The District's urban renewal agency took steps yesterday to force two development groups to move ahead on coveted downtown sites awarded more than two years ago but still sitting idle.
The Redevelopment Land Agency board threatened to take the Metro Center project in the heart of downtown away from developers Oliver T. Carr and Theodore R. Hagans Jr. if Carr and Hagans cannot agree with city officials on a land price in two weeks.
At the same time, the board said the developers of Gallery Place must pay the city more deposit money in order to get the additional time the developers want to complete their building plans.
Metro Center, which consists of three blocks north of G Street between 11th and 13th streets NW, and Gallery Place, the square block between Sixth and Seventh, F and G streets NW, are regarded as the centerpieces to city government's efforts to redevelop old downtown. The city government owns both sites.
"If we continue to be far apart" on a price for the Metro Center land, said RLA Chairman Nira Long, then at the next meeting "we put this before the board for termination" of the development contract. The next meeting is set for March 2.
Robert L. Moore, a RLA board member who as the city's housing director has been haggling with Carr and Hagans over a land price for more than two months, did not participate in yesterday's board discussion.
Moore said last month that he would ask his fellow board members to remove Carr and Hagans from the planned $150 million office and hotel project at Metro Center if an agreement on land price was not reached by Jan. 31.
"We hope we can wrap something up" on the disputed land price by the next meeting, Deputy Housing Director James E. Clay said after yesterday's board session. During the meeting Clay told the board the city asked for a third appraisal of the Metro Center land after Carr challenged the adequacy of two earlier appraisals and paid to have his own appraisal done.
Carr could not be reached for comment.
On Gallery Place, the board rejected a staff proposal to impose monthly penalty charges on the 20-member Gallery Place development team, which has asked for additional time to complete their plans for the site.
Instead, the board members called for the developers to add an undetermined amount to the $850,000 deposit they gave the city when they were awarded the site.
William B. Fitzgerald, president of Independence Federal Savings and Loan, who heads that team along with developer Melvin Lenkin, objected to the staff proposal. "I don't think it's reasonable to invoke the penalty," he told the board. "It's unreasonable and I don't understand it."
Fitzgerald said RLA knew last November it would take nine months to draw the plans for the $140-million, 12-story building with offices, a hotel and apartment complex.
He said the board agreed to a three-month extension then "to keep our feet to the fire" and that developers are diligently working on the plans.
But Clay told the board: "We are not sure that the plans have been as expeditious as they could be."
In other action yesterday, the board members dropped a proposed requirement that the winners of the Portal site in Southwest Washington buy that 10-acre parcel within six months. However, board members indicated they might resurrect the requirement within 30 days after a preliminary development agreement has been worked out with the winning team, which also includes Lenkin.