Back to previous page

Post Most

The problem with Banneker was Banneker

In the July 30 editorial “Backstage contracting in D.C.,” based on innuendo rather than fact, The Post suggested that, in 2007, I interfered with an application for a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority development project. At that time, I was a member of the WMATA board.

No facts were presented to indicate that I had taken any such actions. Further, no crime or unlawful financial interest was suggested. This is what happened:

There were general and continuing questions about whether the applicant — Banneker Ventures — had the experience to head such a large project without the active participation of a qualified development firm.

To fill that void, Banneker first included Donatelli and Klein, a company that had successfully built the Metro/Ellington project just a few blocks away at 13th and U streets NW.

The Post suggested without proof that I discouraged the participation of Donatelli, and on that basis the firm had abruptly withdrawn in late 2007.

That is not true.

Donatelli President Chris Donatelli has provided this statement for the record: “I withdrew from the project in December 2007 because of concerns about Banneker’s commitment to the project and their ability to perform as team leader due to their inexperience with such projects.”

That same concern was expressed by the next developer that tried to fill this void, Metropolis, which was added to the project in early 2008. (Metropolis successfully constructed the Metro/Langston Lofts project at 14th and V streets NW in 2006.)

In June 2008, Metro’s board considered whether to condition the Banneker approval in part on the basis that Metropolis would make decisions on construction issues independent of Banneker. When that was not approved, Metropolis also soon withdrew. At about the same time, one of the original partners, District Development Group, also withdrew.

The concerns, including mine, proved to be accurate: Two years of development progress was lost because of Banneker’s inability to assemble a project based on its original proposal. A unanimous Metro board finally declined to approve a third extension for Banneker in April 2010.

Despite what The Post would like readers to believe, the problem with Banneker was not Jim Graham. The problem with Banneker was Banneker.

Jim Graham, Washington

The writer, a Democrat, represents Ward 1 on the D.C. Council.

© The Washington Post Company