We've all been warned about an impending budget crisis in the District. Candidates for elected office grapple with the problem with varying degrees of honesty and indecision. But while politicians waver, the seriousness of the issue should not be in doubt. Members of the D.C. Council have already used the city's fiscal woes as an excuse to drastically cut services to the homeless, ignoring, or in their words, "reforming," the voters' overwhelming passage of the right-to-shelter law.
Even as the D.C. Council cuts the budget for homeless shelter and services, the city has been wasting millions of dollars on expensive and inhumane shelter in private, for-profit motels and apartments. Instances of such waste abound. The city, though, still has ample resources -- in its people and businesses -- on which to draw. A good place to start would be Gallery Place.
Gallery Place is city-owned land between 6th and 7th, F and G streets atop the convergence of the Red, Yellow and Green Metro lines. The land is estimated by developers to be worth $140 million. It's appraised value by the city is $105 million. The city, however, is getting ready to sell it for considerably less to a partnership controlled by the Oliver Carr Co. The whole history of the Gallery Place project is but a prelude to this outrageous final giveaway.
In 1979, the city's Redevelopment Land Agency chose Capitol Landmark Associates to develop Gallery Place. For more than six years, the city and the developer tried to get the project off the ground. Then, because of financial difficulties, the original development partnership brought in the Oliver Carr Co. to salvage its effort.
Nobody denies that the Carr Company has the wherewithal to pull off such a project. The question is -- at what cost to D.C. citizens?
Carr's involvement means that minorities will no longer hold controlling interest in the Gallery Place development project; rather, Carr will control 50 percent and the original minority partners 30 percent. The sham is that, as city auditor Otis Troupe noted in a recent report, Capitol Landmark Associates, the original developer, was chosen largely because it was controlled by minorities. The Carr Company hardly fits that bill.
What will Carr do with the money that he's "saved" by buying the Gallery Place property at far less than its appraised value -- at least a $35 million windfall? Will Carr put it back into the city to shelter the homeless or take the boards off public housing? It's doubtful. Of the many projects Carr has developed in the city, not one has contained a unit of housing -- although he has built housing in the suburbs. Oliver Carr may boast of all he has done for this city, but in the day-to-day lives of many beleaguered D.C. citizens, it is precious little.
Carr's involvement in the Gallery Place project is taken as a fait accompli, as if it were the only way to raise the bricks after 10 long years of the site standing empty. The city even seems to have forgotten its own regulations that require a hearing on Carr's involvement. Instead, the Redevelopment Land Agency appears ready to accept the Carr Company, rolling into one hearing the change from a minority-controlled development team and the final approval of the development plans.
There are alternatives: sell the land for $140 million or reopen the bidding. The city in the past has re-bid urban renewal properties, although in this instance Carr is trying to portray himself as a "savior." But if Carr is successful in persuading the Redevelopment Land Agency, we all stand to lose. Selling the land for its true value instead of a fire-sale price would provide much-needed funds for endangered public services. The $35 million, for example, would provide enough money to rehabilitate approximately 700 boarded-up housing units or for a $500 property tax rebate for the District's 70,000 homeowners.
Whatever the use, the days of public giveaways in the District are at an end -- as we have all been warned. It's time for some city officials to recognize this fact. -- Ron Richardson
The writer is executive secretary-treasurer of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Local 25.