Developers take a second look at Stevens Elementary School

The District government owns a valuable property in Stevens Elementary School, on 21st Street NW in the West End, and also a historical one. The first attribute makes it more easily to develop, the second more difficult.

Stevens, at 21st and K streets NW, opened in 1868 to educate the children of freed slaves. Jimmy Carter’s daughter, Amy, went there when her father was president. Stevens was closed as part of former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee’s reform efforts, and former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty offered it to developers only to see the economy and his choice of apartment builder, Equity Residential, blow up in his face.

Now Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) is giving development of Stevens a run, issuing a solicitation for developers in November, with the added twist that he is seeking both a development partner and an educational partner, which could give charter schools or training academies a shot at space there, in addition to housing, hotel rooms or offices.

Gray’s administration offered interested parties a chance to tour the building Dec. 15, and you can read the list of those who attended here. Although not everyone is likely to bid, it is an impressive list: Akridge, Carr Properties, Madison Marquette, JBG and Tishman Speyer are among those who attended.

The last time Stevens was available, Fenty’s economic development team, seeing the collapse of the real estate market, chose Equity Residential, a large, stable company that specializes in development of apartments, the easiest property type by far to finance in recent years. (Indeed, Equity is presently building hundreds of apartments in the region.) Unfortunately, the Equity selection irritated neighborhood residents leery of George Washington University students piling into Stevens like it was just another dorm. Fenty gave in.

In political circles, the big question on everyone’s mind is: Will Don Peebles bid again? Peebles, the African-American real estate mogul whose grandfather was a hotel doorman at the Marriott Wardman Park, proposed a luxury hotel for the property last time and won the backing of politicians including D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown. When Peebles wasn’t selected, he criticized Fenty harshly and publicly, and nearly ran for mayor himself.

The due date for Stevens submissions is March 1.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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