The financially strapped D.C. government will auction off 27 parcels of city property next month -- including several premium sites in Georgetown and Capitol Hill -- in an effort to help balance the city budget.
The sale is expected to net the city as much as $15 million and also will return to the public tax rolls properties that are sure to generate badly needed additional taxes, city officials said yesterday. In addition, the resulting construction projects will create hundreds of new jobs, they predicted.
Offered in the sale are some of the District of Columbia's most distinctive publicly owned properties, including the old firehouse at 3212 M St. NW, which served as the town hall of Georgetown in the 1870s, and the Georgetown incinerator tract at 31st and Water streets NW, which may have been the site of George Washington's watering hole.
The sale was described yesterday by Carroll Harvey, director of the Department of General Services and the city government's chief property manager, as the largest ever of city-owned property. He also said it will mark the first time that city property had been auctioned.
Harvey said the nine parcels most attractive to potential buyers will be sold at a public auction, while another eight will be sold by sealed bids. The administration will decide later how it would sell the remaining 10 properties, he said.
The city hopes to earn $9.3 million from the sale of the first 17 properties, a goal Harvey said the city "should make fairly comfortably." City officials have estimated that the remaining 10 properties should raise about $5.7 million more.
Harvey said Mayor Marion Barry's administration first had to overcome the opposition of some members of the City Council and from the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) before the proposed sale could get final approval.
Either body could have vetoed all or part of the proposal, Harvey said, but the council eventually gave the plan unanimous approval. NCPC officials recently decided to allow the sale after city officials assured it that the Georgetown firehouse shell would not be demolished and that an archeological survey would be conducted to see if Suter's Tavern, the watering hole made famous by the first president, did in fact occupy a corner of the Georgetown incinerator tract.
Over the past 11 years, the city has proposed to sell 110 different parcels, but only one of them was sold, Harvey said. He said that is generally because residents or organizations in the neighborhoods concerned have successfully opposed the sale of the buildings for private use. The one property that sold was the site of the old 7th Police Precinct headquarters on Volta Place NW. The site now is occupied by town houses, officials said.
"This time, the nobility of balancing the budget won over the nobility of community service or nonprofit use of the buildings," Harvey said.
Harvey said the administration decided to auction some properties because competitive bidding should generate more income than sealed bids, especially on the prime properties.
City officials estimate that more than 500 permanent jobs and 900 construction jobs will be created through the sales, in addition to the construction of more than 700 housing units. In addition, property, sales and income taxes from the now nonrevenue generating properties will produce millions of dollars yearly in revenue for the city, they said. The sale will also eliminate costs to the city for maintaining the properties.
The prime properties, in addition to the firehouse and the incinerator site, include a three-quarter-acre lot at 28th and M streets NW on the eastern edge of Georgetown, now the site of the Corcoran School; a small vacant lot next to the Addison School at 33rd and P streets NW; a parking lot at 13th and N streets NW; Old Firehouse No. 9 at 1624 U St. NW and a parking lot at Third and E streets NW.