There is some good news for Mayor Vincent C. Gray and the private entities his administration is negotiating with to build a pro soccer stadium: Attendees of a community meeting Tuesday night at the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center, the city building that is a key piece of the deal, had only scattered objections to the underlying equities of the $300 million soccer-stadium deal that would swap city property to assemble the stadium site — and even fewer objections to the prospect that the hulking Reeves Center might be replaced by private development.
The rest of the news is probably less encouraging: The dozens who spoke at the meeting were nearly united in their desire to see the Reeves Center replaced not with luxury apartments, as is almost certainly the most profitable use of the site, but with office space or other uses that would generate daytime commerce in a neighborhood that is increasingly dominated by nightlife businesses.
The tone was set early in the meeting with remarks from D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and continued through the hourlong meeting, which featured a cursory presentation from city officials on the outlines of the stadium plan but few specifics on the future of Reeves, aside from the expectation that it would become a “class A” mixed-use residential/retail property.
That prospect did not sit well with local residents and business owners. “I think that we are sort of looking at what’s happening in this corridor,” said restaurateur Ann Cashion, who owns a taqueria a block away from Reeves. “What we’re not seeing is any daytime business activity.”
This comment from U Street Neighborhood Association President Brian Card won a round of applause: “We need daytime traffic. We don’t need another condo building.”
Another resident, Stewart Bunn, summed matters up: “This is probably the only public meeting of this type where everyone has agreed on anything.”
There were other concerns, to be sure, including maintaining the Saturday morning farmers market that runs on the northwest corner of 14th and U streets NW, and finding space for the D.C. Center, a community center for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents that recently moved into a Reeves storefront.
But the idea of restricting the use of the property stands to be the most nettlesome as Gray moves to consummate a deal — sending an agreement to the council no later than Friday, a spokesman for Allen Lew said Tuesday.
Graham said he is prepared to hold up the enabling legislation until the neighborhood concerns are satisfied: “I’m going to vigorously oppose any deal that has a mushy agreement with Akridge where they get to to do whatever they want to do,” he said. “I want to see a clear direction that Akridge must provide us with principally commercial space” — preferably, he added, office space.
The area surrounding the 14th and U intersection “is now loaded down with luxury apartments of one kind or another,” including JBG’s Louis apartments across the street, Graham added. “That base is covered. What best serves the neighborhood and the city is daytime commerce.”
Akridge President Matthew J. Klein said Wednesday that the company had representatives at Tuesday’s meeting and is aware of the community’s concerns. That said, he added, “At this point, we don’t have a specific plan.”
“There is going to be retail and other stuff there,” Klein continued. “Right now, our focus has been on getting the transaction done, and then the focus is going to shift to what the right program for that development is.”
But the transaction could be significantly complicated by any encumbrances the council might see fit to place on the use of the Reeves site. “Anything that has an adverse effect on value will have an effect on that deal,” Klein acknowledged. What could complicate the deal even further — complicate it to death, even — is disposing of Reeves through a separate solicitation mandating particular uses and amenities rather than engaging in what Graham has been calling a “complex adagio” of land swaps to assemble the stadium parcel.
But Graham said he thinks Akridge, one of the city’s leading developers of downtown office space, should be able to make it work.
While apartments over retail might be “easy money” and a “no-brainer,” Graham said, he suggested that the developer could still make plenty of money building an office building: “Is there a challenge in providing a commercial building?” he asked. “Yes, and I think they’re capable of that challenge.”