Maryland’s newly elected governor, Larry Hogan, is a commercial real estate broker by profession. In D.C. mayor-elect Muriel Bowser, commercial real estate investors and developers are hoping they get a dealmaker of their own.
During two terms on the D.C. Council, Bowser has earned some economic development stripes, guiding redevelopment plans of the former Walter Reed hospital and helping to structure an agreement with Safeway and Duball LLC for a mix of retail and apartments in the Petworth neighborhood.
Those two projects are in her home ward, though, and Bowser’s citywide efforts are far less apparent, as her opponent David Catania repeatedly pointed out in campaigning against her.
Bowser is chairman of the council’s economic development committee, but has authored little successful legislation and has not articulated much of an overarching economic development or affordable housing strategy.
Even before she becomes mayor, Bowser will likely be pressed to take a position on one of the District’s largest proposed economic development initiatives in years: a complex series of land swaps that would allow for a $300 million D.C. United stadium on Buzzard Point, redevelopment of the Reeves Center on U Street and construction of a new city office building on Good Hope Road SE in Anacostia.
Bowser has said she wants to see D.C. United remain in the city but is concerned about trading away the Reeves Center to developer Akridge for needed stadium land. As council member, she may have to take a position on how to weigh the two before the year is out. If a deal isn’t done in the final days of Vincent C. Gray’s administration, United’s stadium request will be hers to own, for better or for worse.
In a nod to the lagging economic situation in Wards 7 and 8, east of the Anacostia River, Bowser has repeatedly said she would like to create the position of deputy mayor for “East of the River,” but it’s not clear how that person’s job would relate to the job of deputy mayor for planning and economic development, which has major housing and development projects in the works east of the river.
Some of those projects are in need of a jolt, such as Skyland Town Center, where Gray made immense efforts to secure the needed land and get Wal-Mart to open a store there, but where Wal-Mart — despite its commitments — has still not signed a lease, putting the rest of the project on hold.
Things are even more scrambled on the east campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital, where Gray plotted a tech-oriented mixed-use development, but had trouble interesting developers and, in a last-minute move before the Democratic primary, proposed adding a hospital to the site as well. St. Elizabeths gives Bowser a chance to make her mark east of the river.
Other issues on which Bowser has to this point avoided taking a firm position are also likely to arrive on her desk in the mayor’s suite in short order.
The New Communities initiatve, aimed at redeveloping four public housing neighborhoods including Barry Farm, is years behind.
Business and civic leaders behind Washington’s 2024 Olympic bid are likely to come knocking for the city’s assistance.
And even redevelopment of Walter Reed — something Bowser has been able to tout as a résumé-booster to this point — is up in the air after the State Department said it needs more land and requested part of the District’s developable property there.
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