27 July 2007

Criteria for Evaluating the Proposals at Poplar Point

Yes, we're taking a lot of time to discuss the stadium debate. The reason is two-fold: First, a soccer specific stadium is the most important outstanding issue relating to DC United's longterm viability, and the second is that the entire issue of stadiums and pro-sports is an area which has recently become poisonous in civic debate.

It has always been my hope that the stadium proposal and deal would address both concerns. Sites like Field of Schemes are important reading because you can easily see the legalized blackmail that many owners use to line their wallets while billing the city. And it always tempting to adopt an attitude of "Sure, they're owners are a bunch of crooks, but ours are different!" So even while we revel in the newfound support some of the city council, let's take another fresh look at the stadium debate, and some ways of evaluating it.

Basic Premise: Poplar Point will be developed in some manner.

There are those who oppose the stadium plan simply because they oppose any development that doesn't reserve the Poplar Point area to 100% parkland. You can put Marc Fisher in that group, since he believes all development should be in the Howard Road area (never mind that Howard Road development isn't as viable without development at Poplar Point as well). Also add in the folks at Save Anacostia Park.

In a related bin are those that oppose anything other than their concept of development. You can put most of the people from DC Indymedia in that group, since they believe that anything other than either parkland or 100% low income housing units would be gentrification and therefore an extension of the racist war on the poor being led by oil executives who desire a war with Iran.

Neither of these sides will win. While their objections seem to be against the soccer stadium, and the convenient "Billionaires who crush the poor," the fact is that Fenty is not reconsidering developing Poplar Point, he's only reconsidering the form that development will take. The stadium plan was the most visible form of that development, but if another plan takes precedence that has no stadium component, you can imagine that these same forces will exchange the epithets of "Billionaire Stadium Developers" for "Billionaire Big Box Retailers" or "Billionaire Condo Land Barons" or some other argument. This argument is lost no matter what direction the city chooses.

The most recent Nakamura article notes that Fenty wants development, and wants the tax base that comes with it:

the emphasis will be on housing and retail, the sources said. Administration officials will consider proposals over the next two months and probably will choose a developer by the end of the year, sources said.

Housing plus Retail equals a prospect which will likely be unacceptable to any of the organizations and people linked to above.

So what are the qualifying criteria?

Any proposed development plan is going to have to meet a certain set of criteria in order to qualify for the award from the city. These criteria include:

  • Preservation of Parkland: No matter who is selected for development, a minimum set aside for parkland is going to be established, probably around the 50 70 (see comments) acre mark. United's plan will meet this minimum, but probably not exceed it. The only advantage that United would gain is the manner in which the parkland would be integrated into the development. Any developer who could reach 100acres might see an advantage in the consideration of their plans.
  • Affordable Housing: I don't have good statistics for the overall affordable housing situation in DC, but the numbers I can find indicate that the DC Housing Authority has at least 9,000 low-rent housing units and 12,000 Housing Choice Voucher Units (formerly the Section 8 program). Using that as a proxy for the affordable housing inventory of DC, I think the city would be looking for at least a 3% increase in the affordable housing stock, which is just over 600 units. The MacFarlane plan probably does benefit in comparison here, since it offers at least 1,200 units (and maybe more, though I don't think I can say that for certain.)
  • Revenue Generation through Retail: All sides of the development debate are looking for increased revenue from businesses and retail development. Any plan with a hope of winning will have to show that it can generate this revenue.
  • Revenue Generation through Employment: Any plan will have to show that it can create permanent jobs in the area, at least 1,000. Furthermore, at least some portion of these jobs will need to be targeted to Ward 8 residents.
Differentiating Criteria.

The items identified above are just the minimums to get in the door and be considered as a reasonable proposal for the area. You can reasonably expect that pretty much every plan will meet these minimums. What will get one plan selected will be on the other stuff it offers, the ability to surpass the minimums. Let's look at these:

  • Housing: The MacFarlane plan, as we indicated, shows an ability to go beyond the minimums for affordable rental and ownership. I would think that any plan with at least 1,000 units of affordable, low-income housing would earn a certain degree of preference. If a plan doesn't have this, it may be more revenue generating from the point of view of a developer, but is almost certainly the kind of gentrification that Ward 8 residents have a right to fear.
  • Minority Ownership: Again, not required, but certainly a step in the right direction. The MacFarlane plan has minority ownership, which should earn it some consideration.
  • Subsidy and Infrastructure Investment: One of the major issues is the "$200 million" in subsidies that the MacFarlane plan calls for. Now, certain infrastructure costs are going to be made regardless of which plan is chosen. Sewer system upgrades, especially environmentally sensitive drainage plans, will cost money to the city. However, the issue of tax benefits is one where the MacFarlane plan will likely find itself needing to negotiate with the city. I get the sense that a total package of $200 million is too high, but haven't yet seen a breakdown of how that number was determined. I've asked for it from multiple sources, but no one seems to be able to determine it. We need to understand that breakdown in order to understand what is likely to be required no matter which plan is selected, and to understand where potential points of negotiation are likely to be found.
  • Risk in Development: Anyone can generate a plan to create development, but if that development fails due to under capitalization or poor planning and execution, then neither the city, nor the developer, nor Ward 8 will benefit. The MacFarlane plan excels in this area, since it offers excellent history and previous development experience combined with strong financial analysis on how to make the development succeed. Note that this might not have been true with the previous ownership group.
  • Opportunity to Ward 8: We know that United has made this a focus of their planning, in terms of identifying housing and employment opportunities solely for the existing Ward 8 residents. It's not clear that any other proposals would show such fidelity other than pure tokenism. If the mayor elects to ignore this facet, he would engender additional opposition on the city council, since council members would have to wonder if the concerns of their constituents would be taken seriously in future development or if they would be subordinate to the desires of the Mayor's office. I imagine this is a concern that other city council representatives have to look at. If the Mayor feels that the concerns of Ward 8 aren't as valid as his own personal concerns, one wonders if the concerns of any particular resident would be taken seriously.
I still am not opposed to the city looking at other proposals, and I think United needs to make the case that their proposal is the best. If the city is looking for a bare minimum deal, based solely on the first set of criteria, then I doubt that the United plan would be selected. However, I believe that choice would be short sighted, and be a missed opportunity for the city. I want United to make a proposal that shows they are the best deal for everyone, and I think they are truly looking to make that case.

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At 27 July, 2007 11:39, Blogger Jeffrey said...

Great analysis, D.

It should be pointed out that, as far as the housing component goes, previous urban planning experiments suggest that what you want is not LOW income housing, but MIXED income housing. As you note, anything that's not exclusively low-income housing will be denounced by some as gentrification, but, in my opinion, those people are know-nothing idiots who unintentionally harm the people they claim to represent.

At 27 July, 2007 11:54, Blogger DG-rad said...

this is great. i have a blog going about this as well:

I am generally in support of a stadium, but my only fear is that we will lose a lot of the great urban park if we let MacFarlane overbuild. Hopefully we will see a happy medium emerge with the competitive bidding.

At 27 July, 2007 12:09, Blogger Kinney said...

Great analysis, just a couple of things:

1. The mandated amount of parkland is 70 acres. This comes from the land transfer.

2. Remember that there are tax benefits for affordable housing and might be some for bringing business across the river. You are right that we don't know enough, but I think that we can agree that tax benefits for affordable housing are good. Tax benefits for bringing opportunities to Ward 8 or across the river that were in existance before this plan are also fine. Any tax breaks that are specific to this plan and wouldn't be included in a different Poplar Point plan probably shouldn't be included. I doubt we will ever see how this breaks down though.

3. If we care about minority ownership we shoule also include minority contractors and professionals to do the work. This is also something that DC United has been doing all along. It may be cheaper to use bigger groups, but United has been going with smaller locally owned groups that are closer to the community.

At 27 July, 2007 12:28, Anonymous bdr said...

D, very sincere thanks for following and compiling and analyzing all this.

Terrific stuff.

At 27 July, 2007 13:02, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing to keep in mind is what exactly you mean by "Parkland". There is a big difference between the kind of usage you can obtain from a given amount of land. For those who would want to leave that land "as is", this is not just a waste, but something that would have a negative effect on Ward 8. Afterall, who grabs the kids and a picnic basket to head down to that waterfront for a nice afternoon nowadays...?

DC United's proposal plans to create not just parkland, but usable parkland. Soccer fields and playgrounds, a riverfront marina and walkway... Things that Ward 8 can be proud of, and will act as a magnet to draw visitors.

If that land were pristine forest, or beautiful riverland, then thing would be different, but the way it is now is just an polluted eyesore.

At 27 July, 2007 18:39, Anonymous bill urban said...


Thorough, and very informative.


At 31 July, 2007 10:01, Anonymous b1968k said...

Thanks for the good summation. A few things:

1. Fenty has said that he wants to build 5,000 units of affordable housing in the next four years.

2. The city announcement of the public bid process states that there could be 3.5 million sq. ft of development at Poplar Point. The United proposal had 8.5 million sq. ft. of development, 5,000 housing units, 750,00 sq. ft.of retail and 650,00 of office space.

3. The Washington Buisness Journal says the city has a study that says the area could support 1,500 housing units and 600,000 sq. ft. of retail in the 3.5. million sq. ft. of development.

4. Like you my questions are about the $200 million. What are they - and do they cover just the stadium or the entire $800 million development. We probably won't find out till (and if) the city makes the proposals available.

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