As a lifelong resident of Washington and a developer who for more than 40 years has built housing and retail structures in every ward of the city, I am disturbed by the cries of cronyism, racism and poor financial decision-making surrounding the Redevelopment Land Agency decision in Columbia Heights.
Much of the public speculation has been about back-room dealing and a lack of sound financing. However, the eight-month process that led to approval for this project, complete with 17 specific questions asked of each development team, has been the most rigorous I've ever experienced. The result is a plan that not only brings desperately needed services to the neighborhood but provides direct financial returns to the city through a public-private partnership.
We will build a modern supermarket for Giant Food. In addition, we have 10 to 15 national and local retailers that have expressed a strong interest in the new Tivoli Center, including Radio Shack, Starbucks, Hollywood Video, Kinko's Copies and several clothing and sporting goods stores. We will provide wheelchair access to all stores, street-level and parking-lot lighting, full-time security and above-ground parking. In addition, we will build 29 new town houses along Monroe and Holmead streets.
In addition to annual land-lease payments, our public-private partnership provides the District with 10 percent of the net cash flow receipts; in a 10-year period this should mean an estimated $1.2 million return to the District. Moreover, Horning Brothers, Giant Food and the other retailers will provide more than 200 jobs for area residents.
Converting the dilapidated interior of the Tivoli into a performing arts space is far more costly than many assume, and it would mean a loss of retail services that Columbia Heights needs, lower land-lease payments and less net revenue for the District. The restoration of the theater's facade and the ornate lobby will preserve the most beautiful aspects of this historic landmark, while the Giant Food and other retailers provide sorely needed basic services and act as the catalyst for neighborhood rejuvenation.
The Lincoln Theater, a spectacular performing arts space just 11 blocks away from the Tivoli, cost the District $8 million to restore in 1992, yet it is dark 70 percent of the time. Why not make greater use of this existing theater?
Horning Brothers and Fort Lincoln Realty have participated in good faith in an open, competitive process. We can begin work by the end of 2000 and complete the project by the end of 2001.
Many residents of Columbia Heights have renewed their optimism about economic revitalization, among them MANNA, the Hispanic Business Association, the Columbia Heights Chapter of Acorn, the Columbia Heights Youth Club, the Columbia Heights Village Resident Council, Kelsey Apartments Senior Citizens, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1A and 1B and others. We will continue to broaden our community outreach, but to further delay the public process would send a discouraging message to other developers and supermarkets seeking to revitalize our city's neighborhoods.
-- Joseph F. Horning Jr.
is president of Horning Brothers, the developer chosen by the District for the Columbia Heights project.