Fenty cancels developer's plan to convert D.C.'s Stevens Elementary into apartments

Map of Stevens School in West End
By Jonathan O'Connell
Capital Business Staff Writer
Friday, November 5, 2010; 8:15 PM

After finding little neighborhood support for the idea, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has canceled plans to turn Stevens Elementary School in the West End into an apartment building by Chicago-based developer Equity Residential.

Stevens opened in 1868 to educate the children of freed slaves, and was one of the schools closed as part of former Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's education reform efforts. Last year, Fenty (D) proposed Stevens and 10 other vacant schools for redevelopment, and nine developers - eyeing the Stevens school's location at 21st and K streets NW - proposed ideas including hotels, housing and offices.

Fenty's selection immediately prompted concerns among West End residents that the apartments would cater to college students rather than long-term residents. Rebecca Coder, an advisory neighborhood commissioner, said another Equity property nearby had the reputation of "an off-campus frat house."

Fenty did not hold a news conference to announce the choice, as he has with most developer selections. A year later, he is changing course.

"Over the past year we had been unable to generate any community support for their proposal, so we wanted to try a different approach," said Jose Sousa, a spokesman for the Fenty administration. Sousa said the city formally ended negotiations with Equity on Oct. 28. Robert Grealy, Equity area vice president, declined to comment.

Coder said ideas to turn Stevens into a hotel might now gain traction, possibly paying tribute to the former school. "Stevens obviously has a tremendous history and it's something that the neighborhood really wants to see represented and celebrated," she said.

The city has asked six of the developers that originally made proposals to submit final offers. R. Donahue Peebles, a D.C. native who built the Royal Palm Hotel in Miami, had proposed a luxury hotel operated by Morgans Hotel Group of New York. Peebles, who decided not to challenge Fenty for mayor, says he is still interested in Stevens. "We're excited now to present our ideas again to the community and to fine-tune them," he said.

Moddie Turay, a former assistant to Democratic former mayor Anthony Williams, proposed a hotel by San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, as well as office space and retail. Akridge, Donohoe Development, Toll Brothers and Equity have also been invited to resubmit.

Fenty leaves office Jan. 1, so any development plan will need the support of Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray (D) and the D.C. Council.

"The community is very interested in moving forward on this," said Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2).


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