Since January, 2003
 Sliding from Before to After

I wasn't able to be at Thursday's hearing on the fate of the federally owned warehouse at Half and L Streets, but I can cobble together an update thanks to the folks who were there:
City Paper: "A group of Capitol Riverfront residents has been pushing to turn a vacant warehouse at 49 L Street SE into a community amenity called the Half Street Market. But if a congressional hearing there this morning was any indication, they may be facing an uphill battle."
WashPost: "An official for the General Services Administration, which manges federal real estate, told the representatives that the 32,013-square-foot brick building was no longer needed by the government and that the agency was in the process of preparing it to be sold or traded for construction services on other projects, for which the GSA is in need of funding.
"'Given the high real estate value and rate of growth in the surrounding Capitol Riverfront neighborhood, the 49 L Street property presents us with many potential opportunities to find a better use for or to dispose of a vacant property from the federal real estate inventory and provide considerable savings to taxpayers,' said Michael Gelber, acting deputy commissioner of the GSA’s Public Buildings Service."
WBJ: "D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells, D-Ward 6, testified, saying that the District could be willing to put up the $19 million price tag for the property. U.S. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., spoke passionately in support of the project.
"The will is certainly there. But what of the way?
WashPost: "The GSA, however, is not in the business of giving away property at a discount even if its acting administrator, Dan Tangherlini, is a former D.C. city administrator and transportation official. Gelber reiterated in an interview that the agency’s preference was to trade the building for construction services, similar to the way the GSA is trying to use the J. Edgar Hoover Building as a trading chip for a new FBI headquarters elsewhere in the region.
"GSA has not disclosed how much it believes the L Street warehouse is worth but Gelber said putting it up for auction, as the agency did with the West Heating Plant, would likely fetch the highest price. Adding a requirement that a market be part of the redevelopment wasn't likely to help the sales price — quite the opposite. 'The more conditions you put on a sale the more that you affect valuation,' he said.
City Paper: "So it appears likely that the feds will be selling the property to the highest bidder—and with Union Market and Eastern Market both within a few miles of the site, the highest bidder probably won't want another market there."
JDLand: It's also worth noting that 50 M Street, the empty lot on the south end of the warehouse's block, fronting M Street directly across from the Navy Yard Metro station entrance, is now on the market, making it possible for a developer to have the entire block if it were to gain control of the warehouse and buy the 50 M site.
UPDATE: Here's Urban Turf's take on the hearing, which includes this:
"A sizable contingent (for a Thursday morning) came out to the meeting in support of the Half Street concept, and Councilmember Tommy Wells and ANC 6D Commissioner Ed Kaminski testified in support of the project. Kaminski brought up a potential revenue stream that could help fund the market and culinary incubators on the ground floor: a boutique hotel on the upper floors could send a stream of cash to the GSA. Generally, Kaminski felt that the air rights over the warehouse could be utilized in a profitable manner.
The representatives seemed supportive of the local officials, and were open to the prospect of putting in motion a process that would lead to selling the building to the city. However, the question remains: can DC afford it?"
Comments (23)
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David Garber says: (4/26/13 9:45 AM)
I'd argue that the hearing was actually much more positive about the possibility of working with the community on this asset than these snippets show. Each of the congressional reps there made a point to argue in favor of allowing some preference for local interest in what happens at the building. Still an uphill effort? Absolutely.

MJM says: (4/26/13 10:34 AM)
I agree it seemed like it was more positive than what City Paper described. Amazing how City Paper knows what is best. I wonder if they will also say that we can't have another place to eat or drink because there are places to eat along 8th St or within the rest of Washington DC.

A market type place like Eastern Market or Union Market would do quite well and people would come. Why do we or folks in SW have to go to other parts of the city to get good stuff? After all the original Eastern Market was within the present day BID boundaries before it moved north to its current location.

vahoya says: (4/26/13 10:35 AM)
I love the effort that everyone is making to get traction on this site, but the pragmatist in me says that the feds are going to sell this to the highest bidder - as they should - just like the Georgetown heating plant.

Unless you can get the District to agree to purchase this as some sort of community benefit, the highest and best economic use on this site is some sort of development at maximum density. Perhaps this lays the ground work for some benefit package if the site has to go through PUD, however.

That being said, I guess if you don't ask you have 0 chance of getting what you want, so keep up the good work.

Maelstrom says: (4/27/13 9:44 AM)
I'm still skeptical about the development. I think it would be great if it worked out, but look at the success, or lack thereof, of shipping container city across the street. Granted, a permanent structure probably has more potential and there may be more draw to the area as more development occurs, it looks pretty bleak right now.

JES says: (4/27/13 3:59 PM)
This is such a good idea, but it looks like the only way it happens is if Wells can actually convince the mayor and the council to buy this land at face value. And if that's what it comes down to, that's a heck of a sell. Still holding out hope though, so we'll see.

PJY03 says: (4/27/13 7:27 PM)
So, at the end of the day, the Half Street Market team is trying to get someone (either the Feds or the District) to give them something that is inherently very valuable for at very low cost.

I am a supporter of the project, but I just don't see it. If the alternative is an empty warehouse, the market is an appealing idea to all involved. If the alternative is a 13 story building that generates enormous revenue, it is not a very appealing idea. So, I am not hopeful. GSA is going to want to sell this at full value, and nobody with aims to put a market there is going to pay full value.

ZoolanderANDtheBoYz says: (4/28/13 10:25 AM)
Agree @vahoya!

ZoolanderANDtheBoYz says: (4/28/13 10:30 AM)
I will be stunned if GSA gives up that building. But, all I can say to all the politicians (commissioners, council member and house rep with no voting rights) is good luck.

