WASHINGTON — The District of Columbia has selected four finalists for developing a 110-acre strip of waterfront property known as Poplar Point, a plan local officials have called one of the last great urban waterfront projects in the country. Poplar Point promises to be a massive undertaking to transform raw land through commercial, environmental, and infrastructure development. The area is part of a larger district effort — the $10 billion Anacostia Waterfront Initiative — aimed at transforming land along the Anacostia River in a fashion similar to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Bonds will play a significant role in the Poplar Point development, but the numbers still remain undetermined at this point. Sean Madigan, spokesperson for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, which is heading up the project, said bonds “almost certainly” will play a role in the project, given the area’s significant infrastructure and environmental needs. The city has said that at least 70 acres of the site must be developed into a riverfront park, the only item required in proposals for the site. District officials previously have speculated that at least $100 million of debt could be issued for the project, but also said the amount could be significantly larger depending on the plan. It is expected that tax-increment financing bonds or debt backed by payments in lieu of taxes would be issued. Two weeks ago, the economic development office announced that it had narrowed down the potential bidders to four finalists. The district released a request for expressions of interest to potential developers in August, and received seven bids by the Nov. 2 deadline. Once the deadline had passed, the district evaluated the bids according to their specified criteria, including financial capacity, vision, commitment to community engagement, and experience in developing major urban waterfronts. The potential bidders are: a team comprised of Archstone-Smith and Madison Marquette; Clark Realty Capital; Forest City Enterprises; and a team made up of General Growth Properties, Mid-City Urban, and Doracon.
All four have previously undertaken development projects within the district. Archstone-Smith is a partner in the redevelopment of the city’s convention center, which includes a planned 1,150 room Marriott International hotel. The hotel deal was announced in September, and will be partly financed with $134 million of tax-increment financing bonds. Clark Realty’s construction operation is currently finishing up the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium, which the team will occupy next season. The district issued $535 million of bonds, both taxable and tax-exempt, for the project. Forest City is currently working on the Yards, another large development along the Anacostia. And Mid-City Urban is playing a role in the development of an affordable housing complex within the district. According to district officials, the amount of bonds issued will depend on the winning bid, as the four proposals include varying amounts depending on their proposed infrastructure needs. The specifics of each program have not yet been disclosed, and each will be unveiled at a public hearing the first week of December. In announcing the shortened list, Neil O. Albert, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, reiterated the district’s commitment to making the most of this rare opportunity. “We’ve said all along that Poplar Point is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a new neighborhood along the Anacostia River,” he said. “We have to get it right.” The district exhibited that dedication to finding the right plan for Poplar Point when it opened the site up for a competitive bidding process, pulling out of previous negotiations with a San Francisco-based developer that would have created a new stadium for the district’s professional soccer team. Originally, the city was in talks with real estate tycoon Victor A. MacFarlane, owner of the soccer team D.C. United, to build the team’s first stadium at Poplar Point. MacFarlane agreed to pay $150 million for the 27,000 person stadium, if the district would provide $350 million to finance infrastructure, noting that the new baseball stadium and Verizon Center received public infrastructure support during development. MacFarlane also requested 8 million square feet for development, twice the amount envisioned by city planners. In August, Mayor Adrian Fenty pulled out of talks and opened the site up to competitive bidding. He said the site was too valuable to not consider several competing bids. As a result, MacFarlane is considering moving the soccer team to the city’s suburbs, either in Maryland or Virginia. Fenty has also received criticism from his public peers, with Ward 8 council member and former mayor Marion Barry holding a press conference criticizing Fenty’s decision. Barry said Fenty’s waffling came at the expense of Ward 8 residents in need of major redevelopment.“We are not only disappointed, but also outraged at the way that you and your administration have disrespected and misled us about the development at Poplar Point,” he said. Despite the criticism, district officials say they are currently on schedule to announce a development partner by the end of the year.