- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2000

The District of Columbia said yesterday it will sell the vacant Mather Building on G Street NW after months of criticism that the city neglected the property and allowed it to become infested with rats.

The city will invite developers to bid on the property, but not until 2001 at the earliest, said Tia Matthews, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development.

The department and the D.C. Office of Planning have drafted a request for proposals from developers, which must be submitted to the D.C. Council for final approval, Miss Matthews said.

"We want to put this property out to bid as soon as possible… . A lot of things have to be accomplished before we can do that," Miss Matthews said.

The Mather Building which was home to several federal and city agencies before being vacated in 1990 has been coveted by developers. They beleive its location in the newly revitalized downtown makes it prime real estate.

D.C. officials have said they have been unable to unload the property because its last tenant, the University of the District of Columbia, has claimed it has an ownership stake in the building.

The deed to the building lists the District government as the owner.

Armando R. Prieto, acting vice president of UDC, said the school paid $1 million for the building in the mid-1970s, but was left off the deed.

He said the school is negotiating with city officials to receive a portion of the proceeds when the city sells the building.

The Mather Building features 10 floors and 78,400 square feet of space. Several developers have offered to buy the property in recent years and turn it into apartments and shops.

The building dates to 1917. It was home to shops, a bowling alley and federal agencies until UDC moved in during the mid-1970s.

After the school vacated the building in 1990, it fell into disrepair.

According to a city-commissioned study published this year, one wall in the building has been damaged by water and birds have inhabited every floor, leaving them coated with droppings.

Neighbors have described the property as a breeding ground for rats.

"It's a tragedy the city is not a responsible property owner," said Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, one of several civic groups pushing for the Mather's redevelopment.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans, a Democrat from Ward 2, where the Mather Building is located, said the city has been irresponsible.

"If a private property owner treated a building this way, we would be suing them," Mr. Evans said.

The activists pushing the city to sell the property say it is ripe for redevelopment.

Two large projects near the Mather Building are under way.

In July, the Freedom Forum offered the District $75 million for the D.C. Department of Employment Services building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, and last month, an Alexandria developer said it will spend $43 million to build luxury apartments near the MCI Center.

"We need to act now, while the real estate market is hot," Mr. Evans said.

The city spent $135,000 on the study that documented the damage to the Mather Building. The report also recommended the property be transformed into apartments and an art gallery.

Part of the first floor of the Mather should be used as a gallery, with the upper floors used for 72 apartments or condominiums, according to the report.

The study estimated the redevelopment would cost about $8 million, including $483,000 to restore the building's historic brick-and-concrete facade.

Several developers have offered to buy the Mather Building in recent years, including D.C.-based Karchem Properties Inc., which offered UDC $705,000 in cash in 1997 to buy the building and turn it into apartments and retail space.

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