Altman's Departure Has Developers Sighing

Andrew Altman, left, and the Rev. Joseph N. Evans of Mount Carmel Baptist Church last year at Mount Vernon Triangle.
Andrew Altman, left, and the Rev. Joseph N. Evans of Mount Carmel Baptist Church last year at Mount Vernon Triangle. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)

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By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 10, 2005

Andrew Altman may be the only person involved in the development of the District's waterfront who doesn't describe his departure as a big setback.

"I wouldn't leave if I thought that the sky was falling," Altman said of his decision to resign as chief executive of the Anacostia Waterfront Corp. "I think the foundation is there. The institution is set up."

Altman, 42, helped create the Anacostia organization, a quasi-government agency charged with acting on a 20-year plan to spend billions in public and private funds to revitalize the Southwest and Southeast waterfronts.

He announced last week that he is leaving in three weeks to take a private-sector job in New York for an employer whose identity he said he cannot yet reveal. "I've always been a dedicated public servant," Altman said in an interview on Friday. "This was something different for me. It wasn't just a question of money. It was a number of things I couldn't refuse."

Despite Altman's confidence that waterfront development will move ahead without him, local developers, D.C. leaders and real estate brokers said they are concerned about the District's ability to keep talented executives and to follow through on large-scale renewal plans.

"I think everyone believes that Andy's done a wonderful job of conceiving of the AWC plan," said Robert O. Carr, president of CarrAmerica Urban Development, one of the biggest commercial real estate companies in the area. "It's a great loss. [They'll] have to work hard to find someone to replace him. It's not going to be easy."

Before taking over the waterfront development organization, Altman served from 1999 to 2005 as District planning director and was a close adviser to D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). Altman was known as a longtime cheerleader for some of the District's largest development projects, including ideas to turn the underutilized St. Elizabeth's campus in Southeast into a mix of housing, retail and offices and plans to build on the old convention center site at New York Avenue and Ninth Street NW.

"There was a sense of security knowing that Andy was in the city and his fingerprints were all over so much of what was taking place already," said Jim Abdo, a major housing developer in the District.

In 10 months at the helm of the Anacostia corporation, Altman had not been in the job long enough to have proved himself as a chief executive, said developers and board members. But he had added staff and taken control in planning what would be developed around the new baseball stadium in Southeast. Developers like Monument Realty LLC that have sunk $40 million into buying land around the stadium were waiting to see how Altman envisioned the area developing. He had put out a request to get ideas from developers on what to build on some publicly owned land around the stadium.

"The implications of his leaving are critical," said Douglas Jemal, who remains a major figure in District development despite his being accused in a recent indictment of bribing a D.C. official. "I'm not saying anything can't go on beyond him, but it's a critical blow. He's intricately involved in the planning."

Altman's resignation comes on the heels of Williams's announcement that he will not seek reelection.

"The combination of Andy leaving and the mayor's recent decision to not run for reelection means that certain significant initiatives have the potential to be stalled until there's some clarity in the replacement of Andy and there's a new mayor," said Marc Dubick, a developer who is building on the old wax museum site at 5th and K streets NW. "Losing momentum can result in slowing or terminating certain projects."

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