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Community Development
Boom time offers narrow opportunity
(Published October 31, 2005)


Michael Stevens of the D.C. Marketing Center touted the District's number one real estate investment ranking in the nation, with over $40.1 billion in development projects, at the Sixth Annual Economic Development Summit sponsored by Ward 5 Councilman Vincent Orange on Oct. 29. With the District's average household income having increased to an estimated $75,000, one of the major concerns expressed by the local participants was their ability to find and maintain affordable housing.

With the focus on the District's largest ward geographically, Orange warned his constituents that "development is going to happen. The question," he said, "is whether you take advantage of our destiny and develop partnerships that make housing affordable to people who only make $30,000 to $40,000."

As an example of a development partnership that is designed to create opportunities and transform neglected neighborhoods, the "New Town at the Capital City Market" presented a plan for the redevelopment of the crime-ridden Capital City Market at the intersection of New York and Florida avenues NE. Former city councilman John Ray, now managing director of Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP, presented the plan to build 360 condominium units, a hotel, amphitheater, market-rate townhouses, and to retain the Capital City Market's unique niche as the hub of the District's wholesale and retail food industry.

As the winning bidder that responded to a D.C. government request for proposals, Sang Oh Choi -- a local business owner whose family has operated and owned property in the Capital City Market for over 20 years -- has teamed with Ray to develop a parcel that is described as an example of "chaotic planning and land use."

"One of the dirty little secrets that some of our public officials are unwilling to discuss is the fact that a large segment of our population is being priced out of the city," Ray said. "For folks who don't qualify for the very low-income housing assistance programs -- such as firemen, teachers and police officers -- there is a growing need for affordable housing."

The development team pledged that at least 20 percent of the project's housing units would be designated as affordable, and Orange informed the audience that he is "working on a deal with Gallaudet University, which owns a portion of the property, to increase the low- and moderate-income units to 40 percent."

On the other side of the recently opened New York Avenue Metro stop, near the Federal Express facility, another development project is being proposed that would bring an additional 700 residential units and 15,000 square feet of neighborhood-oriented retail space. The proposed development site is currently owned by CSX Railroad and will require a zoning change from its current industrial classification to the proposed residential use. But the developers of the proposed "Capital Commerce Center" see an opportunity to deliver much-needed housing and safe access to Metro with the inclusion of a pedestrian trail that will link bikers and walkers to a complex of trails from Union Station through Fort Totten to the D.C. line, connecting Montgomery County. And they are making a cash contribution to the Metropolitan Trail system and negotiating other concessions with the residents and civic associations of the impacted communities to provide meeting space and get their input on the type of retail establishments that are needed.

However, other deals are being cut that provide not only concessions but economic participation in the form of equity as part of deals involving the transfer of D.C. and federal land to private developers. The National Capital Revitalization Corporation (NCRC), a quasi-governmental agency created in 1998 to facilitate the disposition of hundreds of publicly owned land parcels, is attempting to take it a step further.

In two recent deals negotiated to return a major African-American owned broadcast giant to the city and assist in the redevelopment of a smaller parcel in the Shaw and Columbia Heights neighborhoods, minority developers actually ended up with an ownership stake in the development projects. Gateway 34 at 14th and Belmont streets NW was structured to award 100 percent ownership to the Jair Lynch Companies. And the planned Broadcast Partners Center at Seventh and R streets NW resulted in 40 percent minority participation, including the Jarvis Co. and the owners of Radio One, including Cathy Hughes and her son, Alfred Liggett.

The new development paradigm includes not only opportunities for jobs and contracts, but an equity stake and the potential for a legacy of sustainable wealth building.


Barnes is former director of the D.C. Small Business Development Center at Howard University. Contact him at

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