The District's urban renewal agency, already stymied for three years in its efforts to start redevelopment efforts on the Portal site at the foot of the 14th Street bridge, deadlocked yesterday in trying to pick a development team to turn the scruffy tract into a glitzy complex of offices, shops and a hotel.
The Redevelopment Land Agency eliminated one of three contending development teams, a group that included Rodman C. Rockefeller, son of the late Nelson A. Rockefeller, and development guru James W. Rouse.
But then the agency's board split evenly -- 2 to 2 -- on three consecutive votes while trying to decide between the two remaining teams vying for the right to develop the 10-acre site, now filled with weeds, parking lots, Conrail tracks and a General Services Administration facility that literally shakes coal to split it.
The board's trio of tie votes effectively leaves the choice to a jury of one -- the fifth member of the board, the Rev. Ernest R. Gibson -- who opted to skip yesterday's meeting in favor of attending the National Baptist Convention in Atlanta.
Board Chairman James E. Clay scheduled another meeting for next Thursday to pick a winner, but no one seemed to have any inkling of how Gibson might vote. Gibson, who could not be reached for comment, has kept his own counsel during the agency's deliberations over how to transform the last major redevelopment parcel in Southwest Washington and has declined to say which way he is leaning.
"Rev. Gibson, like all of us, has changed as we've gotten more information" about the various proposals, Clay said.
Unless any of the other four board members changes a vote, Gibson's choice is between two teams:
*Portal Associates, which includes Washington developer Conrad Cafritz; Boston builder Mortimer B. Zuckerman, who recently bought U.S. News & World Report, and Roger R. Blunt Sr., head of one of the nation's largest black-owned construction firms and the next president of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade.
*Portals Development Associates, a group headed by Western Development Corp., developers of the chic Georgetown Park shopping mall and the controversial Washington Harbour complex nearing completion on the Georgetown shoreline of the Potomac River. This team also includes a minority-controlled developer, Eastcoast Development Corp., and seven Washington lawyers, consultants and other individuals.
Cafritz and Herbert S. Miller, Western's board chairman, wasted no time in trumpeting the virtues of their respective proposals.
Cafritz, while calling the tie votes "bizarre," said that if the board "votes on the merits, I think we have a chance, but if it's on the politics, we have less of a chance."
Miller countered, "I really think our design is the one that enhances the Portal site. There's a big difference between one that extends the sterility of repetition of office buildings from the Mall and one that adds life and vitality to Southwest."
The board voted 3 to 1 to eliminate the Rockefeller group from the contest, with the majority composed of Clay, former head of the city's housing department and now city economic and development official; Judith E. Jenkins, an attorney, and Kwasi Holman, head of the city's business and economic development office. Board member Stephen Klein, an energy policy adviser for the Agency for International Development, cast the dissenting vote.
But when Jenkins twice tried to win approval for the Cafritz-Zuckerman-Blunt entry, she found that only Klein supported her. Both District officials, Clay and Holman, voted for the Western Development team. The tie continued on a third vote when Clay sought approval for the Western proposal.
Jenkins said she liked the minority ownership provisions of the Cafritz proposal because Blunt's construction company and three other minority-controlled firms aligned with them would help provide jobs to District residents. Klein said Zuckerman's involvement "immeasurably strengthened" the group's financial stability.
Holman said, "I'm not an architect, but I know what I like," referring to Western's plan, adding that the Cafritz plan "doesn't make a statement." Clay said the Cafritz proposal "doesn't do justice to the site."
In narrowing the choice to two teams, the board, or perhaps just Gibson, is faced with picking between two diverse proposals for the blocks bounded by 12th, 14th and D streets and Maine Avenue SW.
The $250 million Cafritz-Zuckerman-Blunt plan calls for nine traditional-looking office buildings that are not unlike many of the federal buildings already on the Mall, a 370-room Holiday Inn, a little retail space and leaving open a portion of the Conrail tracks that cross diagonally through the site.
Western's more architecturally ambitious proposal would cost $460 million and calls for pools of water on a plaza over the railroad, more retail space, a 600-room Radisson Hotel, and a walkway over the Southwest Freeway to a small, passive park along the Southwest waterfront. Its design includes a series of arches, turrets and curving structures. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, Artist's models of the two remaining proposals for the Portal site; The $250 million Cafritz-Zuckerman-Blunt plan and the $460 million Western plan. Photos by Fred Sweets -- The Washington Post; Map, Portal Site. By Richard Furno -- The Washington Post