- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2000

It took almost two years to appoint the directors of the District of Columbia's newest economic-development agency, but they will have only months to show results to congressional critics, said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

"What you can do is make haste, do good and show results. Fast," said Mrs. Norton, a Democrat.

"Preferably by next appropriations, please," she said in mock exasperation.

Twenty-one months after the D.C. Council voted to create the agency and Congress appropriated $25 million for its use, Mayor Anthony A. Williams and White House Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew yesterday announced seven appointees to the board of the National Capital Revitalization Corp. Mr. Williams and D.C. Chief Financial Officer Valerie Holt also will serve on the nine-member board.

Repeated changes to the authorizing legislation, the installation of Mr. Williams' new administration and federal background checks delayed the appointments, federal and D.C. officials said. But now that the names are public, the way is clear to mobilize a new economic-development agency, economic-development officials said.

"It will be a powerful weapon in our arsenal to spur economic development throughout the District," Mr. Williams said.

But while the NCRC is intended to be entrepreneurial and take advantage of the good economy, D.C. officials admit that it could be hamstrung by controls to guard against misusing its powers.

"It will be watched very, very closely," Mrs. Norton said.

Its time pressure is compounded by the need to hire staff, set bylaws and policy, and push an economic-development strategy through the D.C. Council. Even by tackling several of these issues simultaneously, the NCRC will need at least six to eight months before it will be ready to consider its first project, said one administration official.

"It's going to be rough," said Eric Price, deputy mayor for economic development.

The agency will act like other economic-development groups in Philadelphia, Chicago and Atlanta, organizing public-private partnerships to carry out large-scale real estate projects that benefit the District, officials said. It also will provide other services to the D.C. government.

Besides $25 million in federal money, NCRC will have an additional $6 million from the District at its disposal. It is expected to absorb the portfolio of properties held by the Redevelopment Land Authority and powers of eminent domain.

Fannie Mae has pledged $75 million for NCRC projects. However, the residential mortgage funding company's own rules limit how much can be spent on commercial projects.

Contradictory concerns about what powers the agency should have inspired D.C. Council members to demand changes and federal officials to criticize those changes.

The NCRC originally was envisioned as a mayor-led agency with independent authority to move quickly and close deals. But council members fought for and won oversight out of fear that the agency would have too much power. In Congress, this only inspired fears that it would be a new bureaucracy that wouldn't accomplish anything.

Such competing interests put pressure on the board, said the head of an organization that promotes downtown business.

"The biggest problem is to manage expectations," said Richard Bradley, executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement District.

The appointees now must be confirmed by the D.C. Council, and a plan to guide the board's development decisions must be written and approved by the council.

"I think that's one of the things that needs [work]," said El Chino Martin, chief of staff for Mr. Price. "The legislation is so expansive. The mayor wants to focus it, get back to what [Mrs.] Norton said, 'You have to show results.' "

Mayoral appointee F. Joseph Moravec, long a commercial real estate broker, said he believes the NCRC board will be able to make the tough decisions necessary to produce results.

"I do. It has some of the powers of government powered by the spirit of business, which is nimble," he said.

The board's nine members will consist of four mayoral appointees, three presidential appointees, Mr. Williams and Miss Holt.

The agency is unique in that it has presidential appointees serving on a local level. The presidential nominees are Greg Farmer, vice president of government relations and international trade for Nortel Networks; Lawrence H. Parks with the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco's office in the District; and Madeline Carol McCullough Petty, with more than 20 years of experience in housing and community development.

Mr. Williams appointed J. Roderick Heller III, chairman and chief executive officer of the venture-capital firm Carnton Capital Associates; Karen M. Hardwick, a lawyer with Hogan & Hartson; F. Joseph Moravec, who has more than 25 years' experience in commercial real estate brokerage and development; and Lloyd Smith, chairman of City First Bank of D.C. and former head of the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide