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Visions of Vibrancy
Designs for Anacostia Combine Community, Commerce

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 13, 2007

An aerial tram carries tourists over the Anacostia River to the Washington Nationals' new baseball stadium. Waterside amphitheaters and a museum provide cultural entertainment. A cluster of companies focused on the environment creates an international business hub.

And a sports and learning center, a charter school and an extension campus for the University of the District of Columbia offer new opportunities for students.

This was how officials from four development companies described their visions for Poplar Point, a 110-acre strip of parkland in Ward 8 that could become one of Washington's hottest neighborhoods.

The firms are competing for the right to partner with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration to develop the land. During a two-hour public meeting last night at Birney Elementary School, mayoral aides and company officials described a vibrant new community featuring condos, offices, big-box retailers, a movie theater, a grocery store and a hotel.

Fenty (D) has called Poplar Point a rare opportunity to spread economic development to a neglected ward and create a regional entertainment center. No matter which firm is selected, however, the development will take years because the city must remediate the land and relocate the National Park Service, whose headquarters is on the property.

Valerie Santos Young, chief operating officer for Fenty's economic development office, said the administration is pleased with the results of the bidding.

"We think there are elements of each proposal that are very creative," she said.

A standing-room-only crowd packed the Birney auditorium to hear the proposals, and D.C. council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), addressing those gathered, said, "We want retail, we want housing that is affordable and we want a stadium."

The proposals offered Ward 8 residents their first glimpse of alternatives to plans from D.C. United owner Victor B. MacFarlane, who has lobbied the city to build 8 million square feet of mixed-use development anchored by a 27,000-seat soccer stadium. Last summer, Fenty halted the negotiations, saying MacFarlane's plan, which required $350 million in public subsidies, was too expensive.

After Fenty opened the bidding process to find a "master developer," MacFarlane chose not to enter and threatened to move the soccer team to the suburbs. Two of the four plans unveiled last night-- from Clark Realty Capital and a joint venture from Archstone Smith and Madison Marquette -- make room for a soccer stadium, and in both cases the complex is optional.

"The decision making is out of our hands," Julie Chase, MacFarlane's spokeswoman, said yesterday.

Each proposal features 4 million to 6 million square feet of development and includes the 70 acres of parkland required by the federal government, which is in the process of transferring control of Poplar Point to the District. Rounding out the bidders are Forest City and a joint effort from General Growth, Mid-City Urban and Doracon.

Each plan probably would require tens of millions of dollars in public subsidies, but city officials declined to disclose the financial terms because the proposals are preliminary. Fenty's office hopes to select a master developer by next month.

The administration asked developers to present ideas that connected Ward 8 neighborhoods such as Anacostia and Barry Farm to the riverfront and took advantage of environmental planning underway to clean up the river.

Clark Realty Capital took a unique approach to the first charge, proposing to build a "deck" the size of three city blocks over Interstate 295 that would allow residents to walk or drive from one side of the highway to the other. The platform would be landscaped and have shops and offices built on top.

"There's a wall separating the community from its most valuable assets, and that's I-295," said Bereket Selassie, a development executive at Clark. "We have eliminated that barrier."

Clark also proposed creating a cluster of buildings near the waterfront meant to lure companies dedicated to the environment, Selassie said.

The proposal from General Growth, Mid-City Urban and Doracon focuses largely on education, featuring an extension campus for UDC and a sports and learning complex similar to the one in Prince George's County, said Lyneir Richardson, a vice president for General Growth. The company also proposes an aerial tram that would carry passengers across the river to the new baseball stadium.

"We wanted to do something visionary and cool," Richardson said. He noted that the company, which proposes 2.65 million square feet of housing, has committed to making 40 percent of the units available for lower-income residents. Although each proposal featured retail -- Ward 8 residents have called for years for more shopping options -- the Archstone Smith/Madison Marquette offering was by far the most ambitious. They proposed big-box stores as part of almost 1 million square feet of retail, more than twice the amount proposed by the other firms. Archstone representatives stressed that they would reserve 20 percent of the retail space for area merchants.

Forest City took the most unique route to incorporating parkland, focusing on weaving the 70 acres into the rest of the development in a "park fingers" design, or one in which park areas are spread like fingers on a hand. The company also proposed more than 3 million square feet of condos -- about 1 million more than other firms.

"Because the park is over 70 acres, we wanted to enliven it by creating a varied series of spaces like Central Park in Manhattan," Alex Nyhan, a development manager for the company, wrote in an e-mail.

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