Metro taking bids for U Street corridor properties

By Jonathan O'Connell
Monday, September 13, 2010; 3

District developer LaKritz Adler has submitted a proposal to purchase Metro-owned property on Florida Avenue in Northwest D.C. and develop it into a conference center and hotel serving Howard University, prompting the transit agency to begin seeking competing bids for the property.

Metro began advertising a request for bidders Sept. 8 with a deadline for responses of Oct. 22.

The property includes three vacant parcels totaling about 28,000 square feet on the south side of Florida Avenue between 9th and 7th streets NW, in the U Street corridor. Under a plan by LaKritz Adler, they would be developed into a 180,000-square-foot hotel and conference facility aimed at serving Howard University, as well as a 100,000-square-foot mixed-use office and retail building.

The company, founded by two former U.S. Treasury officials, has built a handful of successful condominium and retail projects in Northwest. Among them are the 19-unit Moderno condominiums on 12th Street NW, a block off of U Street, and a 10,200-square-foot CVS on Georgia Avenue that was built with the help of $2 million in bond financing provided by the D.C. government at the bequest of Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).

The company has posted details of plans for the Florida Avenue property on its Web site. Executives, however, declined requests for comment.

Steven Goldin, head of real estate for Metro, said that -- prompted by the LaKritz Adler bid -- the agency would sell or lease the property to the highest bidder.

He said that for larger, more complex sites, however, the agency plans to select developers based on a combination of experience, vision and financial capabilities, rather than simply price, because the uncertainties of long-term, complex properties lead developers to underbid, which can cause delays. Though only a year into his time at Metro, Goldin oversees more than half a dozen deals or development partnerships that began during the boom years that he said now need to be restructured or canceled.

"It's almost easier to do a new deal, to negotiate a new deal, than it is to clean up a troubled deal," he said. "Some of these deals date back from 2002, and they've been through multiple amendments and individuals have changed, personnel has changed, and so the problem is that if the board has approved something years back at x dollars ... you try to restructure to get as close as possible, but ultimately you're probably not going to get back there."

This is not the first time Metro has attempted to develop the properties. Previously, Metro officials selected Banneker Ventures, a firm headed by Omar Karim, a friend of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty who has become a polarizing figure in the D.C. mayoral race. Banneker had planned a 124-unit residential project called the Jazz at Florida Ave. But after negotiations with the company stalled multiple times, Metro's board declined to approve a deal with the company in March.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company