Grid has in its portfolio is a recently finished complex in Harlem. DC USA, the proposed Grid entity in Washington, is not even a paper organization. It is a name only. DCCH has no money to carry out their end of the bargain which is to acquire the property, including the private portion, and clear the parcel.
Grid can obtain financing only if they first have commitments from tenants as they did in Harlem. The Harlem USA project was delayed many years as they have sought to do that.
Harlem is not Columbia Heights. Harlem has a population of about 500,000. Grid needs the $50,000/yr. and above crowd to make their sports / entertainment concept work. There are more than enough people in Harlem in that income range to make it work and there is little competition there to what the Grid offerings will be. The location is 125 Street, the traditional entertainment section of Harlem. Harlem is also the second most popular tourist destination in New York for foreign tourists.
Washington also has a population of about 500,000. With the exception of a Jeepers (Pizza Hut with kiddie rides), there will be plenty of competition for the Grid offerings. For instance, fitness centers abound. The Grid offerings will depend on the Georgetown and Bethesda crowd. The offerings will be similar to those located there. Will those customers opt in favor of coming to the inner city. I don't think so. Can tenants nevertheless be fast talked into locating in Columbia Heights? Highly unlikely.
So the community is back at square one - the prospect of a destroyed Tivoli replaced by a grocery with the remaining parcels vacant.
To The Barricades
The decision on parcel disposition was made Thursday, September 9. An effective protest was held Sunday, September 12 at the Mayor's picnic in Meridian Hill / Malcolm X Park. A much larger protest took place the following Saturday, September 18 at the celebrations opening the subway stops. The picture at the top of the page is from that rally. For a larger picture, click here.
Despite the outpouring of public disfavor over this decision, Mayor Williams does not seem inclined to change the decision in any meaningful way. One can only speculate why. It is clear that the decision was not based on merit. The only alternative explanation is that the decision was made on the basis of political favoritism.
While a battle has been lost by the community, the war has not. Public organizing will continue. Suits are likely to be filed. There is private property to be acquired on the main parcel. Forest City could have proceeded as soon as that property was acquired. Grid Properties, the developer selected to develop the main parcel, can not. Under the best of circumstances they will need many years to try to find financing. And the community will be able to vote their disfavor in the next elections.
October 9, 1999
Events unfolded rapidly this month. The Washington Business Journal wrote another favorable article. Three citizens' associations that endorsed the charrette process urged the decision be reconsidered. And RLA postponed signing an Exclusive Rights Agreement for at least a month. For details click here.
November, 1999 Events
December, 1999 Events
December 16, RLA and the prospective Columbia Heights developers entered into an Exclusive Rights Agreement. You can inspect the ERA's (they are identical) if you click here. Also RLA issued an explanation (ie whitewash) for their choice of developers.
December 22, Mayor Williams held a press conference in front of the Tivoli Theater in which he announced that the exterior of the Tivoli would remain intact and that Giant/Horning would be submitting a new site plan. As a result the City Council dropped the emergency legislation for Columbia Heights. You can listen to that press conference in Real Audio here.
January, 2000 Events
February, 2000 Events
March, 2000 Events
May, 2000 Events
DCFRA(Control Board), finally free of DC Budget negotiations, after months of delay approves the RLA Exclusive Rights Agreements for Parcels 27("DC USA") and Parcel 29("Giant/Tivoli Partners") with a requirement that the preliminary steps (final plans,financing,etc.) be completed within a year. This stipulation is protested by Horning Bros., DCCH et al (see tivoligiant egroup).
June, 2000 Events
The RLA signs Exclusive Rights Agreements with "DC USA" and "Tivoli Partners", with a two-year deadline (and extensions on request for good cause) - the Control Board apparently having been persuaded (behind closed doors) that one year was onerous. Developers make their $25,000 deposits. We will update with the developers rationale for more time, and the final agreements here when we can get our hands on them.The 90-day clock for a revised site plan for Parcel 29 , as requested by Mayor Williams in December of 1999, finally starts-- it is due the end of September. At the same time , the "Community Participation Plan" of each developer is expected. The developers will be selecting certain community groups to provide input--it is their call to as to which groups will be included as "respresentative" of the community. So far, Horning has met with the Board of Directors of DCCH, one of his partners in the project.
July, 2000 Events
February - March, 2001 Events
It was learned that the FBI was investigating questions concerning the legality of a renovation and sale of a house by DCCH to Lynn French. The matter was scheduled to go before the Grand Jury but was postponed due to snow. Ms. French was re-assigned from her long time position at DHCD to the Mayor's Office.
In March the Mayor informed DC-USA (Grid) and Horning Brothers that they had 60 days to put forward a formal development plan with financing for their respective developments. To date DC-USA has neither a plan or financing. Horning Brothers has a plan that would cost $22 million of which $8 million is required in cash equity. They require that equity from the DC government but only $4 million has been promised.
Please return to this site as events unfold.
For more in depth previous information about the proposals and the Charrette on this site, click here.
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