The trade union that filed the complaint says the project is clearly within the scope of the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act, which requires wages similar to union scale on “public works” projects. But Gray administration officials are vigorously opposing the claim, saying it stands to raise the cost of building CityCenter by as much as $20 million. Moreover, they fear that the ruling’s effect could be much broader, complicating other big-ticket redevelopment projects on city-owned land.
Victor L. Hoskins, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, said the ruling could have “unprecedented, significant [and] adverse citywide cost impact upon every economic development project in the District’s portfolio.”
Area real estate developers and construction executives who have partnered with the District say the ruling, if upheld, is likely to inflate costs on a wide range of projects by as much as 15 percent, making financing more difficult in the roiled credit markets.
Leppink’s ruling came in response to a 2009 petition from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters, which argued that the CityCenter project triggers Davis-Bacon requirements by serving the “interest of the general public” by increasing the city tax base, employing D.C. residents, and building parks and affordable housing. An August 2010 ruling by a predecessor of Leppink’s rejected the claim, but the union was granted a reconsideration later in the year.
Before the June ruling, according to Gray administration officials, the District required prevailing wages only on economic development projects that proceeded with financial assistance from the city, through bond or tax-increment financing or tax abatements. The CityCenter project is being developed by a joint venture of Hines Interests and Archstone without direct taxpayer assistance, and officials say Leppink’s ruling would apply prevailing wage standards to virtually any project on city land.
Terry R. Yellig, lead attorney for the carpenters’ union, said it should be immaterial whether the city is financing the project. “Without the participation of the District of Columbia, would this project have gone forward? I think the answer is no,” he said.
William B. Alsup III, a senior vice president at Hines, declined to address the ruling’s immediate effect on the CityCenter project, but he said that increased costs associated with the ruling could stall or spoil an array of developments the District had been planning.
Among the major projects that could be affected are planned redevelopments that city officials have been plotting for years, including of the Southwest Waterfront, the east campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Congress Heights and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Georgia Avenue NW.