Administration officials note that China, unlike Qatar, does not have a state sovereign wealth fund. Instead, the District will try to persuade Chinese banks and individuals to invest more cash in the city.
Officials expect to announce next week that several Chinese entrepreneurs will be investing as much as $40 million in the second phase of the O Street Market, a 1 million-square-foot mixed-use retail and residential project in Shaw. In exchange, the 80 investors will receive EB-5 visas to move to the United States, officials said. Gray said he hopes to persuade more foreign business executives to take advantage of the federal immigration program by investing in the District.
“Worldwide, Washington, D.C., is seen as one of the premier investment locations,” said Richard Lake, a delegation member and president of Roadside Development, which is overseeing the O Street project. “A lot of money is in flight away from risk and looking for safe harbor, and Washington is pretty stable.”
But Gray’s planned meeting with officials from the Export-Import Bank of China could one day prove to have the most far-reaching consequences for the District.
In recent months, Gray and administration officials have had several meetings with officials from the bank in the District about possibly funding the streetcar system.
Gray said that the talks are preliminary but that he senses that the bank might be interested in funding all or part of the project in exchange for collecting ridership profits. Without foreign investment, Gray said, it would take two decades for the District to complete the project, because the city is nearing its debt cap.
“There are a lot of details that would have to be worked out,” Gray said. “But there is certainly interest in the streetcar system.”
When asked about a potential for congressional or public backlash about so much Chinese investment in the District, Gray said, “They are already heavily invested in America.”
“They are not heavily invested in the District of Columbia,” he said. “We are expanding our own horizons here and maybe moving some projects along more quickly.”