Anacostia Waterfront Development Faces Tough Challenges

Kirk Beldon Jackson | 3/26/2009, 7:46 a.m.

About 150 people gathered at the Martin Luther King Library downtown Tuesday night to discuss the project, which city officials are describing as an ambitious-but complicated venture to revitalize the river and adjacent neighborhoods.

€The project is complicated further by what€s happening in the credit market,€ said Valerie Santos, Chief Operating Officer for the D.C. Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development.
City officials said they expect the plan to survive the wavering economy. Still, they anticipate that developers will have difficulties securing debt or equity.

€No one is providing the cash to do development, irrespective of what those developments are,€ said Nina Albert, Project Manager for the D.C. Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development, €whether they are affordable housing or whether they be high-rise office buildings.€

Albert said the city is making some headway on three parts of the plan: the Southwest Waterfront, Poplar Point and Hill East.
The Southwest Waterfront plan is entering a design stage, she said. It includes restaurants, shops, residences, a new hotel, marinas, an expanded riverfront promenade and 14 acres of parks and open space, according to a city website. She did not have details on timetables for the other two plans, she said.

But Charles (Chuck) Hicks, a specialist and consultant in Black history, questioned whether companies involved with the waterfront plan will live up to contractual provisions requiring them to have a specific percentage of city residents included in any workforce involved in a D.C. project.

€You don€t do it and the city doesn€t try to make you do it, and that€s my issue,€ Hicks said.
Albert added €it can€t be the job of the contractor to train people for the construction work€ and that the city needs to play more of a role.

The Anacostia Waterfront plan would bring about 6,500 units of new housing, three million square feet of new office space, 32 acres of new public parks and a 20-mile network of riverside trails to the area, according to a D.C. government Web site.
Albert said about $7-8 billion will be needed primarily in the following areas:

  • Infrastructure (bridges, bulkheads, seawalls, dredging, streetscapes).
  • Environmental remediation (wetlands, tributaries, sources of contamination, etc).
  • Redevelopment projects.
  • Recreation and greenspace, waterfront and parks programs.

€It€s no small feat to try to raise that kind of money,€ Albert said.

Part of the difficulty will be a €timing mismatch€ which forces the city to raise funds for the project at the onset, but prevents it from collecting revenue on development until later, she said.

Still, there will eventually be a payoff, she said, pointing to the new Nationals Park as an example. Though the structure cost $600 million to build, it is spurring nearby development that will generate revenue in what had been a depressed tract of land, she said, speaking in response to an audience member€s question about potential property tax loss caused by the stadium.
Developers constructing residences for the project will have to make 30 percent of their homes €affordable,€ even though such an allocation will increase their costs, she said.

€The economy is not going to effect the requirement to deliver affordable housing at any of these sites, so we€re not lifting any of our requirements as a result of the economy,€ she said.