Friday, March 18, 2016

District Dig post discusses McMillan development deal

Click on the link to read the entire District Dig article.

D.C. Does Bad Real Estate Deals, But Why?

Posted by on Mar 17, 2016 in Features | No Comments
With more than 15 years on the D.C. Council, four of them at the helm, Chairman Phil Mendelson is known as perhaps the city’s most knowledgeable legislator on the subject of land use and real estate development. So his frustration resonated when he spoke in February to several dozen members of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, of which he is a trustee, and blamed District planning officials for negotiating poor development deals for the city because of executive turnover and staff inexperience. Committee members took his remarks also as a rebuke of a revolving door culture within the business and political community, yet questioned his ability if not willingness to do anything about it.
The District is on its fourth mayor in a decade that has seen rapid growth, corruption and acrimony over increasing social and economic disparities attributed to gentrification. Officials in charge of the District’s real estate portfolio have come and gone, and come back again, allowing a perpetual and interchanging developer-lobbyist-legal establishment to capitalize on inconsistent city leadership through insider relationships, critics contend.
Perhaps one of the most controversial projects to demonstrate how the “in-crowd” operates is the McMillan Sand Filtration Site, where the deputy mayor’s office and a consortium of companies are planning to build a 2 million square-foot mixed-use project on the 25-acre site, an engineering and design marvel where the city cleansed its drinking water for most of the 20th century. 
The development plan at McMillan originally called for open bids to select a master developer, city documents show. But in 2007, Fenty dissolved the National Capital Revitalization Corporation, a public-private entity that oversaw that plan, and swept the city’s entire real estate portfolio into the deputy mayor’s office. Instead of issuing a solicitation, Fenty’s deputy mayor, Neil Albert, selected a consortium of firms that included a company owned by a close friend and fellow Harvard University alum, Jair Lynch. When Albert moved on to become Fenty’s city administrator, his replacement gave the consortium exclusive rights to purchase the land and develop it. (Neighborhood activists have challenged the project at every administrative level and have cases before the D.C. Court of Appeals.) 
After Gray defeated Fenty, in 2010, Jeff Miller, a former executive at Trammell Crow, one of the firms in the consortium, oversaw the deal as the city’s director of real estate. Albert had left the government, but he too re-surfaced as a senior policy adviser to Holland & Knight, the law firm that represents the consortium on land use issues at McMillan. Albert left the firm in September. 


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