Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

More potentially bad ideas: trading two city buildings for land at Buzzard Point, to build a soccer stadium (and a public safety campus)

Unlike just about any other city or county government in the United States, DC doesn't have a public master planning process for capital improvements planning and budgeting.

-- Capital Improvements Program, Baltimore County, Maryland
-- Capital Improvements Program, City of Long Beach, California

From the Long Beach webpage:

the CIP represents the City's short-range, strategic capital investment. The CIP identifies and provides two types of expenditures. The first covers strategic improvements to the City's existing infrastructure and the second type involves one-time projects designed to address important community needs.

The Chief Financial Officer does have a capital improvements section, and annual capital spending is covered in the annual DC budget process.

But, there isn't a master multi-year process for setting priorities for capital spending.  This is a festering  problem that should have been corrected long ago.  (A lot of the time I argue that the reason DC Government has many under-defined processes is to aid manipulation.)

The Washington Business Journal ran two stories last week, "D.C. officials mulling land swap with Akridge for United stadium" and "Why a land swap for a new D.C. United stadium makes sense," about how DC's Executive Branch is considering trading the Reeves Building (I've complained about this building for years, see "The Reeves Center myth re-visited") and the Daly Building--the headquarters for the MPD, an old building that needs massive renovation, for Buzzard Point, which they would use for a soccer stadium for DC United and a "public safety" campus somewhere else in the city.

From the first article:

Police Chief Cathy Lanier hinted at the discussions involving the police headquarters at 300 Indiana Ave. NW, also known as the Daly Building, during a D.C. Council committee hearing Monday, saying that there are “current discussions about significant renovations to keep the building going, and relocation of the building.” “There are both discussions going on,” Lanier said.

Councilman Tommy Wells, D-Ward 6, chairman of the public safety panel, didn’t ask her to elaborate. He did note, however, that there is no money in either the MPD or Department of General Services budgets for a headquarters renovation or relocation.

That’s where Akridge, a D.C. developer, enters the picture. D.C. United officials have long eyed a Buzzard Point site in Southwest D.C., partly owned by Akridge, for a new soccer stadium. The team has committed to paying for the stadium itself, but it wants the city to cover the land and related infrastructure.

One potential scenario goes like this: Akridge gives up its 9 acres on Buzzard Point in return for one or two high-profile D.C.-owned buildings, perhaps Daly and/or even the Reeves Center at 2000 14th St. NW, and agrees to build a consolidated public safety campus on city-owned land somewhere in the District.

There are many problems with this proposal, even if elements of it might be a "good idea" or at least "creative."

First, we haven't made a decision as a city that it's a good idea to spend public money on land for a soccer stadium.

With a capital improvement planning and budgeting process (most jurisdictions do this on a running six year cycle, with the current year budget + the next five years of planned spending), we could set overall priorities and act accordingly.

Daly Building, DC Metropolitan Police Department headquartersSecond, trading public buildings still requires that the agencies in those buildings be housed somewhere.

Right: Daly Building.

Because property and buildings in DC are very expensive, it's not likely that this can be done cheaply, so that it's likely that even if DC trades buildings for land and other benefits, in all likelihood the city is going to have to spend a lot more money out of pocket.

Maybe the trade is a good deal, but without a capital improvements planning and budgeting process, we won't really know.

History trail marker, Judiciary SquareLeft: Heritage Trail Marker about DC's Judiciary Square.

Third, probably it's a really bad idea to remove the police department from Judiciary Square, where the DC Courts, Federal prosecutors (the US Attorney's Office) tasked with prosecuting felony crimes in the city, the DC Federal District Court, and the district office of the FBI are all located.

There are "agglomeration benefits" for these agencies to be located in close proximity.  And moving DC government agencies from central locations to disparate locations is an example of creating dis-economies and what I call intra-city sprawl ("City for sale?: asset sales and intra-city sprawl").

Although if we are talking about a "public safety campus," and the fact that the DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency is located on the St. Elizabeths east campus already, means that the Police Department would move there.  While there are advantages to these agencies in being co-located, there are other advantages to the MPD being located by the Courts and prosecution.

It certainly would help us to have a public planning process so that we could make an objective, fully considered decision.

Including consideration of the fact that the buildings around Judiciary Square are an ensemble and public (city or federal), and inserting a nonpublic use building could potentially change the character of the area in a significant fashion.

Fourth, I understand that local governments are desperate for money and doing all kinds of deals to get revenue or push spending off the books:

-- the New York City Housing Authority proposes that parking lots can be developed for for profit housing, with lease payments to NYCHA as added revenue
-- the NYC Public Library system is proposing similar kinds of deals ("Saving Schools and Libraries by Giving Up the Land They Sit On" from the New York Times), not unlike what happened in DC's West End ("DC Library Advocates Butt Heads over Redevelopment" from Library Journal)
-- Chicago, Indianapolis, and now Cincinnati have "sold" their parking meters and/or parking garages for upfront payments, often with serious negative consequences (e.g., "A lesson to cities that they need to be very careful when leasing assets to public private "partnerships"")
-- Toll road infrastructure deals of all sorts in California, Indiana, Northern Virginia have ended up in bankruptcy, economic problems, or serious price escalation

Fifth, but the point for such a deal should be to maximize to the greatest extent possible, benefits to the local government, not benefits to the private property owner.

