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Work to resume on stalled apartment project near Nationals stadium

By Jonathan O'Connell
Capital Business Staff Writer
Friday, August 20, 2010; A18

Construction sites around the Washington Nationals ballpark have been reduced to so many empty lots by the recession, but at least one developer has decided it is time to get started again.

Forest City Washington, the local branch of a Cleveland development firm, said Thursday that, after nearly two years of trying, it is ready to restart construction on a $60 million, 170-unit apartment complex that it initially began work on in 2008 before stopping later that year when credit markets froze.

The luxury apartments will fill a former Navy industrial building a few blocks east of the ballpark, part of a planned 42-acre Forest City development called the Yards on the site of the former Southeast Federal Center. Ultimately, the apartments will be surrounded by office buildings, retail outlets and more than 2,000 other housing units. The city is near completion on a 5.5-acre public park there.

Ramsey Meiser, senior vice president for Forest City Washington, said finishing the apartments, called Foundry Lofts, will take about 13 months and that onlookers -- including Nats fans -- will start seeing work soon. "There will be activity happening on site within the next two, three weeks," he said.

With construction financing still difficult for developers to secure, progress at the Yards does not mean that other projects, such as those planned for along Half Street SE leading to the ballpark, will begin construction as well.

Forest City was able to restart construction on the project thanks to $47.7 million in bond financing provided by the D.C. Housing Finance Agency and backed by the federal New Issue Bond Program, through the U.S. Treasury Department.

The agency also announced $12.8 million in financing for rehab of King Towers, an apartment complex on 12th Street NW, and for multiple housing sites being planned by the nonprofit So Others Might Eat. The three projects create or preserve 408 affordable units offered at below-market-rate prices, including 50 at the Yards.

Harry D. Sewell, the agency's executive director, said he had planned all along to support Forest City's apartment project but could not have done it without the federal government's backing.

"We've been working on this really for about two years and because of where the market was we were unable to close the transaction," Sewell said.

Meiser said a silver lining in the Yards delay was that it gave developers who built apartment towers nearby two years to lease their buildings, creating demand for more. "We think that positions the building well for when it delivers next fall," he said.

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