The D.C. Council’s economic development committee voted Thursday to strip millions of dollars from a major Capitol Riverfront project in favor of three projects in the committee chair’s ward.
The only declared candidate for mayor in 2014, Councilwoman Muriel Bowser, D-Ward 4, used the budget report to put her stamp on the city’s economic development blueprint and make several significant amendments to the executive's budget proposal.
Most notably, the Bowser-chaired panel shifted $8 million from the relocation of D.C. Water facilities at Capital Riverfront in Ward 6 — property that is slated to be turned over to Forest City Washington for mixed-use redevelopment, including a multiplex — and moved it to three projects in Bowser’s ward: Calvin Coolidge High School renovations, Kennedy Street upgrades and redevelopment of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Bowser described the D.C. WASA project, in the report, as a “poor use of capital funding,” given that a replacement WASA site has not been identified. Later Thursday, the councilwoman said that she supports the relocation project and that she left enough money in the fund -- $1 million in 2014 and $9 million in 2015 -- to continue community outreach and relocation work.
The WASA project, she said, will require extensive environmental remediation and can't possibly be done next year.
"They can't use it," she said of the $9 million set aside in 2014.
Political intrigue? Ward 6 is represented by Councilman Tommy Wells, who has launched a mayoral exploratory committee. Neither Wells nor Forest City representatives were immediately available for comment.
"Stopping the Yards project — who in their right mind thinks that's a good idea?" responded Pedro Ribeiro, Gray's spokesman.
Other changes, as listed in the committee’s budget report:
- Moves another $3.5 million to Walter Reed from a pot set aside for work at Poplar Point, where Gray has proposed building a new FBI headquarters. “The Committee has reiterated on several occasions,” the report states, “its desire that the Walter Reed project receive the same prioritization and capital budget as other projects similar in scope.”
- Urges the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development to undertake a comprehensive assessment of D.C.-government owned properties for possible redevelopment or sale. The report notes that buildings such as the Reeves Center at 14th and U streets NW, and Judiciary Square at 441 Fourth St. NW, are “assets that may be too valuable to retain.”
- Transfers $10 million from two housing programs to revive the Neighborhood Investment Fund, a grant fund for specific communities, that was “favored by former Mayor Adrian Fenty.” Gray had proposed a $15 million NIF-like pot, called the “One City Fund,” that would be managed by an independent nonprofit. Bowser's report suggests the One City plan is “redundant” and “inefficient.” But administration officials say NIF was basically an earmark pot run by the deputy mayor's office under Fenty.
The report also contains some phrases that may be seen as veiled shots at Gray, who has not yet said whether he'll run for a second term. The tension between Gray and Bowser is palpable, and has been for some time.
For example, the report notes that Gray's five-year economic development strategy, released last November, was "put together by a team of students from area business schools." Which is partly true, but it leaves out that the strategy-team was led by the deans of George Washington and Georgetown University business schools, a consultant from McKinsey and Co. and top Gray administration officials.
Ribeiro said the report, especially the defunding of the WASA project, the transfers to Walter Reed (which D.C. does not control yet) and the transfers out of Poplar Point, demonstrates Bowser's "provincial and myopic view of development in the District," and shows "how little she actually understands" about economic development in the city.
© 2013 American City Business Journals, Inc.