Housing Complex

Marion Barry Leaves His Mark on a Changing City

barryWhen Marion Barry learned last year of the city's plan to trade the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center to a private developer as part of the deal to build a new soccer stadium, he was furious.

City Administrator Allen Lew, who negotiated the deal, tried to explain the benefits of the arrangement to Barry. But the Ward 8 councilmember, who helped build the center as mayor in 1986 and whose name is still engraved on its facade nearly two decades later, was having none of it.

"He said, 'We’re going to tear down the Reeves Center,'" Barry told me at the time. "I went off on that, because I put it there to stimulate growth and development in that area. I was raising hell with him on the phone."

In a sense, the Reeves building seemed to represent Barry's role in the city. When it opened, it was a hugely significant city investment in the troubled U Street NW and 14th Street NW corridors, decimated by the 1968 riots. It helped spur the development of that area into one of the city's most flourishing today. And yet, as time passed and luxury apartments sprang up around it, the building came to seem obsolete, as if the city's tremendous growth had left it behind.

The same was sometimes said of Barry, who died early this morning at 78. In D.C.'s early Home Rule years, Barry was a titan, both in politics and in development. In his four terms as mayor—at the end of which he'd been mayor for the majority of the Home Rule era—he cut deals with developers, planned big public investments, and helped reshape a struggling city where real estate was the biggest business game in town. As his days in charge receded behind him, however, and the city continued to grow and prosper well beyond anything over which he'd presided, Barry looked at times like a relic of the past.

But Barry pivoted on the Reeves Center, and on his role in the District. When he learned that Reeves would be replaced by a modern government center in Anacostia, he saw it as a great opportunity for his impoverished home ward. "I’m thoroughly, 100 percent, 1,000 percent supportive of it," he said. "The Reeves Center has served its purpose."

Read more Marion Barry Leaves His Mark on a Changing City

Where LivingSocial Once Reigned, New Tech Firms Fill the Vacuum

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A few short years ago, LivingSocial was the pride of the D.C. tech scene. The web coupon shop gobbled up young talent and downtown real estate, opening up a metastasizing array of offices with such amenities as a speakeasy and a ball pit. Mayor Vince Gray could hardly make a speech without delivering a triumphant applause-inducing line about the company's success.

And then it all came crashing down. LivingSocial posted nine-figure losses in 2012 and 2013. Layoffs followed layoffs. Plans for a big headquarters in a forthcoming New York Avenue NW development were scrapped, and then existing offices began to close.

But what might have seemed like a huge loss for D.C.'s burgeoning tech scene actually presented an opportunity for other startups—firms that may have a brighter future than LivingSocial.

Take Tahzoo. The four-and-a-half-year-old company, which manages customer experience for Fortune 500 firms, officially opened the doors to its new headquarters this week, at 1005 7th St. NW. The LivingSocial sign that used to adorn that building's facade is gone, replaced by a faux-cursive "Tahzoo."

Entering the office prior to the Wednesday open house, the first thing I hear is the unmistakable pop of a ping-pong ball. Tahzoo CEO Brad Heidemann is wrapping up a game with his brother, also a Tahzoo employee. The new space is much larger than the Georgetown office from which Tahzoo moved—about 12,000 square feet, versus 3,300—giving the 50 workers at the headquarters much more room to spread out and finally making room for the all-important ping-pong table.

Tahzoo's still getting set up at the new office. But there wasn't all that much work to do. The company put in a few new walls and added couches and other furniture. "They were a little more, white desks and phones for everyone," Heidemann says of LivingSocial. Mostly, though, the space, leased from LivingSocial, was ready-made for a tech company to move in.

When I ask Heidemann whether LivingSocial's consolidation and departure from the 7th Street building helped his company out, he gives me a look that says, That's a dumb question. "I got Class A space at a fraction of the price, and I didn't have to do any work building it out!"

Read more Where LivingSocial Once Reigned, New Tech Firms Fill the Vacuum

NoMa’s Transformation, Courtesy of Metro

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 9.48.15 PMWhat a difference 10 years and a Metro station can make.

