We’re back from our half-month vacation and LeDroit Park and Shaw are about to see some construction action starting today.
Wednesday, September 1 – 10:30 am
Just when we thought construction on the park on the site of the old Gage-Eckington School would begin, along came the parks scandal last October. Then in March, Harry Thomas Jr. (D – Ward 5) tried to prevent the mayor from appropriating money to the park project; he then reversed himself after an avalanche of constituent criticism. The new contract was ready to go until Councilmember Marion Barry (D – Ward 8) put a hold on the contract in late July. Mr. Barry’s delay procedure just expired and the mayor’s office will host a groundbreaking ceremony today at 10:30 am at Third and Elm Streets.
Over in Shaw, the two block site currently occupied by Giant and a crumbling old market façade is about to start its journey to become a vibrant mixed-use development. Join the Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), Mayor Adrian Fenty (D), Council Chairman Vincent Gray (D), Councilmember Jack Evans (D – Ward 2) and Councilmember Kwame Brown (D – at large) for the groundbreaking.
Thursday, September 2 – 10:45 am
After years of planning and promises, construction on the Howard Theatre begins in earnest. Join the developer, ANC Commissioner Myla Moss, and other notables for the official groundbreaking.
We’re relieved to see these long-promised projects finally moving forward to construction.
Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) will address the monthly meeting of ANC 1B on Thursday at 7 pm at the Reeves Center at Fourteenth and U Streets NW. Following the mayor will be Councilmember Kwame Brown (D – at large), who is running for chair of the DC Council.
In other news, a new Mexican restaurant at 1819 Fourteenth Street, next to the Black Cat, is applying for a liquor license. They plan to host 99 seats in the summer garden, 14 seats on the sidewalk, and 161 seats inside. Though the property appears to be a modest 20 feet wide, it’s very deep and the “summer garden” is probably liquor license-speak for “roof deck”.
Closer to LeDroit Park, Howard Theatre Restoration Inc., the non-profit about to break ground on the Howard Theatre renovations this month, will request a $5,000 grant for the Jazz Man statue we wrote about earlier.
Update: We received word yesterday that the mayor has canceled his appearance.
The Post is running a story today about other District communities disappointed by the ongoing parks feud between the Council and the mayor. The disappointment appears to be widespread:
In interviews with advocates from Chevy Chase to Woodland Terrace to U Street, most activists said they oppose the delays. “They’ll be fighting, and our kids and residents are suffering,” [Football coach Steve] Zanders said.
And some are accusing the Council of feigning surprise:
Willie Ross, a Ward 7 Advisory Neighborhood Commission member, said the contracts must be investigated, but the council should have been more vigilant about its initial oversight. He said that some members attended groundbreakings with the mayor for projects that are now under scrutiny.
On Friday the City Council held a joint hearing on the contracting dispute that has now ensnared the forthcoming park in LeDroit Park. The Post reported that Councilmember David Catania (I – at large) insisted the contracts are illegal, but Attorney General Peter Nickles (a Fenty appointee, we should note) insisted the contrary.
Our own ANC Commissioner Myla Moss (ANC1B01) submitted testimony on behalf of the neighborhood and the LeDroit Park Civic Association imploring the Council not to delay park construction. She noted in her testimony that the park design was the product of a transparent and exhaustive community process that developed a plan that is both affordable and popular in the neighborhood. She further noted that the park plan had been discussed with several members of the mayor’s cabinet and with Councilmembers Jim Graham (D – Ward 1) and Harry Thomas, Jr. (D – Ward 5); the park plan was no surprise.
At the previous LeDroit Park Civic Association meeting, Mr. Graham noted that the Council had specifically set aside money for the project.
There’s still no word on what will happen next, but we certainly hope that certain members of the Council do not take the matter to court; litigation could delay the project for at least a year, if not several. Rebidding the contracts, we have heard, could delay construction by several months.
Alternatively, the Council could simply review the contracts as the law demands and approve the current plan (at least for our park and for other parks that have significant popular backing). We see this as unlikely since this would require the mayor to admit that his administration broke the law and it would require Mr. Nickles to backtrack on his current position that the contracts are legal.
It is also possible that the mayor and Council could come to some sort of lawful agreement to let work continue without delay. We hope the last option prevails and we suspect certain member of the Council are working to that solution; Mr. Graham is well aware of his constituents’ justified impatience.
One last thing: we thank Ms. Moss and the Civic Association leaders for their testimony. This sort of advocacy requires a significant personal commitment of time and energy.
The former Gage-Eckington School, which has just been torn down to make way for the new neighborhood park, is caught-up in a citywide controversy over Mayor Fenty’s funding for numerous park projects. City law requires that the Council approve all contracts over $1 million, but the mayor has funneled the $1.7-million park renovation contract through the D.C. Housing Authority, which, as a quasi-independent government agency, considered itself exempt from the requirement.
The Housing Authority is responsible for public housing, Section 8 vouchers, and HOPE VI projects, so the mayor’s choice to spend park money through the Authority should raise eyebrows.
Now, after the controversy already erupted, D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles has determined that the Housing Authority, too, must submit its million-dollar contracts to the Council for approval. Nickles’s decision is based on a 1996 legal opinion by the city’s corporation counsel, the predecessor to the Attorney General’s office.
How does the LeDroit Park project fit into this? The Examiner reports that the park is one of the unapproved contracts awarded to Banneker Ventures LLC:
The Housing Authority recently awarded more than $72 million in contracts to a pair of companies with ties to Mayor Adrian Fenty, none of which were ever seen by the council.
Further complicating the matter is the mayor’s personal ties to Banneker Ventures, the company constructing the new park and several other parks:
Banneker Ventures LLC is the construction manager for at least a dozen parks and recreation contracts, 10 of which exceed $1 million. Banneker has ties to Fenty friend and former fraternity brother Sinclair Skinner.
Even in the event that the contracts were competitively bid and awarded without undue influence, the Council would be right to examine the contracts since they certainly look suspicious. Whether the Council will reject the LeDroit contract—which is well underway—is unclear, but what is clear is that the mayor skirted the law to get this project through.