D.C. Deal Jeopardizes Relocation for DC Center

LGBT community center may be forced to scuttle Reeves Center plans, though city promises alternatives

By John Riley
Published on July 25, 2013, 6:13pm | Comments

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and the owners of Major League Soccer's D.C. United soccer team Thursday morning announced the signing of a public-private partnership to build a soccer stadium in the city's Buzzard Point neighborhood of Southwest D.C. As announced, the deal includes a land swap that would end the planned relocation – already underway – of The DC Center, the city's LGBT community center, into the city-owned Frank D. Reeves Center at 2000 14th St. NW.

Under the terms of the deal, the city would assume the estimated $150 million for acquiring tracts of land bounded by 2nd, T, Half and R Streets SW, adjacent Fort McNair. D.C. United would then construct the stadium, expected to cost another $150 million, and related facilities at that site. District officials see the new stadium as a major component of a planned sports-and-retail district encompassing the neighborhoods along the Anacostia River, according to a statement from the mayor's office.

In return for the stadium land – currently owned by Akridge Development Corporation, Pepco and Mark Ein, owner of the Washington Kastles tennis franchise – the city would turn over rights to other District-owned properties, including the Reeves Center.

If approved, the land swap would mean that District agencies and other entities housed in the Reeves Center would be forced to relocate. Most are expected to move to a planned facility in Anacostia.

''This strategic agreement brings another anchor to the burgeoning sports-and-entertainment district along the riverfront area, while creating the climate for residential and commercial development in Anacostia that will hopefully replicate the success that the Reeves Center brought to the 14th Street corridor,'' City Administrator Allen Lew said in a release praising the preliminary deal.

Tony Robinson, a spokesman for the Office of the City Administrator, said the city would work with certain Reeves tenants, such as The DC Center and the Office of Latino Affairs (OLA), to find properties in the same U Street area.

''OLA is not going to Ward 8 when their client base is close to 14th and U and is close to a Metro,'' Robinson said. ''The same for the DC LGBT center. We're going to do everything we can to try to help them stay in the area.''

The Center originally submitted a bid for space in the Reeves Center in 2012, which was rejected in favor of a restaurant that never materialized. After that plan fell through, the city allowed The DC Center to resubmit its bid, which was approved. The DC Center then signed a 15-year lease in which it would pay a starting base rent of $4,000 per month, with an annual increase of 2.7 percent.

As part of the deal for its space in the Reeves Center, The DC Center offered $30,000 to renovate the space, and managed to get several pro bono services from contractors, as well as significant monetary and furniture donations, to help defray the costs of the relocation. Community members have also been volunteering labor to the renovation effort in past weeks.

David Mariner, the center's executive director, said the demolition phase of the renovation has been finished, but it doesn't make sense to continue with the redevelopment costs – expected to total close to $100,000 for the entire project – if The DC Center will only be allowed to remain in the Reeves Center for a short time.

''Renovation was a smart decision for a 15-year lease,'' Mariner said. ''It's not a prudent choice for a month-to-month situation, especially if we can't guarantee we'll be there more than 18 to 24 months.''

The transition timeline had the center set to vacate its current 1318 U St. NW location – its third temporary home in the past eight years – and begin operating fully out of the Reeves Center Aug. 31. Now, Mariner said, the center is exploring options to ensure it stays open and operational.

''I'm hopeful the Department of General Services can find another option for us, but I just don't know at this point if or when it will happen,'' Mariner said Thursday.

In May, when rumors first circulated about such a development deal, Mariner said that any party taking over the Reeves Center space would have to honor the existing agreement. Following the mayor's announcement Thursday, Mariner said he had not been contacted by anyone from District government, nor was he warned or offered any explanation or details about what the deal would mean for The DC Center.

''Today was the first time I'm hearing about it,'' Mariner said. ''I found out with everyone else.''

Noting that the details and design of the site had not been finalized, Robinson told Metro Weekly that the redevelopment process would take at least two to three years to complete, and that the D.C. Council would first have to approve the proposed land swap and other details, such as tax abatements.

Robinson confirmed that the proposed deal would also allow for ancillary developments such as a hotel, restaurants or other businesses on the Southwest land in the city's sights. The city is not, however, looking to acquire anything besides the area already designated for the stadium and ancillary developments, Robinson said.

If true, that's good news for gay nightclub Zeigfeld's/Secrets. The club, offering drag shows and male dancers, was forced to relocate to Half Street SW during the development of nearby Nationals Park. Speculation has persisted since the move that riverfront development could jeopardize this new location.

Jon Parks, general manager of Zeigfeld's/Secrets, dismissed such speculation outright.

''If anybody's looked at the map, it's not going to affect us at all,'' he said of the plans released by the city.