Reported on April 27th, 2021 By Alex Koma, Staff reporter at the The Washington Business Journal
The Menkiti Group | 3401 8th Street NE | Washington | DC 20017
Two teams of prominent D.C. developers are locked in a head-to-head competition for the chance to redevelop the Reeves Center, one of the city’s most coveted properties at the heart of the U Street corridor.
District officials heard pitches last week from both teams as part of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s effort to restart the redevelopment of Reeves, home to a variety of large D.C. agencies since it opened in 1986 during the administration of Marion Barry. The teams are stocked with a veritable who’s who of developers that have won city projects in the past and are now vying to remake 2000 14th Street NW into a mixed-use destination.
It is unclear how many proposals the District received, but these appear to be the finalists.
One team is led by developers MRP Realty and CSG Urban Partners and the financiers at Capri Investment Group. Their proposal envisions 628 apartments on the site (a third of which would be affordable), alongside some for-sale townhomes, 110,000 square feet of office, 20,000 square feet of retail and a 24,000-square-foot public plaza and performance venue.
The other team is helmed by Dantes Partners, the Menkiti Group and the investment firm EB5 Capital. Other prominent firms such as Horning Brothers, Banneker Ventures, Kadida Development Group and Inle Development will also participate. They’re planning a 150-room hotel, 250 affordable apartments, 46 affordable, for-sale condos, 100,000 square feet of office, up to 15,000 square feet of retail and a new community plaza.
Both pitches include nods to U Street’s history as a hub of Black art and culture, and both feature Black development executives, given D.C.’s new emphasis on ensuring diverse representation in teams that win city development deals. And both set aside room for a new NAACP headquarters, after the organization committed to the project last June, as well as at least a few government agencies that would remain on the site.https://f17a2c44f3561bfe625327a167da144d.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
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There’s no firm timeline yet on when the District will pick a winner — a call for proposals issued in late December identifies summer 2022 as a potential closing date — but whichever group succeeds will have the chance to put its stamp on one of the visible properties in the entire city.
A link to the past
The CSG-MRP vision for the Reeves Center is heavy on new residential, and that’s by design.
Simone Goring Devaney, principal and co-founder of CSG, said her team heard Bowser “loud and clear” in her calls for new housing construction. She also wanted to deliver a mixed-income community, and included 188 units of affordable units in her pitch. About 141 will be affordable for people making 50% of the median family income, while 47 will be set at 30% of MFI.
“Many of these will be larger, family-sized units, which we knew was important, because a lot of new units in the community are smaller,” Goring Devaney said.
The team also plans to include at least five affordable for-sale units among some new townhomes that will front V Street, and to partner with Habitat for Humanity and the Douglass Community Land Trust to ensure their long-term affordability. CSG previously partnered with those firms on a similar proposal on D.C.-owned property near Truxton Circle.
As for the arts, the team has struck a preliminary deal to bring a studio from New York’s Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to the property, as well as a new recording studio for the Washington Jazz Arts Institute. Goring Devaney envisions both anchoring a new “Frederick Douglass Plaza and Marion Barry, Jr. Amphitheatre,” which would be adorned with images of both men.
“We see the Reeves Center as the western link with the Howard Theatre tying up all the pearls of art and history that have happened along U Street,” said Michael Marshall, head of Michael Marshall Design, which is leading the project’s architecture work alongside PGN Architects.
Goring Devaney also hopes to offer some of the retail space at below-market rates to ensure that long-tenured businesses aren’t pushed out of the largely gentrified neighborhood. She believes that’s a key way to honor the area’s history as a home for Black businesses. Smoot Construction, the Black-owned D.C contractor that built Reeves decades ago, is also part of the team.
Beyond ‘checking a box’
The other team is, similarly, no stranger to doing business with the District.
Menkiti is building a new headquarters for the Department of Housing and Community Development, while Dantes Partners has worked on a variety of affordable projects in tandem with the city — its managing principal Buwa Binitie also doubles as the chair of the D.C. Housing Finance Agency’s governing board. The group also includes Lopez & Associates, a consulting firm helmed by close Bowser ally Joshua Lopez.https://f17a2c44f3561bfe625327a167da144d.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
And the pitch from the team’s leaders centers primarily on these long-standing area ties. Even the project’s primary financiers at EB5 are based in Bethesda, and local firms will provide the majority of its equity.
Binitie sees this as a different approach than a typical development deal, where “you go to a pension fund or some investment group and they end up owning 90% of transaction.” By centering on local firms, this a chance to ensure that people of color are more than just perfunctory participants to satisfy diversity requirements, he said.
“If you look at the public disposition of sites, Black and brown people have often just served in the role of checking a box,” Binitie said. “In this instance, we have these individuals leading and financing each individual component.”
The project will include its own tributes to the area’s past, like a new Marion Barry Way, but the developers hope to set themselves apart by building new affordable homes for people of color who are often priced out of the neighborhood. Binitie said the new apartment building will be financed with Low Income Housing Tax Credit equity, ensuring prices are affordable to people between 30% and 80% of MFI. He estimates the average rent at about $1,400 a month.https://f17a2c44f3561bfe625327a167da144d.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Similarly, he envisions condos with unthinkably low asking prices close to $60,000 by utilizing other affordable housing funding sources. The retail, too, will offer affordable rents — the plans call for an 8,000-square-foot food hall, with space for about 13 local restaurants. D.C. Central Kitchen is on board to open a 1,200-square-foot café alongside it, offering training programs for people struggling to find work, similar to the nonprofit’s existing efforts in Southeast D.C.
Bo Menkiti, founder and CEO of the Menkiti Group, sees it as a “continuum of opportunity,” with each piece of the project more reasonably priced. Even the flag they’ve secured for the hotel, a Moxy by Marriott, would be a more affordable option.
“We want to create pathways to economic sustainability,” Menkiti said. “And we hope this project reflects the diversity of the District and doesn’t just say, ‘U Street is for those who can pay to be here.’”
The team’s pitch has its own arts component too — Adams Morgan’s Songbyrd Record House and Music Café hopes to open a 2,000-square-foot performance space in the hotel. And The MusicianShip, the group that puts on the annual D.C. Funk Parade, has agreed to help program its “Black Broadway Plaza.”
This team might have an advantage for more practical purposes. Horning Brothers also controls the apartment building just behind Reeves, fronting V Street, as well as the air rights covering some of the Reeves property. By including them in the deal, Menkiti hopes that will allow his team to utilize more of the site with fewer legal hurdles.
“They could’ve just sat back and played all sides here,” Menkiti said. “But they decided they wanted to be part of our team, and see this not just locally-led but locally owned.”
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