202_cyclist says: (4/29/13 11:55 AM)
These hearing are all televised, with the video archived and posted on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

straightoutof03 says: (4/29/13 5:17 PM)
Any sense of what market value may actually be for this plot? Are we talking $30M? Or more Like $40 or even $50M?

Good luck to the Half Street Market team but I'm unconvinced. There are already other markets nearby. SW and near SE already has various amenities and this basically comes down to the city wanting a freebie from GSA. I'd be happy with a TJ or a WF as well as additional commercial/residential in that spot. DC could use the tax revenue.

Andrew in DC says: (4/30/13 12:16 AM)
I'm curious as to how much the federal gov't gave the district when it bought/seized the land in the first place...

Eric says: (4/30/13 2:00 AM)
" I'd be happy with a TJ or a WF as well as additional commercial/residential in that spot. DC could use the tax revenue."

Didn't WF basically bail on the area because DC wouldn't give them a tax break? (Here's a hint DC: change your tax policy, lower is better)

And TJ is so in demand that this would basically make Navy Yard a "hot spot" forever. So please, Garber/Kaminski, try to do something to get them here!

JD says: (4/30/13 10:45 AM)
@Andrew, it's hard to tell from the property records (since the current lot number for the warehouse doesn't exist all in the Recorder of Deeds database). It's possible that a deed of sale to The United States of America from Milton Hopfenmaier in July 1924 for lot 0005 (along with what seems to be parts or all ofs lot 0006 and 0007) mark when the Feds took that property. If that is (and it *could* be, but I'm not 100% sure), the Feds paid $13,535.35 for it, which would be about $184k in today's dollars.

JD says: (4/30/13 11:02 AM)
... But before getting in too high dudgeon about a property's potential sale value being so far beyond inflation, I'd point people to when 225 Virginia was bought in a very complicated sale for about $1.75 million in 1999, and then sold to the DC government for $85 million in 2009.

straightoutof03 says: (4/30/13 3:24 PM)
@Eric - As JD reported previously, it was more that the developer, WC Smith, wanted an abatement and had not lined up WF. Not sure if lower taxes are needed but instead a more uniform way of determining which projects should receive tax abatements.


Something beneficial for the neighborhood, like a grocery store, can go in here. Hope that the local leaders have a backup plan if the Market falls through.

ZoolanderANDtheBoYz says: (4/30/13 3:45 PM)
I thought the WF discussion was a done deal. We discussed, commented and even made a mental picture of where WF would be if they have to build it. I think we came in to an agreement that the Blue Castle is the best location for whole food.

Eric says: (4/30/13 3:52 PM)
Trader Joe's would draw more people, I think.

David Garber says: (5/1/13 1:45 PM)
Believe me, I talk with each developer that comes through at *length* about working out space for either TJ or WF. I think the neighborhood should have both... From what I hear, no grocer wants to be immediately near the ballpark because they want to be out of the way of ballpark crowds and traffic -- but north of M is fine. I know there are developers still actively trying to at least bring WF to the neighborhood, but don't have any info beyond that.

Andrew in DC says: (5/1/13 10:31 PM)
Not sure its high dudgeon, but I had planned to remark on how its a pretty neat trick to be able to declare eminent domain, pay nothing (?) or a wildly reduced rate in property taxes, hold something for a while and then sell it for an impressive return.

On your other comment - who'd the DC gov't buy the 225 VA Ave building from? Also the Feds?

JD says: (5/2/13 9:49 AM)
There was an investor group who had bought 225 Virginia from the Post in 1999, so no, it wasn't the Feds.

Might also be worth remembering that the Feds are also responsible for the neighborhood's two largest developments: their $34.9 million Hope VI grant was the catalyst for the redevelopment of Capper, and their decision to greenlight the first ever federal public-private redevelopment partnership brought the Yards. Without those two moves, Near Southeast wouldn't be anywhere close to what it is today.

conngs0 says: (5/2/13 4:22 PM)
I have zero problem with the Federal Government selling land to the highest bidder if it is determined that is the most appropriate action from a budgetary and efficiency standpoint. I'd think that whatever can be accomplished most expeditiously has to earn some points here.

Related directly to the Half Street Market idea, the Government has the opportunity to maximize its profits by creating more potential tax revenue, which may make something like the Half Street Market a viable option (I suppose this is what Mr. Kaminski was hinting at when he mentioned the possible revenue streams that can be generated for GSA from the market, restaurant and possible hotel?). I do question how much profitability potential (i.e. taxable income) an "educational" project would have though (seems like the educational slant is more bending over backwards to achieve eligibility for the transfer than to meet a significant public demand). All this is complicated and surely over my head, but I thin it's possible to make a case that transferring the site to allow for it to be turned into the Half Street Market isn't quite the "giveaway" as it may seem.

Andrew in DC says: (5/7/13 4:11 PM)
<i>their decision to greenlight the first ever federal public-private redevelopment partnership brought the Yards. </i>

Yes they did - but again, that was the land they had seized in the early 1900s, which was only fully utilized during WW2, and which sat mostly idle for 15-ish years afterward when the Navy relinquished it to... GSA. GSA, in turn, used it for office space for about 25 years and then it sat idle again for another decade-plus.

And not for lack of trying. GSA tried for years to entice tenants down there, but no one would take the bait. The government couldn't induce their own entities to occupy it. The best that can be said is that they recognized their failure and gave up the ghost. But let's not pretend like this action was a spontaneous act to better the area. It was done from a complete lack of other options.

I think it's sort of awkward for them to justify selling something at "market value" when it's their actions that made everyone in that market suffer for literally decades.

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