Print Columns   |   Web Chats   |   Blog Archives   |  

From Soccer Mogul to Downtown Developer

When D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty last week announced his choice to develop the sprawling, $700 million, mixed-income new community that is supposed to replace some of Washington's most troubled and dangerous housing projects, the named developers were all smiles up at the podium with the mayor.

But hanging back in the rear corner of the church basement where Fenty made his pick public was a tall, elegant fellow who is increasingly a powerful presence in the city's big development schemes. You'll search in vain for the name Victor MacFarlane in the official record of what's going to become Northwest One, the new name for the downtown area where the Sursum Corda and Temple Courts housing projects now stand, between North Capitol Street and New Jersey Avenue NW, just north of K Street.

But MacFarlane was on hand because while the respected Washington developers William C. Smith Cos. and the Jair Lynch Cos. won the sweepstakes to build more than 1,600 units of housing as well as a whole mess of retail and office space, the owner of the DC United soccer team and manager of $15 billion in assets will help finance a significant chunk of the project, according to MacFarlane and some city officials.

Every era of the city's progression has its iconic developer--think of Oliver Carr putting up office boxes in Marion Barry's new K Street of lobbyists and lawyers, or Jeff Cohen making early forays into neighborhood gentrification in deals that got the Barry administration into significant legal trouble, or Doug Jemal preserving historic buildings during the renaissance of the Williams years (Uline Arena, the Avalon Theater, the Seventh Street shops across from the Abe Pollin Arena, the Woodies building, the Sixth and I synagogue.)

Now MacFarlane is positioning himself to be a force for extending the city's development while standing up for the District's black majority. The developer, who is black, has allied himself with neighborhood residents who are wary of development that they believe is inexorably altering the city's racial composition.

Officially, D.C. development director David Jannarone says, MacFarlane is not playing any role in the years-long effort to take down the drug-ridden Sursum Corda project and replace it with a signature initiative of both the Anthony Williams and Adrian Fenty administrations--an all-new neighborhood with housing split between market rate units, partly subsidized apartments for working class residents, and heavily subsidized units for the low-income families who are being displaced.

"I can tell you MacFarlane is not in the deal now," Jannarone says. "Our goal is to get as much local disadvantaged business enterprise money in this deal as possible, and he's not a disadvantaged business enterprise."

No, there's likely not a soul on the planet who would accuse MacFarlane of being disadvantaged.

But MacFarlane is nonetheless deeply involved in this project, and in a fast-increasing number of others around the city. He's in on deals near the new baseball stadium, he's lobbying the city hard to get a soccer stadium built at Poplar Point, the national parkland just across the Anacostia River from the baseball park, and now he's involved downtown too.

"Victor's group is a great source of capital for neighborhood developers," says Jair Lynch, who predicts it will take five to seven years to get the whole Northwest One project built.

The push to redevelop the Sursum Corda area gained meaningful energy after the 2004 murder of Princess Hansen, a seventh grader who was out at three in the morning doing what it took to score drugs. Then-Mayor Williams vowed to clean up the neighborhood, and he promised that Sursum Corda would be replaced not by megabucks condos, but by a mixed-income community that would be safe, modern, attractive, and--for a lucky few hundred families--affordable.

Now, after three difficult years of negotiations with current residents and possible investors, the city and the new development team found themselves agreeing to let Sursum Corda's current management company, Kettler (formerly KSI), in on the deal. Despite widespread complaints that the firm was harassing residents and barring city employees from the property, Kettler will be part of the new development team, largely to buy legal and political peace and get the new project moving.

Is this another example of Fenty's political style in action? The mayor has a knack for cobbling together companies that are otherwise wary competitors, forcing them to work in partnership on big city projects. Does MacFarlane's role in Northwest One mean he's moved on and is out of the picture at Poplar Point? It looks that way, but Fenty says that doesn't at all mean that the District is giving up on keeping the pro soccer team in town.

Despite efforts by Maryland officials to woo the United to that state, Fenty says the District will offer the team alternative spots in the city. "Absolutely there are other sites," he told me. "There may even be ones that the team prefers to Poplar Point."

The mayor wasn't naming other locations, but the prime candidate may turn out to be the place where the mayor hopes to launch his second New Community, replacing another long-troubled housing project: Barry Farms in Southeast, quite close to the Poplar Point park.

And MacFarlane, who just a few weeks ago adamantly and angrily contended that DC United had been completely boxed out of the Poplar Point area, is now humming a different tune. Might the team still end up with a stadium near Poplar Point, I asked. "Absolutely," MacFarlane replied. Stay tuned.