Maybe there are different "trades" that make more sense, that can propel development and capital improvement programs that achieve more.  For example, Reeves is a building that is a no brainer for redevelopment, but Reservation 13 proves to be a real problem in terms of generating improvement.

So by looking more deeply at this issue through a capital improvements planning process, a better deal or option can result.

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At 5:02 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Clearly, a plan to dispose of city properties in gentrifying areas is a good one.

Fully agree that the city is not a good landlord.

However, coming up with that plan and making sure it isn't too corrupt is going to be very difficult. Models? best practices?

(as I said on GGW, I can think of almost two entire city blocks near 14th and U that can be sold off, between Reeves centers, project, section 8 and DPW).

Also, why can't the city just sell ground leases and hold on to the land?

More random points:

1. Yes, the reeves center sucks but it brings some middle class workers in during the day. That isn't seem around this area. DC needs to spread jobs around more.

2. You don't want to do overdo with agglomeration and the MPD, but all valid points.

3. what is the value of having a police HQ?

At 5:33 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

My experience with govt. buildings like Reeves is that they don't bring workers to the area who spend all that much money outside. (Remember the ec. impact study for the SW Ecodistrict found minimal spending by federal workers during the time they spent at or near work. I think it's reasonable to extend those findings to local govt. buildings.)

WRT Reeves, mostly the retail in the building failed, and the area around the building SUCKED retail wise until the last 5 years--more than 20 years after the building was first opened. This supports the argument that the "ec. dev." justification for local govt. office building deconcentration is fatuous.

WRT the office buildings on the 600 block of H St. NE, my joke is that they attracted one hot dog cart. Originally there were two, but there wasn't enough business to support both...

2. I do agree with you about ground leases. I do and don't agree with your general point about "gentrification." I think the better response is "taking advantage of intensification options that present themselves as areas improve."

There is no question and not just around there, that there are many places where shitty housing was constructed that could be rebuilt now, such as along 7th St. NW, below 7th St. NW, various places between 11th and 14th Streets NW, Columbia Heights Village, etc.

I do think that intensification shouldn't involve displacement but mixed income housing. HOWEVER, typically people with money don't want to live with the extremely impoverished. I feel the same way myself...

3. WRT potential for redevelopment, Reeves could go either way. As an outpost it may make sense to consolidate DC govt. agencies in other locations and dump this site. But it needs to be evaluated.

4. If we could trust DGS to do an objective real estate portfolio evaluation and had a capital improvements plan and budget (this is arguable), then at least we could look at the portfolio, the various RE objectives and goals of the agencies, and make decent decisions.

Maybe we should dump Reeves and trade it, with a harder to redevelop site, etc.

But if a good case for keeping the agencies there could be made, I don't think the city should give up the property, if it would be better to stay.

5. WRT your last question, I don't think there are real advantages to a local community, except for higher police presence which likely lowers crime generally, but not 100% (people get killed in and near police facilities even so). There isn't a lot of ec. dev. benefit.

That's why I think that agglomeration economies matter most.

At 5:38 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

whoops. I like co-location and doing things like building housing at city sites. E.g., the Police and Fire Station on the 1600 block of U NW offer a vertical mixed use opportunity. Same with libraries.

but... in W7 when it was proposed to do artist housing in association with a new library, residents objected fearing that all the artists were perverts who would abscond with their children.

The example I always tout is the Hollywood branch library in Portland.

... and I think there is housing above a fire station in Potomac Yards, but I don't think I'd want to live above it if there would be a lot of siren activity. (And there is supposed to be affordable housing constructed over a new fire station in the west end.)

At 6:14 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yes, that is a better framing.

And yes, there are real issue with real mixed income housing. Not going to be an easy one. I certainly don't have an answer there.

And in terms of a plan perhaps fold it into Economic Development. I don't think the outcome is going to be much different. I do know when you ask a govt. how long they need something the answer is forever.

(worthy of study. More than enough DC govt land to pay for a blue line?, Key part of R agenda?)

The fireplace was right by the bikesharing girls in your later photo, and I have no idea how they expect people to live there with the sirens. Yo do have some condos across the street (Ritz) and along 23rd but pretty high up which helps with noise.

At 7:31 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I took a photo on the same day of the fire station in Georgetown on Dent Place. I haven't uploaded it yet.

2. I think you have the R agenda plank only half right. They are probably fine with so-called 3P projects and privatization.

I don't think they'd want to build the separated blue line though. Maybe multi-thousand dollar rebates to the biggest property owners.

Or to fund a new Redskins stadium...


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