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D.C. Delays Plans for Old Convention Center Site

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 4, 2005; Page E01

At the urging of D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, council members yesterday held up plans for redeveloping 10 acres of the old convention center site at New York Avenue and 11th Street NW -- a move that further delays a project already a year behind schedule.

Council members tabled consideration of a development agreement that would turn the property into a mix of housing, shops, restaurants, offices and public spaces after questions arose over the mayor's authority to change the plan.

Hines Interest LP's plans for the site include housing, retail, office space and a 50,000-square-foot D.C. library branch. (Hines/smith/georgetown)

Under the agreement, the development team -- which includes Hines Interest LP of Houston and Archstone-Smith of Englewood, Colo. -- is to leave open one portion of the site as the city considers where to put a large hotel to serve the new convention center at Mount Vernon Square.

Some city officials think the old convention site is suitable, while others, including Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), support a site two blocks away at Massachusetts Avenue and Ninth Street NW. Some council members and area residents also are pushing for a new public library to be put on part of the old convention center site.

"I am supportive of the deal with Hines, but my problem is that I found one section of the agreement that says that although we could approve reserving space for the convention center hotel, the mayor could change what we approve," Cropp (D) said in an interview.

The delay was reminiscent of Cropp's efforts last year to insist that a new baseball stadium have some form of private financing after the city had negotiated a deal with Major League Baseball to come to the District.

Cropp has previously favored putting a hotel on the old convention center site. But yesterday she said she is open to considering the Ninth Street site if it is financially feasible.

"We want to make our desires of holding space on the old convention center site [for a possible hotel] sacrosanct," Cropp said. "We need to make sure that there is no leeway for the city to change it. The resolution must say that the city uses will be held until we decide what we want to put there."

Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said he agreed with Cropp's decision to hold back on approving the deal. "The way we read [the resolution] allowed the mayor to unilaterally decide what goes on that site," Evans said. "The council wants the opportunity to put that hotel on [the old convention center site] if we choose or to deny the library on that site if we choose."

There was a provision in the legislation, Evans said, that "seemed to put that power exclusively in the hands of the mayor."

Sharon Gang, a spokeswoman for Williams, agreed that the legislation might see some changes.

"The mayor's committed to getting this project through," she said. "He wants to see housing, retail, parking and public space" on the old convention center site. While the mayor still supports putting the large hotel on the Ninth Street site, she said, "the important thing is to get the old convention center project moving."

"We tore down the old building, and now we need to build it up," Gang said. "There's fiscal benefits and it will be a new city center. We want to get it going."

Construction on the old convention center site would start in 2009, and the project is estimated to open in 2011, according to the developer. Hines's plans call for putting mostly housing on the site, including 772 units of condos and apartments, some of which would be earmarked for affordable housing. About 275,000 square feet of retail, 300,000 square feet of offices and a 50,000-square-foot branch of the District library are also in the plans.

The resolution is expected to be taken up again by the council in June.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company