By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 13, 2006
District officials have scrapped plans to lease the historic Franklin School at 13th and K streets NW to a group led by developer Herbert S. Miller, saying they want to keep the building as a shelter for the homeless.
Brenda Donald Walker, deputy mayor for children, youth, families and elders, announced the decision this week at a meeting of the Interagency Council on Homelessness.
Walker said the city is negotiating a settlement to sever its agreement with Miller and his partners at WDC Franklin LLC. They signed a lease with the city in July 2005 to transform the property into a boutique hotel.
The agreement came under scrutiny this year when members of the D.C. Council and the legislative body's lawyer questioned whether the lease was valid because the council had not voted to approve the deal.
Walker said yesterday that she and Stanley Jackson, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, recommended that the city terminate the lease. Franklin has 240 beds for the homeless and is often filled.
"We've been searching the downtown area for shelter space, and we hadn't come up with anything," said Walker, who added that Franklin will be renovated.
The Franklin School was built in 1869 by the prominent Washington architect Adolph Cluss, who also designed Eastern Market.
The school, on prime downtown real estate, has been a focus of political controversy. The city decided a few years ago to use the building as a temporary men's shelter.
Last year, the city selected a group headed by Miller to redevelop the property. Miller is a well-connected contributor to local politicians and has held several campaign fundraisers during this election season.
Miller has run into trouble with another high-profile development project, a mix of condominiums, shops and parking garages he wants to build near the new ballpark for the Washington Nationals. The deal collapsed a few weeks ago when he and the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which is building the stadium, failed to agree on financial terms.
"We have no desire to kick homeless out of a shelter," said developer N. William Jarvis, a partner with Miller in the Franklin deal. "I'm sure we'll be sitting down soon to talk with the city about how we will settle all these matters."
Homeless advocates and Franklin Shelter residents praised the decision yesterday. They have fought to save the shelter, holding demonstrations outside City Hall, lobbying officials and maintaining a Web site.
Jesse Smith, who has lived at the shelter for the past six months, said yesterday that saving Franklin was an important victory.
The city government "has not been inclusive with development for those who don't have influence or money," said Mary Ann Luby, outreach coordinator for the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. "Here we have a place right smack in middle of all this expensive development which will be for people who struggle and offer them opportunities to get them out of homelessness."