Housing Complex

How Might the Mayor Shake Up Development?

Keep it moving. (Darrow Montgomery)

My column in tomorrow's issue is a handy preview of what you can expect to see in D.C. development this year. I had a lot to pack in, and so had to gloss over something interesting that Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning mentioned to me today: The possibility of the creation of some kind of redevelopment authority to more comprehensively approach the city's land use strategy.

Of course, this isn't up to her, and Mayor Vince Gray hasn't even appointed a Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, much less laid out how specifically he'd like to reorganize things (except campaign proposals to create separate positions for Business and Real Estate Development). But the fact that he's taking so long suggests that the transition team might be contemplating a more comprehensive shakeup. In doing so, Tregoning suggested that he might need to consider something from the past: A development authority similar to the National Capital Revitalization Commission and Anacostia Waterfront Corporation, which ex-mayor Adrian Fenty dissolved four years ago.

Fenty got rid of the quasi-public entities out of impatience with their slow progress, and a sense that many development functions could be better handled by the private sector. But lots of cities–Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Boston, to name a few–still have such authorities, which are better able to enter into joint ventures than a purely government agency like D.C.'s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. "Cities that don’t have those entities are at a disadvantage," Tregoning said.

In particular, a redevelopment authority might be better suited to handle the five big projects the District has on its plate right now: The McMillan Sand Filtration Site, the Southwest Waterfront, Hill East, Walter Reed, and St. Elizabeths. I can also imagine it consolidating the land disposition office under the Department of Housing and Community Development, which buys blighted properties and resells them under binding agreements that requires the owners to renovate within a certain timeframe. Finally, it could better administer local hiring requirements on public projects, perhaps even absorbing the Department of Small and Local Business Development.

Just some thoughts, Mr. Mayor!

  • Andrew

    NCRC and the AWC look(ed) great on paper, but in practice were absolutely horrendous. First, NCRC experienced just shy of 100% leadership turnover each year. Second, because of their nebulous nature and board appointees from the federal government, mayor and Council, residents found both agencies impossible to hold accountable -- and the directors would always point to this lack of clear accountability in weaseling their way out of any solid commitments to community groups. Likewise, if community associations went to the mayor or a councilmember for support in shaping a development -- or even getting their calls returned by NCRC -- they would say, "sorry, they don't report to me." If you look at the first Community Benefits Agreements signed in the city, between NCRC and Manna CDC, you'll see a clear example. And finally, they were staffed entirely by people with development backgrounds. Sounds great, you say - they should get projects done. But they weren't moving anything, which was why their portfolios were taken away, and it turned out these proto-developers were only too happy to pad their reasumes for a year, do some networking and fly back to the private sector. As McMillan and the New Communities projects show, these developments need more direct accountability from decision-makers & developers to community residents, not less. There's no way the McMillan neighbors would have gotten half as far as they have under NCRC.

  • Josh


    There is not one iota of truth in your statement. Adrian Fenty closed NCRC down in a pure and simple power grab and because he knew he could not bully NCRC into giving his cronies and buddies contracts without Council review. Deals took longer at NCRC because the staff tried to extract value for the tax payers of the District of Columbia and not give away the farm.Most developers were not accustomed to having to give up very much. NCRC gave the District 40% of what it took in. If NCRC sold land or took equity in a deal the District got 40%. NCRC was also very diligent in making sure Developers hired District residents. NCRC put two developers in default for not following the First Source Agreement and violating the LSDBE requirements. The fact that the Mayor wanted to do fast deals at the expense of tax payers is nothing to celebrate. Developers loved those fast deals because that meant they were doing forward flips and back flips all the way to the bank without giving very much back to the District. Your statement that the leadership turnover was nearly 100% is absolutely not true. The postion that turned over was the President all of the other executives held those jobs for 5 to 6 years before Fenty shut NCRC down. Council members would never say that NCRC did not report to them. The Council would always say that they considered NCRC a City Agency and not the Public PRivate Corporation it was supposed to be. NCRC in every instance got every deal approved by the City Council and its board. NCRC never had a scandal about procurement. The District got absolutely nothing by shutting NCRC down, it lost money because NCRC was funded originally by the Federal Government and then gave the District 40% of everything it made. NCRC cost DC nothing it contributed to the bottom line. Mayor Fenty wanted NCRC properties so that he could give projects to whomever he wanted without going through a fair bidding process and under the guise of doing deals quickly. Quick is not always good, especially when the tax payers lose. It cost the Dristict money by shutting NCRC down. I wonder how much equity and what kind of payment the District receives now.

  • http://www.useful-community-development.org/redevelopment.html Nancy Thompson

    On the face of it, I agree that these quasi-governmental, but partly private, entities are important to city governments. The private sector does some things best, and the public sector excels in other ways.

    However, in examining the record in many cities, it seems I'd have to agree with the previous comment--results are often poor. The "private" side of the redevelopment entity keeps too many secrets and plays favorites. The "public" side doesn't get on with the proejct as quickly as they need to.

    As one who has played a role in economic development projects in the public sector, I fully understand the need for secrecy about some matters--and that sunshine laws have made the requisite amount of discretion difficult. But somehow these entities, if they exist, have to be made accountable to the will of the people and not start to think they are all-powerful.

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