In subject and timing, it sounded like the ultimate snoozer -- RLA Revitalization Corp. Public Hearing on Proposed Land Disposition Agreement: Parcels 45 and 47A. On Saturday. At 8 a.m.
But it showcased a spirited battle between two of the District's biggest developers over who will get to develop a parcel of land on Massachusetts Avenue NW and how much the D.C. government will be paid for it, punctuated by an on-the-spot offer to raise the purchase price by $10 million.
For two years, Republic Properties Corp. has had exclusive rights to build an office complex on the 1.8-acre site, also bounded by G and North Capitol streets. Now Republic wants an agreement to sell the land that would let it go ahead and build.
But Trammell Crow Co. and Bear Saint Properties Inc. argue that under D.C. law, Republic's right to the property has expired, and that they are ready to offer the city millions more than Republic did for the chance to build on the site.
After years of complicated wrangling, Republic reached a deal with the District's Redevelopment Land Agency in 2000 for rights to buy the land for $26.7 million and build on it. Two years later, it remains vacant. Republic attributes the delay to factors outside of its control -- specifically, delays getting permission from the city to close a public alley needed for construction, and the conversion of the city agency into the quasi-private RLA Revitalization. Republic argues that the body is obligated, legally and morally, to stick with the deal reached two years ago.
At the meeting Saturday, in a room filled largely with lawyers for each side, a Trammell Crow executive challenged those as mere excuses.
"A two-year delay in closing on this property after five years of due diligence is unacceptable," said Christopher Roth, regional president of Trammell Crow. Moreover, he said, "the price is grossly inadequate, and the other terms of the deal are commercially indefensible."
Not so, said Republic's chairman, Richard L. Kramer. Trammell Crow's price estimates are unrealistic, he said. "Trammell Crow has been trying to be a deal-spoiler on this for years," he said. Roth said he commissioned an appraisal of the site that suggests it is worth more than $45 million. He offered on the spot to buy the site, within 60 days, for $10 million more than Republic plans to pay.
Then RLA Revitalization Chairman J. Roderick Heller posed to Roth the kind of point-blank question that normally stays behind closed doors: Would Trammell Crow put up a $10 million letter of credit to back its promise? That is, would Roth effectively bet $10 million on his ability to pull off in two months what Republic hasn't managed in two years?
Without pause, Roth responded, "Yes."
"I've been to a lot of hearings, though, and I've never seen people put money on the table right there," said Terry Lynch, who heads the Downtown Cluster of Congregations and attended the meeting.
Heller said that the board will decide by January whether to issue the land disposition agreement with Republic.
After the meeting ended and the crowd was dispersing, Kramer approached Roth, hand outstretched. "Here, shake my hand. We should have dinner tonight, you and me and our wives."
Roth stood, stony faced, hands firm by his side.