Losing competitors for the coveted Portal site criticized the city yesterday for choosing a firm with a partner who has failed to start work on another District project and contended the winners failed to follow rules requiring community participation in the Portal site development.
The complaints came a day after the city's urban renewal agency voted 4 to 1 to allow developers Theodore N. Lerner and Melvin Lenkin to build a $335 million office building and hotel complex on the 10-acre tract at the foot of the 14th Street bridge. Many of the city's best-known development interests competed with one another for nine months for rights to the site.
Lenkin is a partner on the team that won the right more than two years ago to develop the Gallery Place site at Seventh and G streets NW. That land is still a patchwork of parking lots and empty buildings because Lenkin and his partners there, many of the directors of the city's black-owned financial institutions, have failed to find tenants or financing for the project.
"I was surprised that someone who had another city award and had not performed gets the nod," said consultant John Clyburn, a partner on the Western Development Co. team, echoing the complaints of others among the four groups that lost.
Lenkin and his son Edward own 22.33 percent of the Gallery project. In the Portal project, they control 20 percent, and their partners include Lerner, who built the Tysons Corner and White Flint shopping malls, O Street Market owners James and Cilla Adkins, businesswoman Flaxie Pinkett, mortgage bankers Walker & Dunlop, architect Vlastamil Koubek, Channel Inn owner Manuel Fernandez and others.
"We have never gotten an award while Lenkin has two awards and he has not closed on the first one," said Western President Herbert S. Miller. Tuesday's vote marked the third time in four years that Western has competed unsuccessfully for a downtown city-owned site.
Robert L. Moore, a member of the Redevelopment Land Agency board and the city's housing director, said the criticism is unfair because Gallery Place and Portal are separate projects.
He said Portal would move more quickly than Gallery has "because the leases are already there. That's when people will lend you money."
Moore was referring to the claim by Lerner and Lenkin that they can start construction almost immediately because they have binding leasing commitments from the American Enterprise Institute, the Urban Institute, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Comsat for a million of the 1.8 million square feet of office space they propose to build.
Some of the losing team members also criticized the Lerner-Lenkin team, which calls itself Banneker Associates, for failing to comply with city guidelines that call for developers to include on their teams Southwest organizations "which have past experience" in community development programs.
"I was surprised that much of the community involvement portion was left out of the final decision," said consultant Roy Littlejohn, a member Portal Associates, another losing team. "It is regrettable that some of the involvement with the community which had been required was subordinated to the project moving ahead in six months."
Banneker was the only one of the five competing teams that had not included a Southwest community group as a member of its team. Instead they proposed a community foundation that would fund a wide variety of community projects.
RLA board member Judy Jenkins, businessman Ozzie Clay of Portal Partnership, another losing team, and others said Banneker added details to its proposal while it was under consideration, in a move they said violated RLA rules prohibiting the addition of new information once a proposal is formally submitted to the board.
In a formal proposal filed last August, the Banneker team proposed a "community development corporation" whose details would be worked out later and who would receive an unspecified amount of profits from the development. Two months later at an RLA public hearing the team said the corporation would receive $5 million over a 10-year period.
A few weeks later they gave community residents a booklet for the "Banneker Foundation" that, for the first time, called for a revolving loan fund for community enterprises and a nine-member board to run it. None of that information was in the original proposal submitted to RLA.
"I was . . . surprised that they were allowed to alter their proposal," said Clay. Jenkins raised the same complaint during the board's debate Tuesday on the award of the site.