Protest Looms Over Bus Garage Sale

By David Nakamura and Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 28, 2007

The Metro board voted yesterday to sell a parcel of land near the Washington Nationals baseball stadium to the Akridge Co., setting up a confrontation with a competing firm that could create transportation challenges for the opening of the ballpark in the spring.

The board unanimously agreed to sell its 2.2-acre bus garage site at Half and M streets SE for $69 million to Akridge, which beat out two other development companies that also bid on the property.

But Monument Realty, which owns several acres nearby, filed a formal protest late Wednesday. Company officials have said that Monument was promised first dibs on the site by the D.C. government and Metro several years ago when the company was named "master developer" of the area and given the task of building an integrated "ballpark district."

Monument principal partner Jeffrey T. Neal has threatened to file a lawsuit to stop the sale. In a letter to Metro last month, Neal also said Monument might slow its renovation of the Navy Yard Metro station, the closest stop to the ballpark, if the company does not win Metro's bus garage property. District and Nationals officials have said they hope that half the people who go to games at the 41,000-seat stadium will take Metro.

The District is paying $611 million to build the stadium complex with the expectation that the ballpark will stimulate development and tax revenue. Those plans could be in jeopardy if Monument and Akridge do not work well together.

"It's a shame that [Metro] ended what had been a good three-year relationship by letting another developer with no stake in the Half Street development derail what should be one of the city's most exciting neighborhoods," Neal said yesterday.

Despite the board's action, Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said yesterday that Monument's protest would be reviewed before a sale to Akridge was completed. Metro also has to finalize plans to move its bus garage to the site of the old D.C. Village campus in Southwest.

Although Monument's $60 million bid was lower than Akridge's bid, Monument included an escalator clause that stated the company would pay $250,000 more than a higher bid. Metro General Counsel Carol O'Keeffe said the sealed-bid process did not allow for such a provision, and Akridge was ruled the winner.

In an interview before the vote, Akridge President Matthew J. Klein said his company "followed the rules . . . and the process came out as it did."

Klein said Akridge plans to work with city officials and other developers to create "a vital, urban, mixed-use project. . . . We've done successful urban projects in the past, like Gallery Place with Herb Miller. We've got a pretty credible track record."

Catoe said Monument is already seven weeks behind on its portion of the Navy Yard Station renovation. Metro's portion, which includes expanding the mezzanine to handle 15,000 people an hour, up from 5,000, is on schedule, Catoe said. Neal has acknowledged some delays but said his firm has been spending extra money to make up the lost time.

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