- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2000

The D.C.-based parent of Black Entertainment Television is proceeding with plans to build a technology business park in Northeast, saying the company's recently announced sale to Viacom Inc. won't affect the project.

BET Holdings II Inc. is negotiating with D.C. officials to lease a 5-acre, city owned parcel next to the company's headquarters on W Place NE, where it plans to build about 150,000 square feet of office space for its Internet division and other technology firms.

"We've submitted our lease agreement to the city," said Michael Lewellen, BET's vice president of corporate communications.

Mr. Lewellen said he could not discuss details of the project, but said the company's plans have not been affected by the pending $3 billion sale of BET Holdings to Viacom, the New York-based media conglomerate.

Viacom announced Nov. 3 it will pay $2.3 billion in stock and assume $570 million in debt for control of BET's most valuable assets, including its signature Black Entertainment Television cable network and BET.com LLC, an on-line portal that targets blacks.

Viacom said it will keep BET's headquarters and its 350 employees in the District, and Robert L. Johnson who founded BET in Georgetown in 1980 will remain the company's chairman and chief executive.

The new technology park is expected to house new offices for BET.com, as well as incubator space for start-up tech companies.

The D.C. Office of Planning did not return telephone calls from a reporter seeking comment.

Former city economic development official Marc A. Weiss said BET is one of the businesses that anchor NoMa, the area north of Massachusetts Avenue that the city has designated as its technology business corridor.

He said the technology park plan shows the company has confidence in the Northeast real estate market, even though the city recently adopted new restrictions on data centers, fortress-like facilities that house technology equipment and tend to employ few workers.

"The fact that they are going forward … is very encouraging," Mr. Weiss said.

The city "lost momentum" when it placed restrictions on data centers, but projects like the BET campus can help it rebound, he added.

Researchers at Cassidy & Pinkard Inc., a commercial brokerage in the District, said the vacancy rate in the Capitol Hill-NoMa submarket as of Oct. 1 was 1.8 percent, down from 4.2 percent at midyear and below the overall 3.6 percent rate in the District.

NoMa is expected to get a boost when Metrorail builds a station on New York Avenue NE. A groundbreaking is scheduled for mid-December, with construction expected to last four years.

Other office projects slated for NoMa include a new headquarters for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which is slated to convert a warehouse on New York Avenue NE where the city now stores road salt, and Washington Gateway, a 700,000-square-foot office building near the corner of New York and Florida avenues.

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