By Marc Fisher |  December 18, 2007; 7:06 AM ET
Previous: Education Monday: An Ex- College President's Cry For Help | Next: The Orioles, Lost On The Field--And Now Off, Too


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Marc - When will the post start reoprting that MacFarlane doesn't use his own money, he manages money for CalPERS, and he takes fat management fees for doing so. He's also not a developer, he's an equity investor who partners with real developers who have limited money sources (like Jair Lynch, for example). You give him a lot of credit for taking his 2% management fee and buying a jet.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 18, 2007 7:36 AM

MacFarlane's a shrewd businessman who's accomplishments speak for themselves. His projects in San Francisco stand on their own merit. I don't understand the villification of a businessman who makes money.

Posted by: Chico | December 18, 2007 9:30 AM

Dead on, Chico. MacFarlane is a darn sight better than, say, Donald Trump, who does nothing but lose money and endlessly self-promote.

As for alternate sites, I doubt the team would prefer something that's not metro accessible...of course, the long-rumored Anacostia light-rail line would be helpful if the stadium were to be located somewhere east of the river that's not on the Green Line.

Posted by: EdTheRed | December 18, 2007 10:37 AM

Sounds like Mr. Mayor figured out that losing DCU would not be a good thing for the city, not to mention pissing off one of the few major developers in the city that doesn't come with a checkered past...

Posted by: EricS | December 18, 2007 10:59 AM

you wrote:

Despite efforts by Maryland officials to woo the United to that state, Fenty says the District will offer the team alternative spots in the city. "Absolutely there are other sites," he told me. "There may even be ones that the team prefers to Poplar Point."

It is not "United" or "D.C. United", not "The United".

Posted by: Rick in Ashburn | December 18, 2007 11:11 AM

I think Rick in Ashburn means

"It is "United" or "D.C. United", not "The United"."

Posted by: Ron | December 18, 2007 1:15 PM

I want to point out that your column and the Post continue to report that the winning team for Northwest One was William C. Smith and Company and the Jair Lynch Companies. In fact the One Vision Development Partners, which won the RFP consists of four partners - Community Preservation and Development Corporation and Banneker Ventures as well as the Smith and Lynch Companies. While Smith is the lead of the team, the other partners are participating equally in the development. CPDC is the largest and most accomplished non-profit affordable housing developer and operator in the District and will have responsibility for the delivery of the Human Capital program for Northwest One as well as real estate development functions.

Posted by: Gerry Joseph, Vice President, Community Preservation and Development Corporation | December 18, 2007 1:18 PM

I realize no one's asking me, but I would think that United would want to be as close as possible to a Metro station. I realize that there are roads (and probably houses already there, but it seems to me that the area to the east of Howard Rd., either to the north or south of MLK Jr., Ave, would be ideal. Right by the Metro, right off Suitland and an entrance/exit for 295. I think this is a bit to the north of Barry Farms, proper? But, it looks at least as inviting to the Poplar Point land just to the west that United had in mind.

Posted by: Fisch Fry | December 18, 2007 1:56 PM

As for alternate sites, I doubt the team would prefer something that's not metro accessible...of course, the long-rumored Anacostia light-rail line would be helpful if the stadium were to be located somewhere east of the river that's not on the Green Line.

Posted by: EdTheRed | December 18, 2007 10:37 AM

It all depends on the exact location of any so-called Barry Farms site, but the center of the Barry Farms area is about as far south of the Anacostia station as Poplar Point is to the north (i.e., several hundred yards), so a stadium wouldn't necessarily need a light-rail line to be viable.

Posted by: 22201 | December 18, 2007 3:11 PM

Can someone give an educated estimation of the differences between the possibilities for a soccer stadium at either Poplar Point, or at Barry Farms.

When (what year) could such a stadium be completed (potentially) at these sites?

Is there available space for additonal fields for United training and community use (as the RFK training fields currently offer)?

Posted by: Timelines and space | December 18, 2007 3:55 PM

Families don't stay where the can't thrive over the long term. The best, and fiscally responsible, future for every DC citizen is making it truly affordable to stay whether our annual family income is $20,000 or $200,000. Expanded local retail, job opportunities, updated nearby schools and truly affordable mixed-income housing hold families year-round -- seasonal-use stadiums don't. A few stores here, 30% affordable housing there, and minimal green space somewhere just can't compete with what too many residents are finding and moving to outside District borders -- long term affordability and amenities.

