Housing Complex

With Deal Dead, What Happens to Howard Town Center Tax Break?

I reported yesterday that Howard University has terminated its agreement with the developer of the planned Howard Town Center, a big mixed-use project on Georgia Avenue with 445 apartments and a grocery store. It's still unclear exactly what led to the termination—a Howard spokeswoman said the developer, the Cohen Companies, "failed to meet certain benchmarks" but didn't specify what those benchmarks were—or what happens next on the long-stalled project.

And there's another thing that's up in the air: your tax dollars. In November, the D.C. Council approved an $11 million tax abatement for the project, even though D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi said it was unnecessary. This week, during its budget negotiations, the Council reduced that tax abatement to $8 million.

But now that the developer agreement has been nixed, what happens to the tax abatement? No one seems to know.

David Umansky, spokesman for the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, says his office isn't sure. "The OCFO, which has only limited information concerning what may be recent developments relating to this project, cannot comment on the effect that uncertain and unknown potential changes in the development deal may have on the abatement," he says in an email. He does note, however, that the law creating the abatement "specifically identifies the owner (Howard University) and developer (Howard Town Center Developer, LLC) of the land and improvements (such as buildings) that are to benefit from the abatement." If the abatement is tied to Howard Town Center Developer, LLC—a joint venture led by the Cohen Companies—that would seem to imply that if Howard Town Center Developer, LLC is out, then the abatement is moot. But I have not been able to confirm this.

Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, who introduced the legislation creating the tax break, likewise isn't sure what the effect will be on the abatement. 'I’m not sure about that," he says, "but I do know one thing: I think there’s going to be a very energetic effort to straighten all this out. And I have every reason to believe we’re going to negotiate this successfully so we don’t lose this critical project. We’ve got to have the Cohen Companies renegotiate with Howard."

The Cohen Companies' Eric Siegel has not responded to requests for comment.

Howard Town Center rendering from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development website

  • Big Daddy

    Come on folks -- isn't it obvious -- Howard has money problems and cannot afford the development. Hence, a bogus charge against the development company -- maybe even providing some $$ to negate it so Howard is off the hook.
    Disgusting that they got an abatement in the first place.

  • Rachel Jeantel

    Dear Dr Ribeau,

    Could I get a Four-Scholarship to Howard after
    you build the Howard Town Center ? I really need
    an education.

  • JoeEsq 74

    Howard broke ground on two other buildings this would be an income producing property why would they back out of this deal and complete the other buildings? I am betting they could not identify a large retail tenant now that Harris Teeter has committed to FL Ave development. I am betting identifying the tenant was one of the benchmarks. The land has to be worth a fortune likely more now than when the deal was signed. With the right development partner it could be a win-win–win (neighborhood – school – developer)

  • chris hauser

    ask mr. cohen.

  • Ward Citizen

    How much has Graham managed to steal so far in this deal?

  • Chris hauser

    Mr. Cohen's deals always go smooth, just ask him.

  • DC Guy

    This seems like lawsuit waiting to happen. On the other hand, I suspect Cohen could sell the benefit for what they had in the project.

  • Pingback: In Other News … | Urban Scrawl