In 2004, NoMa—at least the section of it studied in a report released this week—had no offices, no residences, no hotels, and no retail. Ten years later, there's 3.8 million square feet of office space, 3,057 residences, 622 hotel rooms, and 183,000 square feet of retail, plus much more on the way.

What happened in the interim? In November 2004, an infill Metro station opened on the two-mile stretch between Union Station and Rhode Island Avenue.

On Wednesday, developers, city planners, and officials with the NoMa Business Improvement District gathered to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the neighborhood's Metro station, which first bore the unwieldy name New York Ave–Florida Ave–Gallaudet U, before becoming NoMa-Gallaudet U in 2012 to reflect the new neighborhood that had sprung up around it.

According to a study, commissioned by the NoMa BID and Urban Land Institute and conducted by RKG Associates, that was released to coincide with the anniversary celebration, the Metro station has led to $4.7 billion in total economic output, $330 million in tax revenue to the city, and nearly 30,000 jobs (half construction and half permanent). The growth is expected to continue: RKG projects that between 2015 and 2019, annual city revenue from the study area (north of K Street NE) will rise from $68 million to $152 million.

Read more NoMa’s Transformation, Courtesy of Metro

Morning Links

thomasA small dose of clarity on the latest puzzling DC Cool ad [City Desk]

The Lanier Heights pop-up saga continues. [GGW]

Two councilmembers weigh in against zoning change for troubled Columbia Heights building. [SALM]

Home flipping is declining, but it's more profitable than ever. [CityLab]

AG-elect Karl Racine seems open to using eminent domain for stadium deal. [LL]

The D.C. area's violent crime rate is the lowest of any major metro. [UrbanTurf]

Today on the market: 1BR condo by Thomas Circle—$374,000

Morning Links

ncpMuriel Bowser's switch on stadium deal could cost the city nearly $100 million extra in cash. [WBJ]

A look inside the city's efforts to help homeless families [Post]

In Southwest, a changing waterfront [NYT]

A bike trail to Ivy City? [GGW]

For D.C. sports VIPs, the Olympics are starting to look realistic. [Post]

Classifying the various stances on transit project. [GGW]

The city will test demand-based parking prices in Chinatown. [City Desk]

Word to the wise: Wait till we know the future of the school boundaries before entering the lottery. [GGW]

Today on the market: Boxy, compact North Cleveland Park house—$850,000

Akridge May Force City to Use Eminent Domain as Stadium Deal Shifts

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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.

Read more Akridge May Force City to Use Eminent Domain as Stadium Deal Shifts

Busboys and Promises

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Andy Shallal announces his plans for a Busboys and Poets at the site of the future restaurant in Anacostia.

Addressing a community eager for neighborhood amenities but fearful of rising prices and displacement, Busboys and Poets proprietor Andy Shallal announced his plans this morning for the expanding restaurant chain's latest location in Anacostia and pledged, "Our intention is not to push people out."

Shallal signed a 20-year lease last week for the space at 2004-2010 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, a vacant former furniture store, and paid his first installment of rent. He expects to begin buildout for the restaurant next summer. It will be accompanied by a culinary training center, which Shallal pledged would " be a real job-training program" rather than "a money-laundering scheme," channeling neighborhood frustrations with past promises of employment opportunities.

Previous Busboys locations have opened in neighborhoods on the cusp of a development boom, from the U Street NW corridor to Mount Vernon Triangle, and stores are planned for Takoma and Brookland. Shallal is aware that Busboys has a reputation as a harbinger of development—or, to critics, gentrification. 

"When you create a place like this," he said, "it becomes a magnet for other things to happen."

Anacostia residents have been grappling with the delicate balance between attracting the restaurants and retail the neighborhood lacks and wants and avoiding the displacement that's forced longtime residents out of newly developing neighborhoods elsewhere in the city. Neighbors have opposed projects dominated by affordable housing, fearful that they won't bring the incomes needed to bring new retail investment in the neighborhood. But some have also been wary of excessive density that they worry could transform Martin Luther King Avenue into the next 14th Street NW in Logan Circle or Columbia Heights.

At this morning's announcement, the energy was all positive. The crowd of neighborhood leaders, developers, and curious Anacostia residents cheered loudly for Shallal when he got up to speak. "I feel the love in this room," he told them, "and I'm going to give it right back to you all."