Our publicly paid officials should strive for at least 60% in truly affordable housing, or more District residents will leave. Our own and US Census data confirms DC's steady loss of permanent residents, especially families. Families are the long term economic anchor of a city. A trickle of high-income transient condo residents won't sustain DC over the long term. High income dwellers always have options to live or move anywhere, especially when even they begin to have families and want more for their money.

The Ellington Center concept, named in honor of the District's favorite son and American cultural treasure Edward Kennedy 'Duke' Ellington, will have the desired economic benefit that diverse District of Columbia residents know is needed for our many people-oriented priorities -- as well as enhancing our retail, cultural and educational profile.

Building Ellington Center is designed to produce exponential economic and social benefits. Imagine thousands of DC residents, suburbanites and visitors flocking to a dynamic 365-day entertainment, arts, and retail shopping megaplex -- containing over 100 national and District-based retail stores, an indoor year-round multimedia family amusement park, 4 live performance auditoriums, 20 video/film theaters, restaurants, hotels, office space, The Capital Life & History Museum, Riverbank Environmental Museum, a 21st century all digital public library, an onsite 20-bed medical facility, childcare services, MPD Public Safety Center, customer service training center, John H. Johnson High School of Business, upgraded bus and train access to and from Stadium-Armory Metro station, plus ample multilevel underground parking. Moreover, Ellington Center will have generous green space centered by a landscaped botanical mall.

With competing major retail, entertainment, hotel and office projects on the horizon in nearby southern Maryland (National Harbor) and throughout northern Virginia, Ellington Center is a most viable, profitable and fiscally responsible capital project benefiting local retail and employment starved DC residents. Additionally, as a draw to businesses, only the District can lay genuine physical claim to our most untapped brand "Nation's Capital" and "Washington, DC" -- versus "DC metro area." Virginia and Maryland aren't "Washington."

Ellington Center can serve as a hub, catalyst and model for more family-friendly smaller-scale mix-use housing, retail, and entertainment centers in other underserved District wards. We believe family oriented enterprise zones are a strong foundation for sustainable exponential economic development (SEED) and reliable revenue generation. That's the essence of fiscally responsible priorities -- benefiting DC citizens over decades. Cost-benefit ratios must always confirm genuine long term prosperity. Constructed of the most environmentally sound building materials, Ellington Center can conceivably be the largest US example of state-of-the-art "green construction."

Beyond the strengthening of the District's bond rating, imagine the creation of at least 2,000 full time sales, administrative, service and professional support jobs for District residents, and a minimum of $250 million dollars in annual revenue. The major retail, entertainment and amusement companies that will jump at the opportunity to have a high profile easy access presence in "The Nation's Capital" -- our valuable untapped national and international brand -- can finance most of the projected $350 million for Ellington Center's construction.

Build it and they will shop. The multiple sources of steady and reliable year-round revenue generated from sales, property, business and employment taxes from Ellington Center will become an immediate and long-term funding source for genuine public priorities -- family oriented priorities like schools, truly affordable housing, healthcare services, public safety, and a significant reduction in resident and business taxation pressures for public works and infrastructure.

This exponential economic benefit is increased when you include the millions more in annual tourist dollars, as Ellington Center becomes a priority attraction for millions of year-round visitors to our brand -- The Nation's Capital. Again, I'm talking about year-round long-term socioeconomic benefit, not the seasonal debt-ridden gamble of another sports stadium. Thanks to councilmember Jack Evans for sheepishly affirming to councilmember Tommy Wells in early 2007 that the new baseball stadium is actually long-term debt for DC taxpayers. Can we truly afford to provide corporate welfare for private developers?

The Ellington Center idea is merely a dream amid the reality of fiscal incompetence, consistent shortsightedness and systemic corruption that infects too much of District government. But, this revenue generating outside-the-box concept may be the one realistic proposal left that remedies the financial nightmares to come between 2008 and 2010. Build it, and it will pay.

Dennis Moore, Chairperson,
District of Columbia Independents
for Citizen Control (DCICC)

Posted by: Dennis Moore | December 21, 2007 12:53 AM

A basic concept design of the Ellington Center idea,
and other details, is presented at: Ellington Center -
A Viable Vision for Sustainable Socioeconomic Development

Dennis Moore, Chairperson,
District of Columbia Independents
for Citizen Control (DCICC)

Posted by: Dennis Moore | December 21, 2007 1:01 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company