Read more Busboys and Promises

Morning Links

hill eastThe Arlington streetcar is dead. [Post]

Don't expect the Height Act penthouse change to go into effect anytime soon. [WBJ]

Meet D.C.'s new congressional overlord. [City Desk]

The Spy Museum could move to L'Enfant Plaza. [Post]

The gentrification index gets dangerously high with planned new cat cafe for busy young people. [City Desk]

Logan Circle rowhouse sells for $3.9 million. [Post]

D.C.'s middle class is more likely to be able to afford homes here than northern Virginia's. [UrbanTurf]

Get ready to pay up if you don't shovel your sidewalk this winter. [GGW]

Council votes to support $100 million minimum for the Housing Production Trust Fund. [CNHED]

Conversion of Shaw halfway house to luxury residences gets zoning approval. [UrbanTurf]

Today on the market: Hill East 2BR condo—$529,000

Bowser Pledges to Pass D.C. United Stadium Deal by Year’s End, Without Reeves Swap

winBowser_blog-9-300x200In her first major policy move as mayor-elect of the District, Muriel Bowser pledged to push the controversial proposal to build a D.C. United soccer stadium at Buzzard Point through the D.C. Council before taking office in January—but without a key component of the deal, the plan to trade away the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center.

Speaking before a who's-who crowd of D.C. politicos at a meeting of the Federal City Council tonight, Bowser unequivocally stated her intention to proceed with plans to build a United stadium in the industrial wasteland that's currently Buzzard Point. "I want to be very clear about this," she told her audience, which included two former mayors and several of the key players in the stadium deal. "I support building a soccer stadium in the District of Columbia, and I support investing public dollars to get it done."

But Bowser also committed to removing a contested element of the deal, a land swap that would trade the Reeves Center at 14th and U streets NW to developer Akridge in exchange for land Akridge owns at Buzzard Point. A recent study commissioned by the D.C. Council suggested that the city would be overpaying in this swap and related ones, and some members of the public and the Council, including Bowser, have questioned whether it might be more fiscally prudent to sell the Reeves Center on the open market instead.

Bowser said tonight that she would "make sure that we are reducing the District's risks by de-linking the Reeves Center from the deal."

Read more Bowser Pledges to Pass D.C. United Stadium Deal by Year’s End, Without Reeves Swap

Over Dire Warnings from Gray, Council Approves Shelter Definition

Vince Gray does not like this bill.

Vince Gray does not like this bill.

Where's Noah Webster when you need him? The latest showdown between the D.C. Council and the administration of Mayor Vince Gray centers on a simple definition: the meaning of the term "private room."

Last winter, the matter headed to the courts, to decide whether the city's use of partitioned spaced in recreation centers conformed to the D.C. law requiring shelter in private rooms for homeless families when temperatures dropped below freezing. Representatives of the administration pointed to the third definition of "room" in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary“a partitioned part of the inside of a building.” Lawyers for the homeless families seeking more private shelter preferred the first definition, "a part of the inside of a building that is divided from other areas by walls and a door and that has its own floor and ceiling." The judge in the case ultimately sided with the families and ordered the city, through a preliminary injunction, to stop using the rec centers as shelter.

In March, the administration sought to codify its interpretation, issuing a notice of emergency rulemaking from the Department of Human Services that defined "private room" as "a part of the inside of a building that is separated by walls or partitions for use by an individual or family." By that definition, the rec centers would meet the terms of the law.

Today, the Council struck back. In the second and final vote on the Dignity for Homeless Families Amendment Act of 2014, the Council voted unanimously to define "private room" as one that has four walls, a locking door, sound insulation, its own lighting that can be turned off, and access to hot showers. The bill now heads to Gray for his signature or veto.

Gray has already signaled his disagreement with the bill, with a letter to the Council today opposing it in no uncertain terms. "The bill will mandate significant additional investments in the shelter at the expense of investments in affordable housing and other more permanent housing solutions," he wrote. "It will throw the District back to an era when streets were filled with hotels filled with homeless families."

Read more Over Dire Warnings from Gray, Council Approves Shelter Definition

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